"I thought he was fucking nuts," says pro tour buddy Peter Townend.
Last Friday night, BeachGrit shared a bar-room fundraiser with an early cut of Chas Smith’s Lisa Andersen biopic Trouble and baseball-bat swinging, send-the-king-of-the-Hui to jail hell-raiser Ian “Kanga” Cairns, who was launching volume two of his biography.
It was a fine evening and all monies raised were sent directly to Surf Aid whose mission is to lift the wretched out of ill-health and poverty and so on.
Sixty-six-year-old Kanga was in terrific form as was his biographer, Wayne Murphy, who played escort and who would fist a $500 drink card, courtesy of sponsor The Bucket List.
Several women with Goldilocks hair sought out the old champion’s company, lured, perhaps, by the still-squirting fountain of testosterone.
“I’m the best daddy you’ll ever have,” said a low voice that was half whisper, half growl.
Later, I wrote to Kanga and asked him to elaborate on several topics of conversation we had during the night, and which I didn’t record and remembered only vaguely.
Writer Wayne Murphy comes in here and there.
First, how many words is the two-volume set? Hundred and fifty k? Anyone still read? Why the…length?
Kanga: Volume 1 is 160,000 words and Volume 2 is 180,000 words. It was simply as decision of mine because I liked Wayne’s writing and I thought that the stories had relevance. It goes on and on but is still very readable. I wanted to tell the whole pro-surf story A-Z without revisionist history. My story, self published, hard work by Wayne and my version of the truth of the pro-surfing story that is ably supported by the many people who have commented on issues and incidents. In the end, it’s a grand collaboration by many people.
Wayne Murphy: My answer to that question about book length is simple. Ian’s remarkable life story runs parallel to the history and growth of modern day surfing. Such a story was never going to be a typical 90,000 word sports biography, especially given all the other characters, shakers and movers who have contributed with Ian to help surfing get to where it is today. We wanted to include their voices too so as to give the book a more wholistic telling of how surfing grew from an eccentric fringe dweller pastime in the 1960s to become a multi-billion dollar industry with Olympic status today.
What stories, inside, are going to surprise? Anything new to add?
Kanga: The long-term feud with Fast Eddie over 40 years, ongoing today. The machinations of taking over the Bud Surf Tour and US Open from Fox. The ups and downs of life. There has been turmoil, victory and defeat, but in the end it’s a tale of resurrection. perseverance and reconciliation.
What relevance or, better, what perspective do you bring to surfing today?
Kanga: Nothing is new, so the WSL Founders group has huge historical perspective that would be valuable to the WSL project but is totally under utilized. Just because we’re old, doesn’t mean the of experience has no relevance. It’s a little hard to stomach that our opinion is not sought before important strategic decisions as made by WSL but they have a huge brain trust that seems to know it all and we’re not consulted, so life moves on. We’ll see the outcome soon enough.
Ethically, I don’t believe in any one person being the owner of the sport. That’s a dilemma for me. I completely understand the business model, because it’s normal in America, but not in Australia where I come from.
Tell me your opinion, as a man who co-founded pro surfing and who ain’t one to lace it with sugar, how you feel about pro surfing in 2019, as owned by the WSL?
Kanga: I have a huge THANK YOU to Dirk Ziff for supporting pro surfing, but, ethically, I don’t believe in any one person being the owner of the sport. That’s a dilemma for me. I completely understand the business model, because it’s normal in America, but not in Australia where I come from. Hopefully it works out fine.
We spoke the other night about Dirk Ziff’s famous “Grumpy Locals” speech when he was awarded waterman of the year. Talk to me.
Kanga: Without WSL sharing their future vision, we all live in an information vacuum, so then everyone outside the bubble is in the dark. That breeds speculation and often criticism. Open up the communication about where the WSL is headed, involve the people of passion, then there will be less criticism, fewer snarky comments from the periphery and a better understanding of the mission. Whining about bullies bullying only encourages the bullies.
Of all your great rivalries, Shaun, PT etc, tell me your favorite and why.
Kanga: I loved surfing with Michael Peterson and Wayne Lynch. They were totally dominant in their eras and so much better than me, and it forced me to raise my game to compete. That’s the inspirational aspect of having extraordinary peers. It makes you better.
Anyone still hold a grudge against you?
Kanga: It appears that Rabbit and I were at war. I have no idea why. Fast Eddie of course after 40 years of feuding. But, my position is that I don’t have ill-feeling for anyone and in fact, I love that I have had worthy adversaries and they have made me a better person. I think it’s time we raised a glass together and celebrate the stories we’ve made. Life is too short to harbor these grudges, they impair your ability to be happy today.
Wayne: I was stoked to see Ian sharing the stage with Rabbit, Phil Jarratt and PT on our book launch in Queensland. It’s a good feeling to share laughter with them about old times and connect with others along the way, all part of life’s journey, you know, healing and wisdom that comes with age.
Who are the great heroes of surfing? Why?
Duke Kahanamoku for sharing surfing with the world. Barry Kanaiaupuni for his dominance at Sunset. Nat and Midget for creating carve, power and flow. Every surfer who dares to step out from his/her local break and see if they have what it takes on the world stage. That takes courage. Kai Lenny for daring to surf any craft and make it magical and hence sharing a new definition of surfing.
Buy the book here if you like surf history, wanna help a mountain cougar keep blazing.