Panache

Surfing World   1975   Bruce Channon

At last year’s Newcastle contest, in the Junior and Senior finals, Panache filled seven of the 12 places. They won first place in the A-Grade, B-Grade and Junior at the New South Wales State Titles. During these titles, Peter Townend told Ron Ford, that; in his opinion, the junior strength of Panache represented a future threat to the recent Queensland dominance of Australian events. In this interview, SW seeks to find out how this group of surfers have become so hot, so fast.

Panache Board Riders Club, South Bondi

Panache Board Riders Club, South Bondi


Surfing World: What is Panache?

Victor Ford: It’s an idea that started between Bruce Raymond, Brad Johnson and myself. We were in North Narrabeen (club) at the time, but weren’t competing in the contests regularly enough and because of that, we didn’t feel like proper members. We wouldn’t join East Coast (the club in Bondi), because of personality reasons. So, we thought, let’s start our own club, … because they won’t let you go in the Sydney Titles, etc. unless you’re in a club.

SW: What about the word “Panache”?

Victor: It came out of a book I was reading at the time. I had to look it up in Chambers Dictionary, which is the 300,000 word one. It gives a good explanation. I can’t recall it exactly, but it basically means “an air of excellence” and “to perform with theatrical grace”. It’s a really groovy name (much heckling and laughing throughout the room).

Brad Mayes: Don’t put that bit in the interview (more laughs).

SW: How many guys did you have to begin with?

Victor: It started off with 12 kids. But, we had to have 15 to be recognised as a club. So, we got a few more. It was basically just to go into individual contests, if you wanted to. Then, we realised we had a lot of good surfers. So, they went in last year’s Teams Titles, in May or June, and they came 3rd in the A-Grade. We thought, well, we’ve got something, let’s try and work with it. Like, it started off as a joke really, just a convenience. We originally decided not to have officials or meetings or any of that bull — we thought we’d just have a club. Unfortunately, the club business has gotten a little out of control. Now, we’re getting stickers. We’ve got a Chairman. Brad Johnson is Public Relations (laughs) …

Kurt Russell: … and Treasurer!

Someone else: … and Real Estate Agent (much laughter).

Victor: We found that these idealistic clubs sound very nice, but they just can’t work without some kind of organisation.

SW: It’s not an open membership club though?

Victor: No. You can’t just join the club. You’ve got to be invited. You’ve got to have five people invite you. Then, you come down and the whole club has to accept you, unanimously. This is to keep it small, tight and just kids who can stand each other.

SW: Do many people get upset because they can’t join it?

Victor: No, I’ve had a lot of people approach me, but I don’t think anyone’s been resentful when they’ve been refused. At the moment, I’m forming another club down here, separate from Panache, so the other Bondi kids can go in the South-side Eliminations. There’s already about 20 kids interested and I’ve little doubt that it’ll soon swell to 50 or so. But, I don’t think anybody resents Panache. I mean, as a club, and as a group of blokes who think they’re better than anyone else, I don’t think anyone thinks of it like that. I know a lot of people who would like to get into it. That’s expected. But, that’s good for the club also, because it’ll make sure the kids in the club stay at a reasonable standard. I know that within the club itself, there’s a lot of competition, which is to be expected with a group of good riders. It keeps them on their toes. I just hope it doesn’t develop into bad feelings. But, I think we can keep it under control.

SW: Do you think being in a competitive club is essential to getting better?

Victor: Well, I haven’t seen anyone do it, lately, who hasn’t been in a club.

SW: Brad, you’ve really had a change lately, from being up at Angourie for two years and then corning back to this tight group atmosphere. How have you found it?

Brad M: Well, I’ve got that way that surfing’s just so much a part of my life that up there, I didn’t need contests and the like, to do my surfing. But, back here you tend to be drawn away from it because there’s heaps of other things to do. Being a part of this club keeps you surfing, it keeps you out there every day. So this, plus the fact that the guys in this room here are the guys I surf with every day, made me want to be in on it.

Victor: When Brad first came back from Angourie, I don’t know if it was just readjusting to the bad surf, but he couldn’t handle it. However, since he’s been back a while, his surfing’s improved out of sight.

Brad Johnson: Do you reckon you went stale up there, Brad?

