Local surfing legend and surf reporter Andrew McKinnon at the Alley in Currumbin this week.
Local surfing legend and surf reporter Andrew McKinnon at the Alley in Currumbin this week. Scott Powick

A surfer's life from beyond the sea

STUCK at boarding school in the 1960s, a blonde haired, bright eyed surfer had pipe dreams matched in size only by a sport about to explode.

But before lighting the flame for the evolution of surfing media and before he became Andy Mac, a young Andrew McKinnon sat in that classroom at The Southport School determined to pave his own path in the sport he loved.

"It's a sub-culture and you'll never get a job out of this,” McKinnon was told by a teacher of his prospective future in surfing.

Boy, did he prove them wrong.

A child of the revolution during a transitional period for Australian society, McKinnon's experiences at boarding school only solidified his want for the ocean.

From crafting surf reports for radio to reporting on surfing for television, to becoming Tweed Daily News' surf columnist for the past 25 years, McKinnon's love for surfing has seen him endure in a career he was told had no future.

But every journey has a beginning, and while McKinnon has became the voice of surfing out of the water, his first career dream was in it.

"I was born in Melbourne and lived at Port Phillip Bay; I'd basically never seen the ocean before,” McKinnon said.

"It was fortunate the old man retired to the Gold Coast (1959); I grew up at Mermaid Beach.”

By chance, McKinnon's next door neighbours were great exponents of surfing.

"They were straight out of the Beach Boys set; we couldn't believe these guys could paddle out and catch waves,” McKinnon said.

"They were amazing for us and my dad said I'd be out there next. I started on rubber mats, but just as I was learning to surf the old man got sick and I got sent off to boarding school.

"That just made me more determined.”

Andy qualifying for the Australian Team at North Narrabeen, Sydney in 1972.
Andy qualifying for the Australian Team at North Narrabeen, Sydney in 1972. Frank Pithers

Finding a group of friends at TSS who shared his passion for surfing - who he keeps in contact with to this day - McKinnon watched from afar as the sport began to catch fire.

"Surfing was only just kicking off and I was at boarding school when this was all going on. I wasn't on the beach but dad owned a newsagency and he got me all the surfing magazines,” he said.

"All I thought about was surfing, so when it came to writing, they wanted me to write an essay about what I loved, after the 20th one about surfing the teacher got sick of it,” McKinnon said.

Finding his way to Miami High, a classmate of McKinnon's would be future world champion Peter Townend, while arguably the most talented surfer that ever lived, Michael "MP” Peterson, also attended the school.

McKinnon and famed Coolangatta kids in Townend, Peterson (MP) and Wayne Bartholomew (Rabbit), helped write the chapter in surfing's shortboard revolution and its evolution to a professional sport.

With Wayne "Rabbit” Bartholomew, the rag-tag group of Gold Coast mates formed the nucleus of an Australian side who took the world by storm at the World Surfing Championships in San Diego in 1972.

Andrew McKinnon (right) with Michael Peterson in a 1972 photo shoot for Tracks magazine.
Andrew McKinnon (right) with Michael Peterson in a 1972 photo shoot for Tracks magazine. Mick Eyre

Just 19 at the time, McKinnon placed sixth overall to finish as the second best Aussie behind Townend (third) and ahead of MP.

While his surfing future looked bright, McKinnon said it became apparent where his professional career wouldn't lie.

"I was fortunate to have grown up with those guys and I won the (Qld) state junior titles in 1970-71 and had it over them,” McKinnon said.

"But from there, those guys started tube riding at Kirra and they took off. MP was head and shoulders above everyone.

"By the time I realised I wasn't going to beat those guys, that's where the media came into it. I thought, 'If I can't become the world's best surfer, at least I can report on surfing and the lifestyle I love'.”

After spending time at the University of Hawaii in 1972 studying political science, McKinnon's sea change was in full flight.

Over the next decade, McKinnon worked for 2LM Radio, NRTV and the Northern Star while studying media and marketing, before returning to surf reporting at Triple M in Sydney in 1985.

After moving to Byron in 1987, McKinnon won an Australian longboard title (1987) and a world title (1988), before returning to the Gold Coast in 1989 for a full-time role with Sea FM.

"At one stage I was doing three separate reports for Sea FM, Gold FM and B105,” McKinnon said.

"I even did morning radio as part of Sea FM's breakfast team, but I was better being outside as a surf reporter.”

McKinnon worked in television from 1993-2004 as a presenter with Prime and NBN and while he still writes his weekly column, he can still be heard everyday on Sea and Gold FM.

Andrew McKinnon ready to hit the water in a Billabong wetsuit.
Andrew McKinnon ready to hit the water in a Billabong wetsuit. Nolan Verheij-full

His love of the ocean has led him down the path of activism, a passion that surfaced during his time in Byron Bay.

He organised an Australia Day paddle out at Kirra in 2009 which led to the Queensland Government pledging $1.5 million to fix the iconic break.

McKinnon's interests in preservation convinced Gold Coast Mayor Tom Tate to back a push to have breaks from Burleigh to Snapper Rocks added as the eighth World Surfing Reserve.

As chairman of Gold Coast's World Surfing Reserve, McKinnon has overseen the move which came to fruition when the region was officially added to the WSR last year.

Surfer, media personality and activist; McKinnon's impact on surfing in the region has left a significant footprint; not bad for that bright eyed kid who was told he couldn't five decades ago.

"The teacher said you will never make a career out of surfing,” McKinnon said.

"But I thought one way or another, I will.”

And he did.



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