Early Billabong ad with Joe Engel.

Billabong founder Gordon Merchant files “massive” lawsuit against tax firm; say bum advice cost him $58 million

Quite a hit…

Gordy Merchant, the one-time almost billionaire creator of surf brand Billabong, has launched a lawsuit, described as “massive”, at tax heavyweights Ernest & Young and one of its partners, blaming bum advice for costing him around fifty-eight mill. 

Merchant says the company’s advice on how to structure a company sale in 2015 got the Australian Tax Office on his tail, cost him thirteen mill in penalties and had him banned from running his self-managed super fund. 

And, although he hasn’t calculated the exact damages, these things take time as you might imagine, Merchant says it’s been about fifty-eight mill so far. 

The whole thing goes back to when Merchant sold out of bioplastics company Plantic in 2015 for fifty-four mill.

There was, according to Brisbane’s Courier Mail,

“A series of deals between Mr Merchant’s entities including his self managed super fund that he claims were done in accordance with specialist EY advice.

“Part of the deal included Mr Merchant transferring over 10m of his Billabong shares at a loss and writing off debts from cash he had loaned to Plantic. In 2017 the tax office audited the income tax affairs of Mr Merchant, his family trust and superannuation accounts and later looked into the deal.

“It last month declared Mr Merchant and his super fund owed about $45m in tax and interest and it also imposed penalties worth about $13m…Mr Merchant is claiming damages for breach of contract and negligence alleging EY should have known he was “vulnerable to suffering economic loss if EY failed to use reasonable care and skill” in structuring his affairs.” 

The most I’ve ever lost via dumb tax advice was thirty-six gees.

The accountant said set up a trust, do this, do that, pay this on that day, all will be good my brother don’t you worry about a thing, and then, a few months later, a letter came in the mail advising the thirty-six k figure. 

Called him and he denied everything. 

The first instance of gaslighting I’d experience although it wouldn’t be the last.

Funny world. 

Killer Whale (right) attempts to eat the tongue out of a human boy's head.
Killer Whale (right) attempts to eat the tongue out of a human boy's head.

Apocalypse Now: Killer Whales turn on humans, attack boats in revenge over injuries sustained by rudders!

Gird your loins.

2020 etc. etc. blah blah blah. And have we, the people, ever been so fractured (since 1977)? Republicans hating Democrats, policemen hating activists, Armenians hating Azeris, surfers hating SUPpers and, by extension, the Chief Executive Officer of our own World Surf League.

We, more than ever, need a common enemy and Covid-19 ain’t it. It’s too… esoteric and, let’s be honest, silly. But what about Killer Whales?

Could we unite to fight the great black and white?

They have united to fight us and do you recall reading here, just one month ago from today, that a pod of Killer Whales have teamed up and begun attacking boats in unison off the coasts of Spain and Portugal?

It was never-before-witnessed behavior and stumped scientists.

Until now.

For now, scientists believe that the Killer Whales were carrying out their orchestrated attacks (someone in the comments lambasted me for not using ORCA-strated under the original story and I almost retired then and there) as revenge over their Killer Whale brothers and sisters of getting whacked by rudders.

These un-stumped scientists told Great England’s The Guardian that, “The trigger for this strange and aggressive behaviour could have been an aversive incident that the orcas had with a boat, and in which the speed of the boat could have been a critical factor. For the moment, we have no clear evidence of when it happened, nor can we say for sure what kind of boat may have been involved, nor whether the incident was accidental or deliberate.”


The researchers added that as a result of possible injury by boat, the orcas “may have felt compelled to act when they saw a sailboat in order to slow it down by going after its rudder” — and adding “the killer whales could simply be toying with sailboats ‘out of curiosity’ now that they had discovered the ability to slow or stop a large moving object.”

Sounds like war.

Humans, gird your loins.

We’re back.

Surfboards and passion burn.

Surf-lit: “Surfing is pain. It shouldn’t be easy. Enlightenment through self-flagellation…”

"I look at guys walking down the beach with their new boards with forgiving rails, gentle rocker, subdued outlines. And I think to myself, they don't understand."

I rode my big board on the Point today. It was stormy, hot.

Summer weather. Dark clouds marched out to the horizon on the humid offshore breeze. The waves were only small but had a perfect angle. Little rights ran down the cobblestones almost to the keyhole.

Vulnerable learners pressed in against seasoned locals and chirping groms to get their slice.

