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witzig : oahu 1967, 1968

John Witzig : The Australians in Hawaii
Part 1 - Oahu, 1968. 

John Witzig: The Australians in Hawaii, Part 1 - Oahu.
Surf International Vol. 1. No. 4 March 1968  pages 22 to 31.

The first part to John Witzig's account of his visit to the Hawaiian Islands in the winter of 1967-1968, substantially enhanced by his now iconic photographs.

For Part 2, see:

1968 John Witzig :The Australians in Hawaii, Part 2 - Maui.
Surf International Vol. 1. No. 4 April-May 1968  pages 20 to 29.
Many of Witizig's images of the period have been widely reprinted in various magazines and books, the best compilation is
Witzig, John: Surfing Photographs From the 1960s and '70s.
 Queen Street Fine Art, 34 Queen Street, Woolahra, NSW, 2025.

Also in this edition:
1968 Midget Farrelly : Hawaii, Winter 1967.
Surf International Vol. 1. No. 4 March 1968  Page 9.

Pages 22 and 23

Two page photograph:
"The impressive line up on North Shore of Oahu under a moderate swell".

Page 23

I preface this story with the advice that if this is not an absolutely accurate reconstruction of our trip to the Sandwich Islands, then it is the best that I can make up.
I have never been able to rid from my mind the similarity between a crowded jet aircraft and a flying cattle truck.
I suppose though, if any airline is going to do it for me, then it will be Air New Zealand.
Their seats may be just as crowded and uncomfortable as anyone elses, but their service is superb.
Doctor Spence, Nat, Ted Spencer and I left Sydney for Honolulu via Auckland at 3.00 p.m. on 13th December.
Unfortunately we struck a tour load of American Tourists returning home from God knows where and probably Australia.
Consequently the plane was packed.
I don't think I helped the whole deal by insisting on carrying on board my six assorted bags and cases of cameras.
As we took off, my mind was filled with things forgotten and jobs undone.
Still, it was too late.

At this stage I may introduce the first of my hints to would-be travellers.
Get three seats, preferably for the price of one, pull out the arm rests, and you have a comfortable bed.
Then avail yourself heartily of the alcoholic beverages aboard and then sleep.
Denied of three seats, as we were on this flight, you must resort to over-indulgence and a fitful and thoroughly booze-induced sleep.

Flying in a jet is particularly beautiful at dawn and dusk.
So it was a setting sun that greeted us at Auckland Airport.
From past experience at Auckland, I thought that this would probably be the only welcome.
Nat had a few of the local surfers down to meet him, hoping for a look at his boards, and by ...

Page 24

... the time we had used up the 38 cent voucher for goodies at the Airport canteen, our plane was ready for take-off.
Before we left, the girl at the post office succeeded in doing what Mr. McEwen and his Country Party compatriots had failed to do.
She devalued the Australian dollar by insisting that the New Zealand and Australian dollar were indeed not worth the same, and deducted an extra cent for a couple of stamps.
Anyway, somehow you sleep till dawn, then it is breakfast and Honolulu International Airport.
You are met by the customs who seem to believe most of what you tell them, and then by John Lind and Moku Froiseth of the Waikiki Surf Club who sponsor the Makaha Championships.
They have a few reporters since the Doctor is a judge for the contest and since they want Nat to compete.
He declines.

They are very kind to visiting surfers from Australia and fix the Doctor up with a shiny new VW with roof racks.
About this time we realise that the Doctor, whom we hadn't spoken to on the plane, is a friend of ours and we agree to accompany him on his travels.

His travels started at Waikiki.
For the first ten minutes the Waikiki area is quite interesting.
After that it is quite depressing.
There are too many tourists in floral shirts in too many large hotels.
My new definition of ludicrous is a pale American male from the mid-West in new shorts with skinny hairy legs sticking into nylon socks and the business shoes that he hasn't taken off yet.
And if you have seen American shoes you will know what I mean.
He finishes his tropical gear with a foul floral shirt and a plastic lei ($US 1.25).
Possibly the most singular fault of Waikiki is that ...

Page 25

Two photographs by Peter French.

Page 26

Photograph of Nat Young.

Page 27

Six photographs.

