When it comes to the modern spirit of the Australian coast, Bob McTavish drew the first maps – geographically and culturally.
And he plotted a path only Bob could – swashbuckling through the most dangerous of seas, yet often wrecked on the most obvious of reefs.
His candour is fresh and hilarious. Through each of the 350 pages, you can almost see his puggish Kirk Douglas features elbowing you in the ribs, letting you in on the secrets, the characters, the real deal, the triumphs and the tragedies.
In this sequel to his first outing, Stoked, the axis of the universe is still definitely Bob, and the sun, planets and rest of the world rotate thusly. This isn’t a dig by any means, this is the book’s biggest strength. Anyone single-minded enough to redefine the world’s surfing landscape knows how to tell a story, at least his version of it.
As novelist Tim Winton once wrote, By 17, Bob McTavish was jobless and Australia’s first fulltime career beach bum. Living off bread and bananas for months, eating spiders, sleeping in old cars, stowing away on a P&O liner to surf Hawaii Bob has done it all.
He’s arguably one of the five most influential surfers of all time, and inarguably the greatest storyteller.
Bob and his mates were jazz lovin’ proto-hippies who lived in their cars, in beaches and national parks. They searched for the light on the NSW North Coast, found it, and used that same light to spark their joints.
Herein, we find out Bob actually hated weed. One of the 60s most visible advocates for the revolution, for country soul? Yep, it crippled him with paranoia and dysfunction. But he stuck with it, because of why? Because of the revolution, man.
Now, a chunk of this book is dedicated to the concept of the revolution. Yet, before you tune out, he points out surfers were already done with the packaged counterculture by the time it swept up the east coast, they’d long since discarded of phoney gurus, long since moved on from the excesses.
While other hippies moved on to harder drugs or reverted to domestic hell; surfers started surfboard factories that clung to survival on the rural fringes.
And so we join him, pinballing between Maclean, Lennox Head, and even freezing cold inland Goulburn. He kept his head down and his profile up, with stints shaping surfboards and working in a piggery; what- ever it took to feed his growing family.
And for Mac – although the hippie dream was dead, his dream wasn’t. He kept chasing real progression as a surfboard designer and person. This was Mac’s Revolution – a better way to live against the suffocating and the banal.
McTavish chose to run with his heart and whatever made it beat fastest. And that too presented all sorts of problems for a family man – with Bob honest about tripping over his own ego many times, and balancing a serious surf addiction with bread-winning responsibilities.
Bob’s also upfront about his search for meaning, and he documents his religion shopping: first a mix of western drugs and eastern mysticism; then hippy gibberish, born-again Christianity, Seventh Day Adventism, and ad infitum. He checked the package on everything, before he himself was thrown in the basket by the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Turns out they’d been looking for him for a while.
With life presenting more knowledge to our hero the more mistakes he makes (such as his snort-laughing experiment with a bodysurfing suit) – there are moments of sheer depth amid the yarns, such as finding salvation during weekly chemical fires down at the Lake Ainsworth dump with the one and only Pete Wheelbarrow. The book is worth buying for this story alone.
He’s come a long way from the early days at the Alexandra Headland squat he shared in the 1960s. Back then, Bob was chief prankster, keeping the neighbours up all night, partying, sanding surfboards, and going to the toilet all over the backyard.