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Division within the vision of the ‘sport’ created a difficult environment for sponsors to dump a bunch of money into a recreational pastime that relied on the unreliable playing field of the ocean and an anti-establishment underbelly within the competitors. To be a national and international promotional success, the industry needed some international surfers to turn up Down Under. There was no shortage of Aussies travelling to Hawaii upsetting everyone but the number of overseas surf stars coming to our shores was thin on the ground.
Thanks to his foresight, promotional capacity, and a soft spot for surfing, two companies were instrumental in establishing the 2SM/Coca Cola Surf about to be run on the Northern Beaches of Sydney. Offering a purse more appealing to the Hawaiians, it became Australia’s premier professional event on the international surf calendar. By May 1 1974, the contest was set to run for a week at Manly Beach, NSW with an option to move the event to the best option for waves. The leaderboard read like a Hall of Fame: Jeff Hackman, Owl Chapman, Reno Abellera, Gerry Lopez, Michael Peterson, Ian Cairns, Peter Townend, Terry Fitzgerald, Nat Young… any of them could have won this event.
When a strong low-pressure weather system out of the south supplied cold air/water temperatures and a bumpy groundswell of 8-10ft organisers opted to run the event at Ferry Bower. And so it was that a renowned big wave, right-hand point at the southern end of Manly supplied the stage for the Hawaiians to dominate.
However, the winter environment and demanding jump off presented a new challenge for the visitors. It was all very different to the scenarios they faced when warm water waves of the same size hit the well-sculpted reefs of Hawaii. Gerry and Owl, along with a bunch of media and locals, took up their positions at the jump off point around the base of the cliff. The event had become a tactical exercise for the surfers. No Jet Skis, no mercy if you missed the timing of the sets paddling out, and an almost definite heat loss if they fell, due to the time-consuming exercise of losing a board and getting back to the take-off. The top of the cliff carpark was filled with onlookers, surfers who were knocked out, locals who reckoned they could have surfed it better and media who were relishing the view and the potential. I was on the cliff, obviously, and managed to bang off a shot of the intense interest of the Hawaiians in the take-off and the consequences for anyone caught inside. It became a contest of tactics, not only mentally, but physically. The person who could out-paddle, out-position, out-manoeuvre, and psyche out everyone whilst dealing with Sydney’s southerly buster conditions would prevail.
Displaying their attachment to very 70s boardshorts, making small concessions to stay warm between heats, Gerry (featured image) went with a minimal sweaty, whereas Owl donned a more complete ensemble featuring a wetsuit vest topped by a very stylish woollen beanie to keep the warmth from escaping through his head. In contrast in the background (featured image) from left, we have the rugged-up crew including a stylish Peter Crawford and Brent Osment, a Tracks staffer. To the right of Owl we have Bali pioneer Kim ‘Fly’ Bradley in a striped shirt and American Indian themed jacket and John Grissim, Tracks editor at the time, in a short-legged long-armed steamer. Whatever the fashion distractions, the event was one of the most demanding ever held in Australia up to that point. So, many could have taken the chocolates but due too his sheer paddle power, determination to outdo his peers and ability to adapt to the diverse conditions, Michael Peterson rightly went home with the winner’s cheque and trophy.