Page 28

Three photographs, two of Joey Cabell.
"Cabell at Backdoor on his 9'5'' Brewer pintail.
He was possibly the most outstanding surfer in Hawaii this year."

Page 29

... there are just too many Americans there being themselves.

There is surf, Ala Moana, Queens, No. 3's etc., but it is mainly summer surf.
Around Christmas, the United States winter, it is the North Shore of the island of Oahu that draws surfers from allover the world for its winter big surf.

The North Shore is out in the country.
You drive right across the island, through miles of pineapples and sugar cane which stretch from the mountain chain in the east to those in the west.
You reach a spot amongst the pineapples when suddenly the North Shore is spread out in front of you.
From this point it is downhill about four or five miles to the town of Haliewa.
When money and petrol is running short you can coast all the way to the town.

Probably the first thing you notice about the North Shore is the fact that it is really the country.
There are no hotels and lei-bedecked tourists.
There is grass and trees and plenty of rather ramshackle houses.
And the inhabitants.
From every imaginable race they have bred and interbred.
Caucasians (referred to as Haoles) Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, and the Polynesians.
Few have pure race any longer, and racial intolerance is restricted to a general dislike of Haoles by the Polynesian Hawaiians.
If you are a surfer, what will probably surprise you next is the relative smallness of locations such as Sunset and Waimea Bay.
At Waimea the huge waves break astonishingly close to the rocky point with its church tower.
The bay is not big at all, and Sunset is simply a small stretch of beach that is quite attractive, but hardly what you expected.

When there is no surf on the North Shore, it doesn't look like there ever will be.
The North Shore can get so flat, even in the big surf season, that you have to go lobster fishing or mud sliding or anything you can think of.
But when the surf is big, the whole North Shore is suddenly transformed.

You wake up in the morning to a muffled roar that doesn't stop.
You walk down to the beach at Pipeline and it literally shakes.
The huge waves break far out to sea at places like Avalanch and Banzai.
The cars stop along the highway that runs from Haliewa around the coast past Waimea and Sunset, and groups of surfers gather to declde If the surf can be ridden.
If its just pretty big then it is most probably Sunset, if it IS BIG, then it is Waimea Bay.
Throughout the day, you will hear the fire brigade sirens as they race to the rescue of surfers caught in the Sunset rip.

One day when we were on the North Shore, two surfers had to be rescued by helicopter after spending two hours nearly a mile out to sea off Sunset, unable to paddle against the current, and unwilling to venture into the break.
At Waimea, a spectator walking along the beach was picked up by the 15 foot shore break and quickly swept out to his death.
There was nothing that anyone could do.

Most of the surfers who come to the North Shore from allover the world find houses to rent right on the beach front in the Pipeline to Sunset area.
Apparently in earlier years, quite a few houses were wrecked by surfers (a fact that I don't find particularly difficult to believe).
In more recent times, surfing having grown up somewhat, there are quite a number of good houses that can be rented for about $100-$150 a month.
If you pack a few of your itinerant friends in, it's not too expensive.
There are still quite a few real pits around that can be rented very cheaply.
There always seems to be an equal number of animals who want to live in them.

Some of the landlords and ladies are not a little suspicious of surfers and we were lucky enough to strike an old robber called Mrs. Zeigler.
For $2 a night, painfully extracted in advance, she rented us two rooms and a bathroom.
Right at Sunset Point.
Only the front lawn and few yards of sand separated us from the surf.

Midget has said that when Sunset is good it is one of the ultimate truths in surfing.
Most unfortunately, while we were on the North Shore, it only broke well on one occasion.
And that was the day of the Duke Contest.
I don't know what anyone else thought, but considering the group of competitors, I felt that the contest was all over in almost indecent haste.
You bring some of the best surfers from all over the world and then put them in four heats and then a final.
For McTavish it was a couple of swims, and at Sunset it is just allover.
More probably than not, Jock Sutherland would have won whichever way the contest was run.
His fantastic knowledge of how a difficult Sunset would break was so evident in his choice of wave. He would fade far left, then change feet and crank a bottom turn under twelve feet of white water.
He was superb, there was little doubt about it.

