John Whitmore. The father of South African surfing. Affectionately called, “Die Oom.” (The Uncle!)
If you were a surfer in the ’60s, you saw the Bruce Brown film, “The Endless Summer.” It was like watching a dream. I worked at the County Theater in Doylestown, Pennsylvania in the States when it was released. I was an usher. I stared at the screen, memorized, for at least 15 showings. (very conservative estimate)
Remember the iconic poster?
The movie was about two California surfers who followed the summer around the globe searching for “the perfect wave.”
(Robert August, Mike Hynson, and filmmaker Bruce Brown)
They discovered it in South Africa. Cape St. Francis, which is a very small village on the East Coast, located on St Francis Bay.
I’ve jumped ahead of myself. Back to John Whitmore. He had the Hobie Catamaran franchise in South Africa. More importantly, he was a legend, a surfer, and a surfboard shaper. If you wanted a board in Cape Town, you went to John.
Here is one of John’s friends, with one of his shapes, headed into the surf. Long Beach.
When the Endless Summer boys went to Cape Town, looking for surf, they looked up Die Oom. He took them up the West Coast, I think to a place called Elands Bay. John lived there for the last part of his life. BTW, he was an old friend of my mother in law, Magda Koetter. I was making a plan to reunite the two, and meet John myself, when he passed on. It was such a sad day for us all here.
I can’t seem to stay on track.
I can still see the scenes with John in the movie. In one, he was driving a dune buggy being chased by a lion! In another, he was body boarding when Robert and Mike were surfing some huge, dark, and foamy waves.
Fast forward to 1999. I was standing in front of a poster in a surf shop window, announcing that year’s Billabong Pro Surfing Competition. It was going to be up the coast at Jeffries Bay, not far from Cape St Francis, the weekend after my upcoming wedding, on July 3rd.
I’m thinking, “I’ll never get to go to that. It’s right after our wedding,” when up behind me comes my future wife Yolande. She says, in what I still call a surfing miracle, “Hey look! The Billabong Pro is on the weekend after the wedding! Let’s head up the coast to Jeffries Bay for our honeymoon! Want to?”
DO I WANT TO?
I bought a board and a roof rack and off we went up the Garden Route in our old Jetta!
(Did I marry the right woman or what?)
I was going to Cape St Francis to see the perfect waves from The Endless Summer!
And I surfed them. It was magic. (They are rarely perfect anymore. The entire shoreline there is different)
More than 30 years after those days at the County Theater, I was there, new board under my arm, walking into the surf at Cape St Francis. It was truly a Spiritual moment. A dream come true. I will never forget the feeling I had when a I entered that water.
Well, I’ve completely lost the flow of this blog entry.
So what. 😊 I’ll rewrite it tomorrow. Maybe.
Also. John’s daughter Sian, and I have become friends. She is a Vet in Australia.
I have such a cool life.