Andrew McKinnon (Andy Mac) is one of the longest-serving surf reporters, finishing up his time with SeaFM and Gold FM after 28 years of checking the waves each morning.
Andrew has been winning Australian Titles and competing in professional surfing events since the 1970s. Recently he was awarded a certificate of appreciation for 28 years on the radio, and was named as an advocate of Gold Coast World Surfing Reserve by Premier Anastacia Palaszczuk. We asked Andrew a few questions as he settled into retirement.
Andrew your stellar career as a surf reporter with SEAFM and Gold FM came to an end last month, how does feel now not having to wake up to do the report, and how did you get into surf reporting?
I must admit it feels good to sleep in to 7.00am without jumping out of bed and pumping out the reports. Surf Reporting has been a big part of my life since 1978. World Champion Nat Young offered me my first gig when I was living at Whale Beach, Sydney. Nat was heading overseas and asked me to fill in for him at Double J ABC before it became Triple JJJFM. You could say just about anything in those days, way before the code of ethics rules.
I left Sydney to live in Ballina, and then Byron Bay where I attended NRCAE (now Southern Cross Uni) to study Radio & TV Broadcasting. The College had a public broadcast station 2 NCRFM and an old TV Studio from NRTV days. I studied creative writing and marketing while working in Byron and supporting a Family. It was in 1985 that I was ready to go to Sydney again and Mark Warren offered me a fill-in role with him on 2MMM-FM. Mark was such a professional and showed me the winning formula. Doug Mulray was the breakfast announcer and was absolutely brilliant. He is known as the Reverend of Radio!
I moved back to Byron Bay and worked at both 2LM as a surf reporter and organizing Surf Schools and then working for the Northern Star Newspaper as both a columnist and advertising consultant. It was in January 1989 I noticed ads for a new Gold Coast Radio Station to be called SEAFM. Craig Denyer the first Station Manager wanted announcers that had not worked on the Gold Coast, were not familar names. This worked perfectly for me, as even though I had grown up and learnt how to surf on the Goldy, all my media jobs had been outside the area. Craig wanted surf reports around the clock, so it became a full time position with car then mobile phone and Andy Mac was up and running.
One of my favourite photos of you is that iconic Rip Curl advertisement with you and MP (Michael Peterson). It is so 1970’s with the hairstyles and the wetsuits – anything you can tell us about that shoot and surfing in the early 1970’s?
That photo was taken by Tracks photographer Mick Eyre for a Rip Curl Ad as MP and I were both sponsored by Rip Curl. It was during the 1972 Australian Titles. MP won the Open title after two rounds. I finished 5th overall, back in the days of 6 man heats. We both qualified for the Australian Team for the 1972 World Titles in San Diego, California but haha…. but that’s a whole story on its own.
Of all your surf reports, what has been the most unusual or crazy place you have done a surf report from?
I’ve done surf reports from helicopters, hotel beds and all sorts of weird and wonderful places. The thing about mobile phones it could allow you to do Surf Reports from anywhere and in those days they were live to air. I did one on the back of a Jet Ski that was driven by “Champ”, aka Ashley Humphreys during the Quiksilver Pro in 2003 at Snapper Rocks. This was while Andy Irons was competing against his brother Bruce, which was live and pretty exciting!
You have commentated some of the World’s biggest surfing events, and reported, and competed in some of them, what would be your favourite event on the world tour?
I commentated on the Gold Coast, Burleigh, Kirra, and Snapper for the Billabong, then Quiksilver Pros. North Narrabeen in Sydney for the Coke Classic, Bells Beach, Margaret River, and Raglan in New Zealand. There was some great highlights in there including commentating on Kelly Slater’s first win at Bells, Dean Morrison only World Tour win at Snapper Rocks, Rasta (Dave Rastovich) beating Joel Parkinson in a Pro Junior at Burleigh. Also there was Lynette MacKenzie beating Pam Burridge at Frenchmans at North Stradbroke Island with a pack of sharks in the water, and being cautioned by officials for screaming the f-bomb! One of the most amazing would be Shane Beschen’s perfect 30 out of 30 at Kirra for three perfect 10’s. That is a record that will be never broken, now that it is the best two scores tabulated in a heat instead of three. Also to commentate Occy beating Tom Curren at Newcastle in 86 the year the lightning bolt hit Pierre Tostee, who went on to win the trials and earning the nickname, “Toast”.
Over the 3 decades of surf reporting and media, who are your favourite surfers?
Well apart from GOAT (Greatest Of All Time), aka Kelly Slater, watching Mark Occhilupo’s comeback (which for mine was the greatest ever) to win the World Title in 1999, and then the rise of the Cooly Kids, the way that both Joel Parkinson and Mick Fanning emerged from dominating the Juniors to being the World’s best. But of course not even the Boys or God could lay a glove on AI (Andy Irons) between 2002 – 2004, that’s my best 5 of all time. But then I have to add Tom Curren to the list, his comeback win as a trialist in 1991 was legendary. I was fortunate to watch Curren vs Occy in 1986 at Bells. Curren won the famous semi-final clash
It has been an awesome career, and ever since I have heard a surf report you were the guy doing it. So what is in the future for “Andy Mac”?
I did briefly entertain a run in the next Queensland State Government Election but having turned 64 probably left my run too late, probably a blessing. I’m still writing a weekly column for Tweed Daily News, and I will now pursue a writing career with three books planned. There is the story of Bobby Brown and how surfing started in the 60s in Sydney. Another one – “1975” – reads like a novel but it’s a true story during the year of the surfing gypsy with all the political intrigue, surfing adventure and misadventure from Bells Beach to Bali, to Byron Bay with all the crazy characters included my Mum. The third is “A Voice of the Surf” – Andy Mac’s autobiography and surf media story. That should keep me out of trouble for a couple of years until I fully retire! Although somehow I don’t think you ever retire especially from living Life – I certainly hope not. Yew!
As you can see, Andrew will be not disappearing from view anytime soon. He just gets to sleep in nowadays!
IMAGE (c) Andrew McKinnon surfing at Mermaid Beach in 1976. (c) Jeff Divine.