1988 World Champion Barton Lynch has had an extremely interesting love/hate relationship with surfers, sponsors, administrators and the surf media. The Perfect Wave Surf Experience hosted an intimate fans forum Q&A at Saltmotion Gallery in Manly during the recent 6 star Hurley Australian Open of Surfing. Surfing World’s resident legend Reggae Ellis hosted the evening, chatting to Barton about his humble beginnings as a stranded hitch hiking grom from Mosman, to the world title moment, and the post pro career that involves being contest director of the Hurley Australian Open and hosting the upcoming surf and yoga trip to The Maldives with The Perfect Wave. (only 2 spots left from max 12)
Reggae: Tell us about when it all started at Mosman?
BL: Growing up in Mosman, when you came to Manly you were called a “Westie”. You were told to rack off home to where you came from. it was heavy as a young kid. I basically hitchhiked every day of my life from Mosman to Manly and back to Mosman before school; and again Mosman – Manly and Manly – Mosman after school, getting picked up by all sorts of fruit-loops and having all sorts of experiences – and that’s actually where I learnt to communicate. When I got into that car I would want to turn them on and I would want them to pick me up next time they drove by. I was in the business of propagating hitchhiking (laughs) – I really wanted the people to pick me up again. I wanted them to have the best time when I got in the car. “Hi, my name is Barton. I’m 15 and Im going to be a professional surfer…”and I told them my story. And most of the time when I got out, I knew that they had a good time.
So next time they saw you, they thought “Hey, he’s an entertaining guy; I’m going to pick him up…
Yeah, exactly. I’ve had people come up to me years later, maybe half a dozen times, saying “Hey, I picked you up once when you were hitchhiking as a young kid, you followed through, good on yah”.
Now we won’t go over your whole career but obviously the highlight was the World Title in 1988. Here we are, 25 years on doing an event like this: What are the main changes you have seen in surfing?
Well so many, but when I went to career guidance and they asked me what I was going to do, I said I’m going to be a professional surfer. It was the 70s and there wasn’t such a thing – so they said, “You aren’t the world’s smartest bloke.” (laughs). They said my grades were terrible and my attendance was even worse. So they said I needed a trade – I could be a boiler maker or a cabinet maker or something like that because, at that time, professional surfing wasn’t a career option. And now it’s actually something that parents want their kids to do. My mum was terrified that I wanted to be a pro surfer. It wasn’t something your parents wanted for you – they were kind of embarrassed because you were perceived to be a beach bum, a no-hoper. So I was always super-conscious of wanting to change that perception of who and what we were. Growing up watching Rabbit Bartholomew, Shaun Tomson and Mark Richards was an inspiration; they were people I looked up to. They were all articulate, intelligent ambassadors for the sport.
So they were the guys who showed you what surfing as a professional was?
They did! Well, at first there wasn’t a sport. Rabbit used to walk to school every day and visualise the day when surfing was a sport. And I asked him – “do you think you actually willed it into an existence in a way? And he felt that he had, I do to. Those guys and many others did build it into existence through their sheer determination to avoid having a “real job”. (laughs). And I went: “You know what, that’s me!” I’m actually in that mould like those guys. Not the guys who party and whatever – but I’m actually the guy who is more sensible, calculated and can communicate. Rabbit, MR and Shaun – those guys were my heroes – and there was no one filling their role in my generation, so I literally had this thing in my head about the thinking man’s-surfer. And that’s actually what I became known as. So it was a conscious marketing decision as a really young boy – before I knew what marketing was.
So you became the “articulate pro surfer”.
I positioned myself so they needed me to be there. It was my way of playing the game.
The world title just came down to you and 10-12 foot Pipeline though.
Yeah the year before I’d lost the title here in Manly. Halfway through ’87, I was about 2,000 points ahead and flying, I thought I was going to just cruise over the line. The last event was in Manly, my hometown – I was poised to win the World Title at my home beach in front of family and friends. I believed that was my destiny – I thought it was all coming together. And then I just….
I just crumbled. Its actually a long story but in the end that was the result, I finished 3rd.
But then the next year, 12 months later, you won at absolutely perfect Pipeline. Oh well, not as good as 4-ft Queenscliff, I know, but… (laughs)
I thought I had blown my destiny and that it was never going to happen again. I was never going to win the world title. So I went into the next year still really bummed and with no expectation but ended up getting better than I had even believed for myself.
With all your involvement in pro surfing, becoming an outspoken pro surfer and representing the surfers’ interests – is that what inspired you to do BL’s Blast-Off? You have done it for the last 8 years with the kids right?
