The recent Rip Curl Pro at Bells Beach featured some amazing waves. The second last day of competition saw solid ugly 2-3 metre waves roll into Bells Beach providing a spectacle of beauty, courage and mayhem rarely seen on the professional tour.
It was the type of day when many surfers from the past would have thrived in the big conditions – Simon Anderson, Tom Carroll, Jeff Hakman and Mark Richards are just a few of the surfers who have surfed big waves at Bells, revelling in its size and power.
One bloke would have been frothing at the thought of paddling out in those waves on that last Friday of the contest. For two decades, Kong (AKA Gary Elkerton) was one of the world’s most explosive big wave surfers. Bells, Sunset, Cloudbreak… the bigger and uglier the waves, the better Kong surfed. He never won a world title but for a time was one of the best surfers we had seen. He didn’t surf waves… he blasted holes in them with power and style.
Gary Elkerton grew up around Evans Head on the New South Wales coast in the seventies. Motocross was his early passion: “I was into motorbikes when I started surfing. I was attracted to the fact that surfing was such a pure thing. Just a kid riding a wave… you didn’t have to worry about anything.”
Kong started going in clubs events and soon won a Pro Junior Title. Sponsorship and a chance to surf on the professional tour followed; “My first event at Bells Beach I won the Quiksilver Trial. I had one heat down here where I eliminated Shaun Tomson from the World Title race. It was perfect Bells 6-8 foot and I was frothing. God he must have been pissed off.
“Hawaii was on my radar. As a surfer you had to excel at Sunset Beach, you had to charge and put your life on the line or you were nobody. The young kids of today don’t have to do that. Sunset Beach will chew you up and spit you out. Kelly Slater has won 11 world titles but has never won at Sunset. Those first years in Hawaii we spent many months without competing. When I put my singlet on a lot of Hawaiians weren’t happy. The Ho brothers didn’t like it.. it was war! I became close to Eddie Aikau, Marvin Foster. It was heavy… Hawaii was heavy. Today a lot of guys are scared to surf Sunset.”
Kong never won a World Title but in Hawaii he excelled: “You would kill your mother to win a Triple Crown. Andy Irons and myself are the only two people to have won the three rated events in Hawaii. Winning a Triple Crown was huge. Its bigger now then back then.
“The one event I never won was at Bells. Bells Beach is a magic place, it is the best event in the world. There is so much history. The bell means a lot of things… my one regret is that I never rang the bell.”
Written by John Foss