Brad M: Oh yeah, for sure.

Victor: You could really notice the difference. Like, if you saw Brad when he first came back, and you saw him now, he’s just twice the surfer.

An obscure voice in the background: Yeah, now he can stand up. (Uncontrollable laughing).

SW: Environment wise, Bondi is a cesspool. How do you guys handle it?

Brad J: We’ve grown up with it.

Victor: We’ve just gotten used to it. Everybody’s aware of the pollution. We’d all like to do something about it, and we would if we could, but like all surfers, I think we’re all a little bit too complacent.

Brad M: In winter, when you wake early, there’s a westerly blowing, you come down here and there’s good waves — it’s nice enough. If you can surf here at least once a day, the whole pressure of what’s behind you there (points towards the mass of buildings and traffic) goes off you. If you can go out and pick off a good wave, you can live here.

SW: But really, how dirty is the water down here?

Brad J: I don’t think there’s a guy here who’s never had either ear infection, flu, gastric or something, as a direct result of the water.

Steve Corrigan: This may sound insane, but it’s true. A guy, I know, knew a person who had tinea on his feet. He swam in the pool at North Bondi and he ended up having to get his feet amputated, they got so badly infected.

Brad J: When it’s blowing south-east here, you get a film or smell off the top of the water, it gets in your eyes, and makes them sting and water, and when you take a deep breath, your chest seems to cloud.

Brad M: On a good rainy day, it looks like a glassed-off North Coast wave, except it’s not river pollution, it’s sh.. .

Steve: That’s why sharks don’t come here. They’re afraid they’ll die.

Brad J: But, sometimes it’s not so bad.

Victor: Yeah, I remember once, you could even see the bottom.

Bruce Channon: (I laugh, thinking it was a joke, but then realise everyone else took it seriously).

SW: Getting back to actual wave riding, there are basically two schools of surfing; the style and positioning school, and the lip-rigging full-on manoeuvre school. Which do you guys lean towards?

Brad M: We’ve got both styles here.

Victor: Yeah, like, we have Steve Corro and Ronny, who are radical and on the other side, we’ve got Colin Sutherland and Brad who are smooth.

Brad M: And Gluefoot (Steve Gibson) is a positioning surfer.

SW: Do you guys have proper contests between yourselves or other clubs?

Victor: No. We’ve only had one with Cronulla.

SW: But you’re not going to have a contest between yourselves?

Brad M: No.

Victor: Well, some people in the club would like to. But, every time it comes up at a meeting, there’s been mixed feelings. I, myself, don’t think the kids need it, because they’re in other contests so often, and they’re all so contest-orientated.

Ron Ford: We virtually have a contest every time we go out in the surf. (a jumble of voices confirm that they are continually pushing each other to improve all the time.)

Victor: What we’ve also discussed is having club expression sessions, where we all pile into cars, go down the coast somewhere, get into a good surf, take it in turns — three in the water at a time and film it. Then, when we come back, we can all look at it carefully and figure it out. Anybody else like to answer some questions? My throat’s getting sore.

SW: What are your thoughts on professional surfing?

Victor: Money corrupts. That’s been proven right through history. However, for people who like to surf, and to support surfing as a whole, money’s probably needed. For example, surfboard design couldn’t have progressed to the extent it has, if you didn’t have shops paying professional surfers. For design progression, and even in what kids are going to do on a wave, you really need that financial support.

Brad M: I think the guys over here are on a whole different circuit to North-side guys, in that here, we’re surrounded by an everyday working element, and the guys that do surf are a tight group. I think a lot of us consider it now as a sport. It’s a part of our lives, but it’s a sport thing, an athletic thing, too, because you have to keep healthy and fit to go in contests. When I learnt to shape, manufacturers were prepared to teach you. But, that doesn’t happen anymore. If kids go in contests, they might be able to get a chance in the surfing industry that way.

SW: What about the Bondi surfing crowds?

(The answer is a large spontaneous moan).

Victor: The biggest crowd is right in this room (much laughing).

Brad M: To tell you the truth, when it is big, we get it to ourselves.

Victor: But when it’s small and good, it’s just ridiculous. Everybody out gets hit and run over.

Brad M: But, the crowds come in bursts. They’re not here all the time.

