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01.12.04 - WAYNE ‘RABBIT’ BARTHOLOMEW
From Sarge, North Shore, Wednesday December 1st, 2004.
(ASP President Wayne ‘Rabbit’ Bartholomew turned 50 this week. In this the first part of a ‘birthday’ interview he takes us through the infant years of the fledging sport of pro surfing)

Wyane, Shelly, Jagger & Keo Bartholomew
ASP El Presidente Wayne 'Rabbit' Bartholomew and his beloved clan, Shelley,
Jaggar (2nd L) and Keo. The Bugs turned 50 this week.

SARGE: So Bugs, you’ve turned the big Five-0 this week. Are those numbers as dreadful as they sound?
BUGS: Well I feel like I’ve done the half-tonne, but I’m okay with it. I’ve got a super young family, a lot of responsibilities, my job…I feel like I’ve got a lot of good energy.

Wayne BartholomewSARGE: HAVING A NEW FAMILY SO LATE MUST HAVE BEEN A RE-LAUNCH OF YOUR LIFE?
BUGS: Yeah definitely! I had my first child at 46. Even at 44 or 45, I thought I probably wasn’t going to have kids. I was set in my ways, loved my independence, the adventures I went on, my freedom, not having to answer to anyone – and I was accepting of the fact that I wasn’t going to have kids. Suddenly at 46, along came Jaggar – well, actually, along came Shelley actually – let’s not forget that. We’ve since been blessed with young Keo. It’s been wonderful, a real blessing for my life. It’s a big challenge, but I’m really enjoying it. They are my life, and it’s been a good adjustment. I don’t think I would have been a good dad in my 20’s or 30’s…I was still a bit of a ratbag really. Back then, I was just wanting to go surfing and do all the things you do.

Wayne BartholomewSARGE: SO BESIDES THE FAMILY, YOUR WORLD TITLE IN 1978, WHAT ARE THE OTHER HIGHLIGHTS OF RABBIT’S LIFE?
BUGS: I guess it all goes back to how I got into surfing. I always had a passion for sport. When I was going to primary school, I used to like going early to school, to the PE (Physical Education) room, and I used to like the smell of the cricket bats, footballs, and all the sporting equipment. I used to just stand there and soak it all in. I always wanted a life in sort. Surfing was an escape and a salvation. I used to hang around the streets of Coolangatta hanging out playing pinball, shooting pool, whatever…and surfing was a wonderful thing that came into my life. Those early memories of growing up with the Petersons and the Townends; there we were growing up with Kirra, Snapper, Duranbah, all right there…it was so special.

Wayne BartholomewSARGE: THEN ONWARDS FROM THE GOLDY, THE WORLD BECAME YOUR SURFING PLAYGROUND
BUGS: I always loved travelling. It all started really with going to San Diego in 1972 with the Australian team, and then to Hawaii with Michael Petersen after that, which was the big awakening. There was a big wide wonderful world out there! Professional surfing in its infant form was alive and established in Hawaii and I got to see the Smirnoff Pro and the Duke Kahanamoku events, and I just went home from that trip in ’72, thinking ‘that is the future - the dream can happen’! The ISF had its last contest, that one in San Diego in 1972. It was Midget in ’64, Nat in ’66, Fred Hemmings in ’68, Rolf Arness at Bells in 1970, then Jimmy Blears in 1972, and that was really the end of that. In between ’72 and ’76, there was nothing – nothing at all. We all had a collective dream – I was dreaming it – as was Mark Richards, Peter Townend, Shaun Tomson, Kanga Cairns, Mark Warren, Michael Ho, Bruce Raymond, Larry Bertleman…this group – we were all dreaming the same dream. Everyone wanted to be a world champion, to go on a world tour and contest grand prix events, but there was no such thing. It was very much a part of my whole feeling, and coming to Hawaii very much opened up the possibility that such a dream, a feeling, could come alive. It was a collective mindset and wish amongst us all. Then there were guys like Randy Rarick, Fred Hemmings and Graham Cassidy, that were the first promoters and administrators. They were an important part of it because we were just a rabble, a bunch of true dreamers. When the IPS was formed in October 1976 it really was the birth of pro surfing. It was happening in Hawaii, and then Graham Cassidy had the APSA happening, and the 2SM Coca-Cola Surfabout that was the biggest event in the world. Then there was Bells, our traditional event, and then along came the Stubbies at Burleigh…so it was really Australia and Hawaii. Those memories really were the foundation stones of the sport. We were at the forefront of the sport, and basically bashing the sport into place. It was a pretty exciting time.

Wayne BartholomewSARGE: THAT WAS THE FIRST TIME THERE WAS MONEY ON OFFER?
BUGS: Yeah! Before that we were surfing for titles, and a little bit of money, but there was great comraderie. We were coming to Hawaii every year, some of us would try and get to South Africa. Bit by bit we pieced it all together and umm…next thing we had a world tour. There were events in Europe too; in 1980 we went to Lacanau in France. A lot of the record books don’t show it, but we’d go to these events and make them ‘international events’, by our collective presence. They were exciting times, important in the formulative years.

Wayne BartholomewSARGE: LOOKING BACK, DO YOU CONSIDER THE SPORT HAS GROWN QUICKER OR SLOWER THAN YOU’D HAVE EXPECTED?
BUGS: Well – in some regards, both really. I remember Peter Drouyn had an article published in 1975. It was called ‘Drinks at The Bar in ‘79’, where he envisioned us – surfers - having country-style clubhouses on the beach having a beer…but that didn’t happen. We were impatient. We wanted it to happen in our time, but it was never going to happen in ‘our’ time. It’s been a slow evolution in many ways, but lets put it in perspective. Like how were golf or tennis when they were 30 years old? We had to set the precedent of being the first pro surfers, being the first to retire, going through the transition into the real world, and then becoming promoters or part of the surfing industry, or part of an administration. Surfing had an unsavoury and wild image, and wasn’t looked upon as something that the corporate world wanted to be part of. Thirty years ago, the surfing industry was also an almost totally cottage industry, a tiny little industry, that was incapable of supplying us surfers with anything more than product and a few grand. Now it’s a multi-billion dollar affair, but even in the 80s it was still small by comparison. In that regard, the surfing industry kind of grew on our coat tails, and then became giant, but only in the 90s, and then became involved in sponsoring major professional events. It’s always been frustrating as to how long it has taken to get to corporate sponsorship. We’re kind of tribal – a bit insular. We don’t open up our doors to strangers in many ways. Maybe we’ve slowed the process by that tribalism.
(TO BE CONTINUED…)