Surfing is a unique activity that attracts all sorts of people. Young, old, male, female, tall, short… basically anyone can surf as long as they have a passion for the ocean and love riding waves.
Surfing is also unique in that surf culture is littered with a wide array of nicknames. If you can stand on a surfboard, there is a strong chance you will soon be given a nickname. It has been a part of surfing for over a century.
Here is Australia we have always given our top surfers nicknames. Bernard Farrelly was our first World Surfing Champion. He started surfing as a kid dragging a huge 12 foot wooden surfboard down to the beach to ride waves. Someone called him ‘Midget’ and it stuck. ‘Midget’ would go on to become one of our greatest surfers.
Around the same time, a daughter of a Hollywood script writer was starting to hang out at Malibu Beach over summer. She would come home and tell her father about the cool surfers she had met at the beach with names like Moondoggy, Lover Boy and the Big Kahuna. The writer (Frederick Kohner) wrote a novel based on her daughters experiences and called it ‘Gidget: the little girl with the big ideas’. Gidget was a huge hit as a book and film. It became a nickname that popularised surfing in the sixties.
Back in Australia, Robert Young was carving up the surf along Sydney’s Northern Beaches. His aggressive surfing style earned him the nickname ‘The Animal’. For some reason he was also given the nickname ‘Nat’. Nat Young, The Animal… not many people receive two popular nicknames.
Fast forward to the seventies and it seemed like every surfer had a nickname. Gold Coast surfer Michael Peterson won every contest he entered for a period. He was simply know as MP, a nickname that would gain worldwide appeal.
Mark Richards won a heap of contests in the seventies and would go on to win four World Titles. His name was shortened to MR but he also gained the nickname ‘The Wounded Seagull’ for his surfing style.
Peter Townend won the first World Surfing Title in 1976 and earned the nickname PT. Wayne Bartholomew had a name that was far too long for most surfers and ended up being called simply ‘Rabbit’. Then there was Terry ‘Sultan of Speed’ Fitzgerald, Ian ‘Kanga’ Cairns, Greg ‘Da Bull’ Noll and Montgomery ‘Buttons’ Kaluhiokalani.
My favourite nickname of all time is still ‘Kong’ the name bestowed on a young Gary Elkerton from Queensland who destroyed waves literally for two decades as a professional surfer. He tried to get rid of the ‘Kong’ tag in the nineties and insisted he be called Gary but no-one bothered.
Once a Kong always a Kong… nicknames (and their origins) are what makes surfing unique.
Written by John Foss