I sat at the top of the pack, five metres further out, and had my pick.

I can do that on this board. I can do that because it’s my Point.

Let me tell you about this board though. She’s big. Fat. Brown and battered. It’s almost like she’s been shaped in reverse – a long narrow nose with hard rails that softens out into a fat ol’ ass. Less a tear drop then a honey blob.

She’s hard to paddle. Can’t turn for shit. Has an old school raised, fibreglass leash bridge that’s broken more feet than a Chinese slipper. But the roll-in-fade-to-bottom-turn, when one unlocks all the right elements, is better than any air reverse or cheese whiz.

When people ask me about the board I like to say, she’s ugly but she’s mine. And I pat her like a faithful dog.

That’s the secret, though. About this thing of ours. It shouldn’t be easy. Surfing is pain. Enlightenment through self-flagellation.

I look at guys walking down the beach with their new boards with forgiving rails, gentle rocker, subdued outlines. And I think to myself, they don’t understand.

That’s why I take any wave I want.

To hell with ‘em.

They just don’t understand.

Anyway I’m out on the Point and I see a guy with a board like mine. Big. Old. Ugly. Shit spray. A real dreadnought. I watch him get a couple, stalking the crowd, swooping in on his prey like a lion in the grass.

We paddle past each other and exchange a knowing nod. Krishna catching a glimpse of himself in the mirror.

Right on.

It comes time for my last wave. I wait for something special. One stands up on the indicator. Not the biggest wave of the day, but I can see in its line that it’s going to run.

I swing and begin to paddle. The crowds part, like they know they should.

All except for one.

The guy.

I see him turn and spin, too.

You can’t miss his board, even from a mile away. He drops in. On my wave.

Usually I’d be flicking my board at any interloper, aiming for their temple.

But not with this guy.

There’s something about him.

We ride the wave together, doing crossovers, bumping rails the whole time. Stern looks on our faces, eyes only down the line. But we vibe in each other’s presence. Connected on a different level.

Finally the wave closes out on the end section. We straighten out and I ride it in on my belly.

But not the guy.

Instead of heading for the key hole he rides his board up over the cobblestone rocks. I hear a crunch as he comes to a halt. He jumps off the board casually, confidently, like he’s done it a thousand times before.

That was great surfing, I say as we walk over the remaining rocks and up onto the sandy beach.

Thanks man.

I like your board.

Oh, this old thing. It’s a piece of shit. He throws it to the sand. But I love it.

Sounds like mine! I say. I paid $50 for it at a garage sale.

I found mine on the side of the road.


Check this out. He flips his board over to reveal three mis-matched FCS fins, all barely screwed in.

Oh yeah? I show mine – a home-made quad set up with two of the fins missing.


He smiles.

What about this?

He pulls off the gaffa tape wrapped across the nose to reveal the entire top couple of inches is completely snapped off.

I show him the same tape holding together what’s left of my board’s swallow tail.

We both laugh.

Yeah man, I don’t care about this board at all, he says. Or any of my boards. The shitter the better. Watch this.
He looks around as if to make sure no one is watching, then pulls a pocket knife from his leash and starts stabbing holes in the board.

Bam. Bam. Bam. 

Soon it looks like a piece of Swiss cheese. Bam!


I pick my board up and start punching it too. My knuckles quickly bloody, so that there’s little shards of fibreglass mottled into my skin.

Sah! Sah! 

I punch out the remaining fins.


The steady stream of people heading up and down the sandy point give us a wide berth, like a river diverting around an island.

To them we just look like  two guys beating up their surfboards.

But they don’t understand.

There’s a crack of thunder in the distance. The air charges with electricity.

We both take a break, and breath the atmosphere in.

Enlightenment through self-flagellation, I say. It’s the only way.

Then the guy says, How about this?

From nowhere he pulls out a lighter and some gasoline. He pours it carefully over his board, from taped up nose to thrashed out tail.

And then he sets it alight.

For a second the flames don’t take, as if they’re hesitating. Held back by some invisible force.

But then, whoosh. Off they go.

Unreal, I say again, and I throw my board onto the flames too.
It lights up quickly in the hot offshore wind.

We sit back in the sand and watch the conflagration. The smoke carries back out  across the line up. I can see the other surfers coughing and spluttering as the acrid fumes wash over them.

They don’t understand

A set rifles down the point unridden, the biggest of the day.

The gods must be pleased.

This is great, I say to the guy.