Steve: There’s three main groups. There’s the Bronte blokes, the Tamarama blokes and the Bondi blokes. Bronte doesn’t break any more and Tamarama, you can only surf at certain times in the afternoon. So, they all come over here. Plus the blokes from the Western Suburbs.

SW: Brad, you were in Windansea when it existed here years ago. Does Panache bear any resemblance?

Brad M: It’s along the same lines, but Windansea was a really, sort of boosted thing. It was the same originally, in that it was tight. But, then it opened up and took in people from all over, and that’s what killed it, in a way. So, I think the idea of having only 18 guys is good. Also, I don’t like the idea of having contests among ourselves, because at the moment the atmosphere is good. If you start having contests every month, bad feelings might develop and let’s face it, you’re only in it for the fun.

Victor: It is good. This is probably the tightest Bondi’s been as a group in years. Another reason why all these formerly split factions have tightened, is that we feel, as a beach, that we’ve been missed out a lot, in both representation at contests and by the Media. Before this interview, it’s been dabbled at a couple of times, but nothing comprehensive, just a light touch on the surface.

SW: There have always been good surfing clubs appearing at Bondi from time to time. Brad you probably know all about the “Cornell Wilde” crew, etc?

Brad M: Yeah, my father (Jack “Bluey” Mayes) was in that. Then, there were clubs like South Bondi Boardriders, Windansea, etc.

Victor: They’ve always sprung up, but, unfortunately, they’ve always gone back down again. We’re hoping to keep it up this time.

Brad M: It always goes back to the same thing. Some parents say to their kids that you’ve surfed in your younger days, but now you’ve grown up, you’d better start falling into your career for the future, and that’s what I think is one of the problems that causes these groups to part.

Victor: Well, it’s the Australian way of life. You do so many things until you’re 15, so many things until you’re 18, different things until you’re 21, then after that you settle down, get married, and give up everything, except drinking (everyone laughs).

Kurt: Join the Icebergs (room erupts into laughing).

Brad M: But, none of that matters, if you keep to your main track.

Victor: The attitude of surfers, in general, has changed. I know the attitude of kids here is not that surfing’s something you give up when you turn 21. I don’t think you get too old to surf at 30 or 40. You should just get more experienced. If you become inflexible, it’s because of your diet and exercise problems.

Brad M: I think the Senior Mens one day is going to be it.

Victor: If we take Hawaii as an example, it will for sure. Most of the Hawaiians that I saw getting into sizeable waves were the men, not the kids.

Brad M: People over there probably hang in there longer because of the money thing. If you’re good, you get paid, whereas here, you’ve got to battle.

Victor: But, this professionalism will happen here.

Brad M: But, it’ll only be for a select few.

Victor: Well, that’s professionalism all over. For example, there must be millions of golfers in the world, but there’s only, say, 140, who make top money from it. So, because the surfing population isn’t nearly that many, you’ve got to expect the number at the top to be a lot less also. It’s up to ourselves, though, how we present, or deliver, the sport, or art, or whatever it is, to the public. This is what will govern its progression.

SW: Here’s the old “standard” question: Is it a sport or an art?

Victor: To me it’s an art, nothing less.

Bruce Raymond: It’s art.

Victor: You’ve got to sell it as a sport, but underneath it’s an art.

Brad M: I think on a normal day’s surfing, you like to look at it as an “arty” thing. But, when contests are coming, you definitely turn the other way. That’s why I don’t think there’s any difference between art and sport. It’s whatever you make it in your own mind.

Victor: If there’s ever a time when sport and art combine, then surfing is that time. Gymnastics and some other sports come close. But, surfing would be first.

Bruce: It’s the intensity of it.

Victor: Yeah, right. It’s the concentration and total effort. Like all the kids here, on some mornings, will surf for three or four hours in a session, then do the same in the afternoon as well. But, they go in a contest, and in just two heats, 20 minutes each, they come home and they’re exhausted. They just flake. I think this is because the demand on them to concentrate is so much more intense. On a normal day, it’s relaxation. If you fall, it’s no worry. Just swim in to your board. But, in a contest, it’s 20 minutes of full-on concentration. You’ve got to pull off manoeuvres and they’ve got to be precise. Most people don’t think you see the best surfing in competitions. But, I disagree. I reckon you do.

