Surfing and surfers have been at the forefront of the counterculture movement since the 1970’s. Fast forward to 2019, the World Surf League introduces equal prize money for men and women, becoming one of the first, if not only sport, to offer gender pay equality. And two-time World champ Tyler Wright took a knee before her heat at the recent Tweed Coast Pro event at Cabarita in support of Black Lives Matter, honouring the 439 First Nations people in Australia who have lost their lives in police custody since 1991.
But it is guys like Wayne “Rabbit” Bartholomew who have paved the way, working tirelessly behind the scenes for decades, representing the sport of surfing and the environment that has earnt him many accolades including appointed Member of the Order of Australia by Her Majesty the Queen Elizabeth 11 in 2009. On Sunday 17 August 2020, Bartholomew announced he would be contesting the Queensland Parliament seat of Burleigh at the 2020 Queensland State Election, for Labor. So, who is this man who appears to have the stamina of an energiser bunny and swears he has heard over 50 variations of his name during his life-time?
Bartholomew earnt his nickname because of his ability at ‘hopping’ between two pinball machines at once. This wizardry led to the surf legend becoming known as “Rabbit”, “Bugs”, “Bugso”, amongst others but now simply prefers “Rab”. When I spoke to Barthlomew, I wanted to know which movie he has been part of, that truly represented who he was as a person. Not surprisingly he cites award-winning doco ‘Bustin’ Down the Door’, co-produced by good friend Shaun Tomson, set in the proving grounds of Hawaii over a period of three winters in the 70s, that helped shape the man he is today.
‘Bustin’ Down the Door’ also chronicled the rise of professional surfing, which Bartholomew played a pivotal part in pioneering during a critical time in surf history. The other movie, about to be re-released is ‘Free Ride’, considered along with ‘Morning of the Earth’, to be a seminal surf movie.
“A lot of people haven’t seen it, it was a beautiful movie made in the mid-70s by a guy called Bill Delaney, he just followed me around the world, there was no pro tour or anything it was just me soul surfing all around the world, very early days in Indonesia, surfing at Burleigh Heads, and obviously a lot in Hawaii too and California,” says Rab.
We ask Bartholomew about his connection to Burleigh and if he has any special memories from time spent there.
“I just fell in love with the place and I mean I spent most of the 70s and 80s at Burleigh you know, a lot of guys considered me a Burleigh guy back then it was such a great break,” he recalls.
“There were a lot of championships there, like the Stubbies Classic and Queensland titles, I had a fair share of really good wins there. But my best memories are getting up early in the morning and I would drive the back way through Tallebudgera without hitting a red light, it was all country, no houses, arrive at Burleigh and just surf perfect waves and then come back to my little place back in Currumbin Waters it was just a very happy memory of a very wholesome sort of surfing experience”.
It is this love for the ocean that has led Bartholomew to become a fierce advocate and protector of our Gold Coast beaches. He is currently a patron of the World Surfing Reserve and talked to us about what kind of protection our beaches are under at present.
“We are moving towards legislation and that will be a world first, so all our world surfing reserves, they have protection but I kind of feel that it’s a little vulnerable because you can get changes of councils, changes of governments and someone can come in and go well we don’t think that’s such a good idea anymore,” Rab explains.
“Guys like myself fought for the headlands to be maintained in their pristine form for 40 years and I think we have done a fair job there. The legislation will mean that it’s protected from – for example – there has been two or three major attempts to have a marina at Kirra and this would give protection.”
This led me to hear his thoughts on the rise of wave pools.
“Well I have surfed Kelly’s surf ranch, and I would love to surf Occy’s and the Urban Surf wave pool. I was working with Greg Webber for about 12 years and his technology, I believe, is really going to be amazing but it will probably be built overseas first.”
It is hard not to envy the incredible life of Wayne “Rabbit” Bartholomew, but it is his humble dedication for others to experience the same joy and stoke that surfing has given him, that makes him endearing and authentic.
“I challenge anyone to love the Gold Coast more than I do,” he says on his Wikipedia page. A challenge he would be hard pressed to lose.