On Surfing

Bob McTavish

Illustration by Matt Titone

A venerated shaper with roots stretching back to the 1960s, when he was a craftsman in Australia, Bob McTavish’s designs remain integral to the development of surfboards.

Can you describe one of the most challenging aspects of surfing to you?

One of the most challenging aspects of surfing for me is the 50-year battle to keep surfing in its correct place in my life. For the first 26 years, I was a fully certified surf junky, and nothing and nobody could come between me and my surfing. I’d dedicated my life to it at age 16, and had thrown away all other possible career paths, including a TV and radio career, and a tilt at architecture. No personal relationships with friends or girlfriends could even rate more important than surfing. That all came to a screaming halt when I fell in love with Lynn, and babies ensued.

So over the years I’ve had less time. I’ve missed many epic days. But you know what? That’s kept me hungry for waves! The most challenging aspect of surfing continues to be wrestling with prioritization.

What is one of the most redemptive or rewarding parts of surfing?

One of the most rewarding parts of surfing is the mental and physical fitness — not necessarily meaning A-grade athlete, but a basic natural use of body energy daily, to keep all the human machinery ticking over. You surf, you sleep well. You surf, your digestive system churns over. You surf, you have a calmer outlook, you’re better at your job. You surf, and your lungs, arteries, heart, et cetera, all tick over better. Ultimately, the thrills echo around your brain, putting a grin on your dial.

What has surfing afforded you in your life?

Surfing has afforded my life a banquet of bonuses: a very deep attachment to Creation, a daily buzz of being in tune with the weather, appreciation for a myriad of different coastlines and countrysides, travel, the pure, simple pleasure of being easily immersed in the wild.

How long can you go without surfing?

The longest I’ve had to endure not surfing has not been by any choice of my own. Two hip surgeries, two knee surgeries, cancer, and a smashed eye all kept me out of the water for a few weeks each time. But how wonderful it was to dive into the ocean that first session back after each of the recoveries.

How and when did you fall in love with surfing?

I fell in love with surfing at about age eight, when our family would holiday at Maroochydore on the Sunshine Coast. It was just endless bodysurfing at that stage in Australia. Four years later, Dad bought a 16-foot plywood racing board, and I was hooked! I loved/hated that board so much that I immediately set about making something better. Shaping as a profession simply followed — all in the pursuit of trying to make boards go better.

What’s one of your pre/post-surf rituals you hold dear?

Pre-surf rituals for me boil down simply to hunting out the best uncrowded wave in my district. I do a lot of checking my 10 miles of surf turf. Post-surf I hardly get out of my boardies or wetsuit before I’m back on the next shape job or landscaping or gardening project with my wife, or whatever other task is the priority.

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On Surfing is generously supported by our friends at McTavish

Michael Adno

Michael is a writer and photographer born in Florida as a first-generation American to Austrian and South African parents. His work has appeared in The New York Times, The Bitter Southerner, and The Surfer’s Journal among other magazines.

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