Brad M: When you see Lennox on a 12 foot day, mate, that’s when you’ll change.

Victor: In a contest, the end result may not look as good, because they probably lose a lot through nervousness. But, they catch that up in concentration. It makes them think about their surfing, and helps them improve.

SW: Ron, do you feel you surf better in a contest?

Ron: No, I’m scared stiff. When I first go out, I’m really shook up. But, if I can get a good wave straight off, then I’ll start to loosen up. Like in every contest before the NSW Title that I won, I used to think, for example, I’ve got Simon Anderson and Dappa and so I used to aim at coming third. But, then I was talking with Steve Jones and he said you should always push for first. At the time, I thought, well, that’s being a bit of a head. But, it’s not. He’s right. You have to go for first, to come anywhere. Every time I went in the water in the State contest, I aimed at first and it worked. I was lucky enough to win.

SW: Did you surf better in that final than you normally surf?

Ron: No, I was too shaken up. One time, I went for a cutback and my legs just turned to jelly. Normally, I would have made it. But, I was thinking about what would happen if I fell off. So, I did.

Victor: Same as Brad. His nerves hamper him. There’s only one person in the room that really excels himself in contests and that’s Bruce Raymond. He just loosens up. Steve Jones gets really nervous. But, he knows how to contain it and he’s a really good contest surfer. But, Corro here (Steve Corrigan), he’s just hopeless. He’s so nervous, it’s ridiculous.

SW: Do you agree, Corro?

Steve: Yeah. But, the last one (State Titles) wasn’t so bad. I conditioned myself better, mentally. I could see all the other finalists on the beach psyching each other out. So, I just stayed clear of it and tried to surf positive, not to get nervous.

Victor: Another really important point there, too, Bruce, is if they can get it together in a contest, if they can learn to control the pressure, to discipline themselves, then their surfing is doing so much more for them than being an art, a sport, a distraction and a release. It’s mental training. It’ll make you a better person, because what you’re talking about here is a form of fear, and it’s going to be the same as when you’re surfing big waves, or driving a car, or handling any situation in life.

SW: Didn’t a lot of you guy used to surf Narrabeen every weekend?

Brad J: Yeah. Going right back to the start, I remember the first time we went over, everyone was so completely blown out by the waves and the standard of surfing there. It was much more advanced than Bondi. We couldn’t believe it. From that time on, Victor made a study of it and Panache developed from that.

Victor: What happened was Bondi was having a particularly terrible run of surf, at the time. It was frustrating beyond all belief.

Brad M: That’s also when there was a bad split in communication down here.

Victor: Yeah, everything here was just wrong: the surf, the club and everything. We were fanatical surfers at the time. We just wanted to get as much surf as we could. We used to get up at 4.30 am to go over to Narrabeen. Eleven of us would pile into the combi. We used to see Wicka hurrying over in his slippers, he’d see the combi coming and he’d break into a jog, throw off his clothes, rip on a wetsuit and sprint for the water. I think when we first went there, we were resented, and you can’t blame anyone for that. There were so many of us.

Brad J: I really used to get blamed for being the first guy to take everyone over.

Victor: Anyway, we’d surf in the morning. Then, they’d hold the contest and we used to just stay out of the water and watch. That was when Mark Warren and Dappa were juniors. They were so red hot, it wasn’t funny. Col was always there. Midget used to go sometimes. Nat and Drouyn every once in a while. Fitz and Harvey. There was so much good surfing going on there on the one beach. Every day, it was just great to watch.

SW: What caused the “communication split” that existed between the surfing here (Bondi)? Was it different social lives?

Brad M: Yeah, they were totally different. But, now everyone’s a bit older and they’re leaving each other alone. We were all younger then, and were putting each other down for living differently.

Victor: We were really fanatical. Like, this sounds crazy now, but we had a rule that no girlfriends could go over to Narrabeen with us, because a chick would take up the place of another surfer.

SW: You’re not serious?

