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Beach Grit

Wild: Surf legend’s explosive tell-all memoir!

Derek Rielly

by Derek Rielly

Rabbit Bartholomew says, "I do not want to read this book!"

If you know surfing, you’ll know the name Ian Cairns, a man with the physique of a comic-book hero (nicknamed Kanga) who ruled big waves, who was pivotal in the creation of a world tour, who would launch the ASP after tearing the game off the IPS’s Fred Hemmings and whose thin-eyed stare could give a man stomach cramps.

For the past three years, Ian, who is sixty-five, has been working with the Ireland-based writer Wayne Murphy on a two-volume memoir called Kanga: the trials and triumphs of Ian Cairns. Ian chose Wayne, a former contest judge and pioneer of waves in Western Australia,  to write the books because, a, “because I wanted someone from WA to write this thing because it’s important he knows that when you’re from Western Australia you have a chip on your shoulder”, b,”because he wasn’t a conventional surf writer. I wanted a different look at things” and, c, “because he pested the crap out of me.”

Volume one, which is 544 pages long or 155,000 words, charts his childhood, growing up surfing in Western Australia, having the dream of making a living out of it right through the conclusion of 1976 and the introduction of the world circuit. Volume two is where it gets interesting… dirty. The creation of the Bronzed Aussies. His role in the Hollywood movie Big Wednesday. Winning the World Cup. The launch of the OP Pro. The launch of the ASP. WSL and the future of surfing.

Copies land April 13 although you can pre-order here at his website. 

Earlier today, I called Kanga, who lives in Laguna Beach with his former pro surfer wife Alisa and twin teenage boys, to talk about the book, the direction of pro surfing under the private ownership of the WSL, why he doesn’t give, as Nick Carroll says, “a flying fuck whether you liked him or not”, about testifying in court against Da Hui’s Eddie Rothman and to ask why Rabbit Bartholomew, his peer and also a titan of the sport, says, “I do not want to read this book.”

ian Cairns book

The book Rabbit Bartholomew doesn’t want to read.

About the WSL and the sport’s direction, he says, “We watch all these moments, Paul Speaker and his treatment of surfing, the disenfranchisement of the surf industry from the WSL direction, hiring an Englishwoman, a former tennis and rugby executive, to run surfing  – in terms of painting a picture of what my perfect vision would be, it may not align with what the WSL direction is.

“I really struggle with the concept of it being a full-blown league sport ala tennis and football and NBA,” says Ian. “As surfers, we all do it for lifestyle and spiritual reasons. Look at the comments on your articles. The gulf between the presentation of the WSL and what the average surf fan thinks is so great. The concept that you can find salvation for the economic reality of WSL in attracting more non-surfers to support sponsors, to me, is the exact opposite of what it should be. I’ve got a screen-grab of an article that says World Wrestling Entertainment made 850 million bucks last year. They have one-and-a-half million people pay ten bucks a month to subscribe to their channel. These are wrestling enthusiasts. They’re clear on who their audience is. I don’t see that clarity coming out of the WSL.”


On Rabbit, who said, when asked for a testimonial, “Ian’s life seriously impacted on me and many other people, for better, and worse. I do not want to read this book”.

“Well… you know… that’s Rabbit’s problem,” says Ian. “It’s not my problem. When he was a nobody and I was beginning to be someone, I let him be my caddy. He was my sidekick. He thinks I soured his relationship with people in Hawaii. He needs to look at his own actions. When we were looking for a new executive director of the ASP, I was the guy who proposed Rabbit. I knew the ASP needed a surfer at the helm. I fought hard for him. Rabbit was a great surfer, we were ultra-close buddies back in the early seventies and we had to go through the turmoil to change the world. If we look at the good times and the things we achieved we gotta high-five each other. What a great time we’ve had!”

On Mark Richards, the four-time world champ who said, “Kanga didn’t start the ASP for the benefit of Ian Cairns. He did it for the benefit of pro surfing.

“This is consistent with how sport was in the years that I grew up,” says Ian. “Sporting clubs were owned by the members not billionaires. When I left the ASP I left with nothing but the satisfaction of putting pro surfing on the correct path.”

About not giving a flying fuck.

“Everyone in some sense is concerned about what people think of them. But I wake up in the morning and I think, what am I going to today? How can I do all these things that are crazy and cool and how can it benefit my family, my friends and all of this? The moment you start to think about these things you move forward and all those criticisms, which are about what you did yesterday, don’t matter. If you’re thinking about the future, you’re already one step ahead of the critics. Do I want to be disliked? No! Do I want to be focussed on coming up with some awesome idea tomorrow?  That’s what I want to do.”

As for his 1987 testimony against Da Hui founder Eddie Rothman, who was indicted on racketeering and drug distribution charges, which prompted his former Bronzed Aussie pal Pete Townend to say, “I thought he was fucken nuts,” Ian says: “This is just ethics 101. Myself, and many many other people, have been tortured and harassed by Eddie and the Hui for decades. And the truth is, Hawaii is an amazing place. I have many friends in Hawaii. But I just hated the idea of gangs, I hate the involvement of drugs in surfing and I hate the involvement the idea of strong-arm tactics to stop people from doing things. I do think there are issues, and I’ve reached out on a number of times to Eddie, to say, ‘Why don’t we work together to help the plight of Hawaiian surfers? Let’s take the gravitas that we both have in surfing and do something really positive with it. Let’s not bitch and moan about the past, let’s talk about what we can do in the future.'”

When asked for a quote for the book, Eddie Rothman said, “Why would I want to talk about Ian Cairns? That fucker kept me in jail.”


“The fucked up things I had to suffer through… What does he expect? For me to get down on my jones and kiss his arse? Or to fight back? Which is what I did. ”

Going to be a hell of a read.