Do you ever feel like you should have been born at an earlier time? Is the world we live in today, for all its comforts and advancements just the afterthought of a bygone era? One man who’s very existence might support that ethos is the Gold Coast’s very own Wayne ‘Rabbit Bartholomew.
The Tweed Heads born surfer holds a long distinguished list of achievements, yet the biggest accolade is undoubtedly being crowned the 1978 World Surf Champion. Wayne competed and grew up in a time that many claim to be the true golden era of surfing.
Uncrowded waves, liberal freethinking and revolutionary arts and music, was just the surface of a quietly simmering away transitional world. Social change defined the 70s, and perhaps more so the decade before it.
Being a surfer during this period wasn’t such a smooth ride, finding yourself rock bottom socially was more than often the price that you had to pay; It was merely the status quo. The vast majority of these youths, including Wayne paid it willingly though, to live these halcyon days to the fullest.
Wayne resides on the Gold Coast, and his current venture sees him as a significant stakeholder in the music festival “The Drop Festival”, which is the biggest non-surf event to run alongside the World Surf Tour on The Gold Coast.
In only their second year they have grown dramatically and will run festivals at five surf contests altogether, with still two festivals lined up for the Rip Curl Pro (Bells Beach) and the Margaret River Pro (Western Australia).
Even into his sixties Wayne is still an accomplished surfer and is regularly seen hitting the water around the Southern beaches, as well as actively supporting environmental groups in his spare time. Some might say he epitomizes the eternal grom? Curious to find out we grabbed the ex-world champion for a few questions to find out for ourselves.
We’ve just had the World Surf Championship Tour in town and obviously, The Drop Festival, to add to all of that, what was the week like with for you with everything happening?
It’s a very exciting time; I love it when the tour comes to town. I’ve been involved in it from a variety of facets. From a pioneer professional surfer to the ‘boss’ of the ASP but these days I’m more of ambassador.
I attended the WSL awards ceremony, the night after was the Surfing Australia hall of fame evening, a book launch signing for Ian Cairn’s new book and I attended a memorial paddle out at Angourie for the late David “Baddy” Treloar. So it was a week full of highs and lows.
What do you think sets apart The Drop, from other live music events?
It’s mainly because the majority of our audience is that chilled surfing crowd and everyone simply goes to have fun. It’s a cool vibe, we have top artists, and for me, it’s actually a cool thing to be part of.
The guys who I partner with on this project are from the UK, and they know this industry inside out and are true professionals.
How did The Drop Festival even come about?
For my part, I wanted to recreate how surfing and music really was in the 70s and 80s. There was so much live music in Australia back then. I remember seeing Midnight Oil at The Play Room, and INXS at The Jet Club both on Wednesday nights! For me, surfing and music run a parallel course in popular culture. A day spent on the beach, a bit of surfing and then some great live music. It was a simple vision, and I guess I knew people would just love it.
What’s the first word that comes to mind if we say:
Big Wave Surfing today? Outrageous
Donald Trump? Fiery
Mick Fanning? Champion
Old Kirra (the wave)? Perfection
Modern Kirra? Disappointing
Instagram? Love it!
Climate Change? Scary
The level of surfing on tour? Awesome
The Gold Coast? Home
it’s well documented, and you’ve probably been asked a lot of times but can you describe what the surfing culture was truly like around Australia and The Gold Coast back in those early days, was it really a golden era?
It was a magical era; it was almost like something out of a movie. There were uncrowded perfect waves and this incredible lifestyle that was bordering on being spiritual and soulful. It was simply a great time to be alive.
Who inspired you as a younger man and particularly as a surfer?
Peter Drouyn, Nat Young, and Gerry Lopez they were the main guys that I looked up to and pushed me.
Going to the North Shore back then and surfing there was this strong intimidation and it actually inspired me.
One of the best memories I have from that time was surfing 20ft Pipeline by myself, in my mind, I did ok you know? But it ended up giving me a reputation overnight.
What’s your take on artificial wave pools and their place for contests?
Well, there is only a limited number of what I would class as perfect waves, and they are slowly becoming over loved the world over.
Personally, I think the industry is going to explode. It’s still early days, but yeah I think there is a place for a wave pool event on tour.
The recent change made to equal prize money for women on the world tour is a move in the right direction?
It’s amazing, such a good breakthrough. It firstly reflects how wonderful our women are,
I’m in awe of what they have achieved. It’s a big statement to have this parity and really puts women’s surfing on the map.
You’re a gentleman of age, but you are incredibly fit and still surf at a high level, how do you maintain this?
I’ve had a bit of a knee injury in the last 12 months. That aside I keep active though. My children keeping me active, we surf together, and we are a surfing family. The ocean helps me a lot, but I do concentrate on my core strength, my upper body strength as well as flexibility.
I work at it in different ways all the time. I’m in the gym a lot these days, a lot more than I used to even as a younger man!
If you’re lucky enough to hit the upcoming WSL Event’s at Bells Beach and Margaret River head along to The Drop Festival
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Alex is often found battling the crowds for a few waves somewhere on the Gold Coast. When not salty and covered in zinc his passions are finding great food as well as delectable wine. Originally from Newcastle, England - a somewhat critical chap, prone to a good sunburn, very much a Virgo and probably Edgar Allan Poe's biggest fan.