Victor: I am! I said to Bruce Raymond, just recently, how much we’ve changed over the years. Like, Robert has now got a girlfriend with a car. There was a time when he’d have been in disgrace if, in a week, he hadn’t organised racks for her car, loaded half his mates in, and figured out how he could leave her behind. We bought the combi specifically to pile up with kids and hit Narrabeen. We were trying to expand the outlook for kids over here. Beforehand, we’d almost written off Bondi as ever having good surfers again. But, I think that Bondi’s as good as it is now, simply because we went to Narrabeen. We started improving because of that, and in doing so, forced the other groups here to either get better or get out.

Brad M: I got out.

Victor: But, he’s back, and he’s in it now and he’s in it at our level. Like before, there were social surfers and hard core surfers. Now, Brad’s back here, but not as a social surfer. His attitude is more professional.

Brad J: Mark Warren was telling me, the other day, that North Narrabeen had a contest in 8-foot waves. It worked right up to the final, but everyone either went off and played basketball or they went up the pub. They just said, stick the final, and Mark was left sitting on the beach.

Victor: I think we got better, because we were in Narrabeen. But, I think the Northy kids would get better now, if they were with us. The push, enthusiasm, competition, whatever they had then, is here now and we’re going to try and keep it here, force each other to improve and hold it at that progressing level. Clubs normally get bigger, get more social, then die.

SW: What can you do to stop that? I think most clubs start out with this “tight group” plan. But, it always seems to fail.

Steve C: We hope to keep recirculating members.

Victor: You see, you can get voted out of this club. If 10 members vote against you, you’re out.

Brad M: I didn’t know all this, sounds like the Communists.

Victor: The idea is that, eventually, all the kids in this club won’t be good enough for it. There’ll be hotter kids forcing them out. This is way off in the future when arthritis, or whatever, sets in. But, it’ll happen, if everything doesn’t fold.

SW: Do you really think that you can prevent Panache from folding, for example, in a few years, when this group of guys drift apart?

Victor: Yeah, because we’ve seen what’s happened in the downfall of a million other clubs. You’ve got to keep that spirit of enthusiasm going, and also the competition amongst themselves at a level where it won’t crush the club because of inflated egos. At the moment, we’re on a good thing. We’ve been doing well. We haven’t been pushing it yet. But, we will be from now on. For example, doing this interview is good. When the magazine comes out with photos of Panache, you’ll make stars of these kids and the other kids on the beach will look up to them. They’ll expect big things of Panache, and it’ll make Panache a group they’ll want to get into. When that happens, it’ll put pressure on these kids here. More than that, it’ll put a responsibility on these kids to surf better, to surf up to the demands of the not-so-good riders.

SW: But, that’s what happens every year to individuals and to clubs and that’s when it seems everyone fizzes out.

Victor: Right. But, if they fizz, someone will take their place, and the people who’ll replace them will have to be good, so the club will progress. Take this group here. I can keep it going as long as the people here can keep themselves going. As long as I can boost their egos and push their surfing, they’ll improve. And I’ll push them as far as they can get, because I want to see these kids get there. I want to see them make it.

Brad M: Yeah, Bondi’s had it rough. It’s never had publicity.

Victor: But, I’m not just thinking of Bondi. I want to see these kids do it. I’ll try and push them to a level, where they will be as good as they can possibly get and to the point where they can make most out of it. Then, it’s up to them.

SW: Do you think that better surfers should try to put forward a good image?

Victor: Young surfers do look up to all the older good surfers. I’ve noticed kids looking up to this group lately and it’s not just me that’s seen this, lots of people have told me the same. Whether they like it or not, upon becoming a top surfer, they have that responsibility to the younger kids. They’re going to be actually influencing those people’s lives. Look back on the “Animal” era. A lot of people took on that image, that attitude, and it was so bad for surfing that we’re still having repercussions from it. Surfers are now asking sponsors for money. To get it, you have to show these people that you have some kind of responsibility. They won’t give you a lot of money, if they think that you’re just going to go and blow it. To do this you have got to keep that professional attitude. You have to be presentable. In Panache, we’re trying to keep that level up. What you do outside, what you do in your private life, doesn’t matter. But, when you’re representing Panache, when you’re operating in surfing, you’ve got a responsibility to yourself, to the people who look up to you and to surfing in general. I feel that surfing is just beginning to move out of its infant stages. If it’s going to develop, we’ll have to realise this responsibility and act in relation to it.

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