World Championship Tour campaigner Bruce Irons busts an air on his way to winning the Mr Price Pro event at Durban?s North Beac
World Championship Tour campaigner Bruce Irons busts an air on his way to winning the Mr Price Pro event at Durban?s North Beac

Billabong boss goes back

Surfing's equivalent of Bill Gates, Billabong co-founder Gordon Merchant, has spent the last month at the venue of this week's Billabong Pro at Jeffrey's Bay, South Africa, with his partner Debbie and son Keoni and had time to reflect on his pre-corporate early days.

"A big part of the history of Billabong is here. I have always loved the place. I have been back many times and I always look forward to coming over," said the former Maroubra man who was affectionately known as 'Greasy'.

Gordon pitched a tent on the point at JBay in 1968 for a month before moving into a shed, the town was no more than a three-shop fishing village.

This was back in the days when most surfers could only afford to travel there by boat so Gordon boarded a Greek ocean liner in Sydney sharing a cabin with six other surfers and three weeks later they landed at Capetown.

"When I arrived in 1968, they had just started to surf 7ft vbottom shortboards and they were pretty crude," he said from his J-Bay house overlooking the famous Supertubes line-up.

As a well-respected surfboard shaper prior to corporate success, Merchant was credited with designing the tucked under edge after watching Midget Farrelly at J-Bay.

"I learnt a lot here, it's such a demanding wave and the boards we had were so slow. Midget Farrelly brought the first down rail here in 1969, his board was really fast but it had no maneuverability. By combining the two we got boards to have that speed and maneuverability, that was how the tucked under edge rail was developed and I gained that experience while living in J-Bay."

From Maroubra to J-Bay, South Africa and then to Burleigh Heads in the 70s, where he could be seen living in a Kombi on the point and further developing his new tucked under edge design which worked a treat at Burleigh Point, Merchant was on a mission.

Together with American leather sandal maker Bill O'Connor, they developed the first Aussie leg rope. By this time Gordon teamed up with his former South African wife Rena and in a modest flat on top of north Burleigh hill, the first Billabong boardshorts were designed in 1973.

Just as the world's top 45 arrived at Jeffrey's for the sixth ASP WCT event of the year, Merchant and family had to slip out of town for a previously planned commitment (God knows what when you're worth over $200 million and one of the 10 richest Aussies).

So who was he tipping? Well of course his sponsored team riders like three-times world champ Andy Irons and former wildcard winner Joel Parkinson but he also acknowledged Quiksilver's Kelly Slater, another former winner. Jake Paterson, who won back-to-back titles and Mick Fanning also got nominated.

ANDY Irons' younger brother Bruce is starting to emerge as a true champion after winning the annual Mr Price, a six-star WQS event held at Durban, South Africa.

Currumbin's Luke Munro achieved his best WQS result so far this year to finish equal ninth.

THE Billabong Winter Classic, fourth event in the six-event QCC series, is on this weekend in the best surf between the Spit and D-Bah.

Former South African Shaun 'Gozzy' Gossman, now based at Burleigh, is the front-runner and is expected to come back from SA after making a couple of rounds in the Mr Price.

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