It’s so great, he responds.

This is what surfing is all about.

Then the clouds, so pregnant all afternoon, finally burst forth. We’re drenched in the downpour as the fire goes out.

The boards have burned down to a pulp now anyway. We bury what’s left of them in the sand.

Small shards still stick out, camouflaged in the yellow and brown morasse. Hopefully sharp enough to cut a foot open, or at least give someone a scare.

I nod to the guy and we go our separate ways. It feels strange walking back to the car in my board shorts with bloody knuckles and no board under my arm.

But that’s ok.

It was so good to meet this guy. So good to meet someone that finally understands.

J-Bay, Mick, White.

World Champion surfer Mick Fanning ruthlessly bullied by so-called friends in the water exacerbating deep trauma: “People splash behind me, I freak out.”


I apologize to you for my lack of production here lately. I am currently in the studio recording the audiobook version of the award-nominated Welcome to Paradise, Now Go to Hell. It is brutal. Brutal to read aloud for hours upon hours a day in a dark box. Brutal to read my own words, penned nearly a decade ago, and not be able to edit them or provide updated caveats. Brutal to hear my own voice saying uncouth things.

I made ruthless fun of many people in the surf industry from Graham Stapelberg to Dusty Payne to world champion surfer Mick Fanning.

As we all now know, Mick is a saint. One of the most well-loved figures in all of Australia with legions of adoring fans. But I wrote and wrote and wrote about his “dull face” and “boring fashion” and “bland chipped-tooth’d smile” over and over and over.

I have zero adoring fans and deservedly so. I am rude. I am a bully.

But maybe just maybe my early bullying helped prepare Mick Fanning to face the mental torture he is currently dealing with?

As you recall, Mick was brutalized by a shark during a professional surf contest in South Africa five years ago. The most viral moment in our small world.

Very scary and haunting him still but do his pals care for his needs?


According to Mick, who appeared recently on The Kyle and Jackie O Show, his so-called friends prank him often, pretending there is a shark in the water. “It still took me about a year or so to get through my PTSD. Even still, I’m very wary of what’s in the ocean. People splash behind me, I freak out. My mates do it to me all the time.”

The host asked, “Does anyone ever yell ‘Shark! Shark!’ when you’re out there? And do you think, listen, don’t do that?”

Mick responded sadly, “Yeah there’s a few here that do that.”

Horribly rude and unnecessarily mean but might Mick have the tools in his emotional toolbox to deal with this relentless onslaught thanks to an unlovable surf journalist?


More as the story develops.

World’s most beautiful surfboard shaper Hayden Cox buys two houses on Sydney’s exclusive Barrenjoey Peninsula

Feted shaper now part-owner of Sydney's version of The Hamptons…

Many years ago, I wrote a story called The Most Beautiful Shaper in the World.

I commented, “He is still the most fantastic looking man I have ever seen and what sleepless nights he caused me!”

Back then, there was no delicacy to his exceptionally virile merchandise. He was as blood ripe as they come.

The women, including my girlfriend, maybe my girlfriend most of all, had to be treated for spells of dizziness. Worse, his surfboards were addictive and try as I did, I couldn’t be indifferent to his skills

These days, however, the crown of Most Beautiful Shaper in the World, held for thirty years in Coolangatta, Queensland, now resides in one of two houses in Palm Beach, Sydney’s version of New York’s The Hamptons.

One of Hayden’s dreamy lil pieces of the Barrenjoey pie.

Hayden Cox, who is thirty-eight, and married to the marketing whiz Danielle Cox, née Foote, has rolled his biz HaydenShapes into one of the most popular surfboard brands in the world.

He is a wonderful story of a driven kid who shucks the expectations of his family (accountancy!) to learn to shape, build a surfboard company, create a unique method of surfboard construction and, eventually, be feted by icons as diverse as Audi and Alexander Wang.

And success buys pretty things.

Four years ago, Hayden and Danielle bought an old waterfront house with 180 degree views of the estuary called Pittwater for $1.8 mill and which they sold after a gorgeous renovation earlier this year for $3.6 million.

Since that sale, the pair have bought a waterfront house at nearby Clareville for $3,337,500, currently available to rent at $2200 a week, ten gees a month, roughly, and a 1950s three-level, four-bedder “beach shack” on monied Pacific Drive, with panoramic views, for a little under three-mill.

Examine here. 

(And walk through the world’s slickest surfboard shop here.)