The contest, though, was over in mid-afternoon and for the first time all the Australian kiddies got a chance to test their skill and equipment, not to mention their nerve, in medium sized Sunset.
I don't think that there is much doubt that it was Nat who was the most successful initially, on that December afternoon.
He and Cabell, on two vastly different boards, with two vastly different styles, worked over late
afternoon Sunset.
Russell, who had only arrived that afternoon with Midget, used his wide-tail Bells big wave board to get into a few curls.
Midget guessed wrongly again about the board.
I think that Ted was a bit psyched.
But it was Nat who carved some beautiful tracks on those waves.
His board worked and as he drifted on radical turns.
Joey Cabell swung his big controlled arcs on the pintail.
At no other time on the North Shore was the difference in the style and approach of the leading Hawaiian and Australian surfers so evident.
Nat, on his short wide-tailed board was utilizing the ability of his board to pull fantastic turns with instant acceleration.
Cabell was carving the most beautiful long arc turns, both bottom and top turns and always in the curl.
Perhaps he was corning from further inside than Nat, certainly this was so at Haliewa a few days later.

I have seen Haleiwa on a number of occasions.
It has been flat, or it has been reasonable.
On one day, with a good swell, and a side wind at Sunset, Haleiwa was 12' and good.
It was so good that I just could not imagine that Haliewa could get like that, and neither, I imagine, could the eighty surfers In the water, or the one hundred and eighty other photographers on the beach.
I wonder on reflection whether the rest of them wasted as much film as I did that day.
The spray was particularly bad and through the lens it just looked like a messy mass of blues and greys and sprayey-whites.

Still, if the photographs were to end up as a disappointment, then certainly the surfing on that day at Haleiwa was not.
To my mind it was Cabell and Nat who were again outstanding.
Hawaiian Joey was coming from far inside and making waves where even George Downing and Ricky Grigg weren't.
Nat gave up, more because of the limitations of the crowd than because of those of his board or ability.
Certainly, Drouyn came from inside on a few waves, but they were not much more than stand-up rides.
Cabell though, was outstanding.
Tight in the curl, his 9'8" pintail board would fly across the face of the fantastic Haliewa waves.
What had become apparent, at Sunset on that late afternoon, was now compounded at Haliewa. There were two schools of thought: Nat and acceleration, Cabell and flow.

It is difficult to the point of being impossible to try to evaluate one approach as against the other. There is ...

Page 30

... a considerable gulf between the two, attributable to the basic experience that has, as its result, either of the two points of view.
As an Australian, I was more used to Nat's approach to surfing, and if it should appear that I am biased in my appraisal, then it may very well be that this is so.

I cannot but think that the general approach of the pintail-flow school of thought is a logical extension, and perhaps conclusion, of a style of riding big waves that began with the first attempt on the big surf of the North Shore in the late 50s and early 60s.

In contrast, the short board- acceleration school of the Australian surfers appears to me to hold the key to the future.
I would be the last to claim that on the North Shore this year the Hawaiians, on their conventional equipment, were out-performed by the Australians on their short, V bottom boards.
Yet I cannot contain the enthusiasm that I feel for the breakthrough in performance big wave surfing that I feel must ultimately flow from this initial Australian assault on the Hawaiian surf.

Most probably there are lessons to be learnt from each approach.
Perhaps in some way, a marrying of the flow and acceleration is not impossible.
The sort of board that this would necessitate is quite beyond my knowledge.
While we were in Maui, shaper Dick Brewer began to experiment with V bottoms on pintails.
Perhaps there is an answer here.
Yet I find the two styles of approach to surfing to practically be the antithesis of one another.

To my mind the potential is with the Australian surfers and their equipment.
There is greater experimentation being done in Australia, and the excitement and inspiration that must arise from this, not to mention the equipment, assures a significant place in the future.

There is more in Haleiwa than just surf.
But not that much.
There is a court house that used to double as a post office, a new post office and a couple of supermarkets.
In the older part of town there are two pool rooms, some other shops, and the Kogo Theatre.

If you don't buy your food at either of the two shops at Sunset, Kammeys or the Sunset Beach Store, then you shop at one of the markets at Haleiwa.

If you start off with the idea that everything is going to be expensive and not as good as your'e used to then you will probably get along O.K.
The alternative to cooking, which we didn't do much of anyway, at anytime, is to eat at the drive-ins or whatever else they are called.
And if you do, you will wonder with me just how Americans have existed on such crap for so long.

