Dad was one of the original solid board-riders, surfing Bondi in the mid-to-late 1920s. He had been inspired by the board Duke Kahanamoku shaped in 1915, on his first visit to Australia. The Duke arrived without a board. So, he carved one, using the local sugar pine. Harry carved his board to The Duke’s specifications, 10ft in length, weighing 100lbs.
With his wingman, Frankie “The Blade” Griffiths, he’d surf off the boat-shed at North Bondi, riding “green walls” right to the beach. The most difficult part of the wave was the close-out shore-break, where they’d throw themselves across the deck of the board, wrapping themselves around it, before going “over-the-falls”, hanging on for dear life. Madness, yes. But, imagine losing control of a 100lb solid beam that could knock your head clean off! They were often chased away by Stan McDonald, Bondi’s first Beach Inspector. So, they’d surf the south end, which was a favourite spot for them in winter, because it was protected from the prevailing SW winds.
They had many shark encounters. In those days, huge schools of salmon would attract sharks into the bay. Fishermen often caught “tigers” in the deep gutter that runs alongside the rocks at the north end. They called it: “Shark Alley”. Whenever they hooked a shark, someone would lasso its tail and then, with the help of a few onlookers, they’d pull the thrashing monster ashore. This practice was stopped as surf swimming grew in popularity.
Dad made a modest living, teaching swimming at Bondi Baths. But, he had many famous friends, including Peter Lawford, Peter Finch, Donald Friend, Rolf Harris and Sir Frank Packer. He also taught many famous people, including Margaret Whitlam, who became an accomplished back-stroker. His expertise took him to the Berlin Olympics, where he coached the Australian Swim Team. He actually saw Adolph Hitler refuse to shake hands with Jesse Owens.
In the 40s, Dad went to Ceylon, where he introduced and fostered the surf lifesaving movement. He met my Mum, Zoe, and romance bloomed. They married in 1949 and came to live in Bondi, where the family grew. His association with surf lifesaving continued into his 60s, coaching several Australian Title winning teams, and eventually earning a place in the Surf Life Saving Hall of Fame.
Harry Nightingale, Jnr.