Yeah it will be the 9th year of Blast-Off this year and 370 kids took part last year. Look I knew what was wrong with kids surfing contests and I thought I could do it better. I wanted to focus on improvement and coaching rather than results and scores and just get a great vibe going on. I was also inspired by the classic Menahunes contest in Hawaii and I thought it was a great idea. Then Simon Haskell from Hurley approached me and said “We love what you are doing and we know no one is supporting you and we would like to”. I told him of my ideas for Blast Off and he liked it and we did it together and have ever since.
Then step by step, month by month we started doing more and more things together, the coaching came in, mentoring the young riders and then webcasting came along, now I’m contest director here…
So you got those roles – mentoring, coaching and commentating under The Hurley umbrella, but it doesn’t stop you from travelling. Every time I try to find you, you seem to be going to Hawaii for a couple of months or to the snow! Sounds like you have a good work/surf balance.
I kind of work for myself. In fact, I have never really worked for anyone in my life. Hurley is as close as I’ve come to working for someone. And really, since I was 12 years old, I have paid my own way though all sorts of creative means. So it is still very important for me to do what I want to do – and what I really want to do is to surf and snowboard. I’m just so happy when I’m surfing, just being at the beach, sitting on the edge… I love that sense of freedom. It is funny when I think back, because I never actually liked surfers. Growing up in Mosman, I thought surfers were a bunch of wankers and they were all so stuck up. And so it took me a long time to accept the fact that that’s what I was. I’m a wanker and a surfer! (Both laugh out loudly). But now, and my wife Holly will tell you, that it is what I’m happiest doing. If I can just go to the beach every day; or to the mountains and snowboard… there is something about sliding and drawing lines that fulfills me. I don’t need that much – that’s actually all I need. The freedom of surfing and snowboarding – and I‘m done.
So tell me a little bit about The Maldives. You did your first trip there last year and were frothing.
I just love being on the boat, The Carpe Vita to me is the best thing ever… When we were on that boat trip, I didn’t go on land at all. I was not going on land until they kicked me off that boat (laughs). One day, everyone was going to Kandooma Resort to get a massage and look around – but I refused. I just stayed on the boat because it is so epic.
You were on a boat trip, so that’s all you were doing!
Yeah, I was not going on land until it was over. Everyone went for massages – but I stayed on the boat and went surfing at Tucky Joe’s. I had it to myself for about an hour and half. So I loved being on that boat, and the concept of having nothing to do, just surf and hunt perfect waves, to me that is living.
You have surfed all around the world…
Yeah, but I didn’t get to do this when I was a pro. I was competing. I never had the sponsors that were doing trips. I’ve been to the Mentawaii’s two or three times. One of them was for my TV show RA and the next one was a coaching trip that I sold – so I’ve been doing whatever I can to get on these boat trips. I mean after the tour, after I’ve been to all these contests and competed and travelled my brains out, now I just want to chill and surf perfect waves and make up for what I didn’t get to do before.
That’s a good angle! You are not a jaded pro surfer. So you understand, even as an ex-pro surfer, what it means to go on such a trip.
Yeah, it means that much for me too. That’s why, when the opportunity came to host this kind of trip, I was pretty stoked and thought – let’s do that! I remember the first trip, I didn’t know what to expect when you put 12 different people together who you have never met but everyone that went on that trip just got along so well. I don’t know whether it was because they were all great people and so we got on so well, or if it was that common froth and excitement to be on that boat and surf perfect waves that we all had… Holly was taking yoga, so we got up every morning and we were all on the deck doing yoga as the sun was rising and then we hit the water for surfing. Got back on the boat, enjoy the breakfast, lie down for a bit, coach and go surfing again, have lunch, rest up some more, go surfing again, have dinner, talk story and go to bed. Heaven!
What were the waves like?
Having not been there before and having heard that they were generally good for intermediate surfers; I was surprised to find some waves that were challenging. They were all perfect though, but the part that made them easier was that unlike the Mentawaii’s, you could easily straighten off on the wave and have 15-30 meters in knee-deep water and easily paddle back out. There were waves that were pretty shallow, but also many other waves that were different – so the variety is really good.
Say because of life’s commitments you are not surfing 5 days a week anymore, you are reasonably fit, perhaps surfing once or twice a fortnight, How does it sit with that sort of surfer?
Pretty good! When you are going on a surf trip you always want to be as fit as possible. So before, even if you only have half an hour, you should go for every surf you can. You want to maximize your surf time while you are on the trip, so you want to try to get in the water 3-4 times a week before you depart to build that paddle fitness, more than anything. Because on the trip, you will surf 3-4 times a day. It’s like being a grommet again – jumping on a boat and cruising around the ocean finding waves. There is an amazing sense of adventure there.
Thanks heaps for the chat, BL!
Thank you, Reggae.