The whole food set up is so completely different to ours in Australia.
There just aren't any butchers (meat is too expensive anyway,- $4.95 for a steak in a restaurant) or fruit shops or any other specialized shops.
And while I see in Australia that we are heading in this direction, I hope that we might never have cause to go all the way with L.B.J.
I miss being able to go into the fruit shop at Avalon and argue and bicker about the apple or carrot or grapefruit that I am going to finally purchase.
I simply cannot get used to homogenised, plasticised packs of apples, or the chalky milk that is any- where from 38c to 41c for not much more than an Australian pint.

I think it was Nat who led the animal group into the local yoghurt that everyone had looked at with well deserved suspicion.
Surprisingly it was good and remained the staple diet for most of the time on the North Shore.
Any other problems with food consumption or the essential bodily functions were cured by liberal dosages of prune yoghurt.

The Doctor had a few friends on the North Shore, and spent some considerable time socialising in their company.
While we were staying with the inscrutable Mrs. Zeigler he managed to wangle an invitation to a Chinese wedding at which he proudly informed us he devoured a bottle of scotch (I fail to i this day to establish any connection between the Chinese and the scotch).
He and I went one evening to the Duke Kahanamoku's Night Club in Honolulu for dinner and the floor show that featured a faintly funny fellow called Don Ho.
He relied on sex and drugs and embarrassing members of the audience for laughs but the food was pretty good.
If we had been able to get a second drink it might have been a good evening.

Another of the Doctor's friends was a Doctor Butler who had an old quonset hut near Rocky Point which is just a little southish of Sunset.
Dr. Butler has a family that consists of Mrs. Butler and a couple of sons.
Somehow one of them got called Arma and the quonset hut as a consequence Anna hut, and if I can carry this just a little farther, the left in front of the hut, Arma Break.

One late afternoon, the Doctor decided that he and I, accompanied by a six pack of beer, should call on the Arma Hut.
It was well we did, for as the day progressed, the waves got better till at last light they were 6'-8' pipes.
A few local Hawaiian surfers and Californians Corky Carroll and Rusty Miller played with the waves or let the waves play with them.
Just on dusk McTavish went out and rode a few goodish waves.

When Australians, or anyone else for that matter, arrive in Hawaii, they have to decide just what they will do about transport.
On this occasion, we were lucky since the Doctor had his magic Volkswagen.
Other times and other surfers are not so fortunate, and then you realise that if the food is bad and
expensive, then cars are bad but very cheap by Australian standards.
Many of the cars and station wagons in Hawaii are rolling rust buckets.
All of the cars that surfers buy can be relied upon to be.
Because of their dubious condition they are practically given away.
For $100 you can purchase a huge Yank tank that is guaranteed to hold at least six surfers and their board shorts and boards and at least an equal amount by weight of rust.

Racks get stolen if you leave them out at night.
Come to think of it, just about everything else does too, so the answer is to have no possessions, and in particular, no racks.
Boards are, by common practice, either stuck out of the back of station wagons, or else out of boots.

The way people carry boards, the way they speak, the way they steal your things, all these you get used to pretty quickly.
And unless you are pretty stupid, you get used to the American money pretty quickly too.
Poor Russell, he imagined for at least a week or so, that the smallest silver coins were obviously the 5c pieces, and the next larger ones, lOc.
Unfortunately, these sort of rules applied only in Russ's head.
Still, for a week or so he was welcomed with open anns by every shop keeper from Sunset to Haleiwa.

To anyone whose knowledge of the surf of Hawaii is restricted to informa- tion gleaned from surfing movies, you might be forgiven for thinking that the ...

Page 31

... surf on the North Shore is Sunset, Pipeline, Waimea and perhaps Haliewa.
In fact, the twelve or so miles from Haleiwa to Velzyland, which is not far past Sunset, is loaded with surfing breaks.
Chuns, Laueakai, Gas Chambers, Rocky Point, Pupakai, Widows Peak and all the other ones named or not.
Just a little farther around the point at Sunset is a break that was alternatively referred to as Backyard or our Place.
During our stay on the North Shore (which admittedly was not long) this spot was practically the exclusive surf of the Australians and a New Zealander or so.

There is just so much surf on the North Shore that when there is any kind of swell you can surf for days and never see most of the other Australians or Californians that are living just down the road. This year, the North Shore was loaded with Californians, partly as a legacy of the Duke contest and partly due to the annual exodus to the islands.
Most of the supernames of the Californian scene were packed into houses around Sunset.
Dora, Rusty Miller, Hynson, Mike Doyle, and Bob Cooper.
It reads like a Who's Who of U.S. Surfing.
Possibly the annual Makaha contest which is held over the Christmas period still attracts some of the Californians though their success in the contest has not been conspicuous.
So it was to be this year.
With the Doctor amongst the international judging panel, Hawaiian Joey Cabell was adjudged the winner with Australian Peter Drouyn in third place.
Despite some criticism that apparently flowed home from the islands, competition, whether the Duke or Makaha, was not the reason for the Australians being in Hawaii this year.
Rightly or wrongly, competition is no longer the motivating force in surfing.
If competition is reponsible for allowing some surfers to travel throughout the world then at least this
is one positive and pleasant attribute that has come from it.

On the first Tuesday of each month, the big yellow sirens that sit on their poles every few miles or so along the North Shore are tested.
The testing occupies about ten minutes or so.
The purpose of the sirens is to warn of approaching tidal waves or imminent nuclear attack.
Since no tidal wave of any consequence has hit the islands for some years, everyone just ignores the sirens when they do go off.
And hopes that the Russians don't attack on the first Tuesday of the month.

The sirens though have nothing whatever to do with New Year's Eve.
Even if they went off in the hour or so preceding the dawn of the new year, no one would hear them. The Hawaiians have hit upon the interesting idea of welcoming in the new year with vast quantities of fireworks.
The most spectacular are the huge strings of crackers that like a string of Tom Thumbs multiplied some hundred times or so, ignite each other, so the noise is lengthy and loud.
Have a thousand of these going off simultaneously amongst the buildings and streets of Honolulu and it is difficult to hear yourself think.
It is New Year's Eve so you are boozed, so it doesn't matter about thinking and it's good fun anyway.

This kid had to come home earlier than anyone else since duty called and he had to write this story. And since no one had any intention of going out of their way to help him he was deposited along with his luggage at the airport twelve hours before the plane left.
And with two dollars.
Thorough searching of pockets brought two more dollars (Aust.) to light and these were quickly changed into play money.
Actually, it was very interesting watching the parade of humanity and others that passed through the terminal during those hours.
I would hide behind a book and carefully observe the Moms and kids and bulging khaki sergeants and pressed officers.
And they nearly all chew gum, all the time.
And some of them wear funny long shorts and fancy jackets.
And long pants with cuffs on them.
And those funny shoes again.

I spent the last couple of hours in the bar spending the two dollars that had not been previously sacrificed to books or food.
'Can I see your I.D.?'
'We don't have them where I come from', 'Then your passport'.
You prove your age to get a drink and watch the planes with binking lights yake off into the darkness.
Then it is your turn and you walk quickly, and then more slowly when you realise that it is still early. The plane is a little late taking off.
It is now 1.30 in the morning.
You want to sleep.
Three seats!
At last comfort.
You can sleep.
So you do and wake up with a twisted back that kills you for three days.
Ah! well, it had been a fine plan.
Auckland airport for an hour again.
Breakfast just before, lunch just after.
The hours and meals are completely screwed up.
This time you are chasing hours and losing days.
Memory usually embroiders reality, but I can remember having particularly beautiful and helpful hostesses on the way home.
The Air New Zealand stewards were great too.
They didn't have a planeful of Americans on their dying tour to look after.
Just me.
Despite the hostess landing the plane we made it to Sydney Airport.
It felt good.
It would be great to be home and see friends again.
I was excited and pleased.
That is until I stepped out of the plane.
It was windy and cool.
My carefully acquired suntan faded as a few drops of rain splashed into my face.
The door to the customs was across forty yards of grey tarmac.
I was home.

Surf International
Vol. 1. No. 4 March 1968.
Cover: Nat Young

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Geoff Cater (2010-2019) : John Witzig : The Australians in Hawaii, Part 1 - Oahu, 1967.