To many, Newcastle surfer Nicky Wood was a man of mystery who shunned the limelight.
He found fame at age 16 when he became the youngest surfer ever to win the iconic Bells Beach Surf Classic, now known as the Rip Curl Pro. The victory also made him the youngest male surfer to win a professional surfing event.
Wood’s victory at Bells in 1987 secured his place among surfing royalty. Other winners of that era included Newcastle icon Mark Richards (1982), Tom Curren (1985), Tom Carroll (1986), Damien Hardman (1988), Martin Potter (1989), Barton Lynch (1991) and Kelly Slater (1994). Richards also won the event in ’78, ’79 and ’80. Other big names to have won Bells include Andy Irons, Mick Fanning, Sunny Garcia, Mark Occhilupo and fellow Novocastrian Matt Hoy.
The Bells Beach trophy is almost as well-known as the surf break itself, which is near Torquay along the Great Ocean Road.
In the professional surfing world, the trophy is a revered object.
The bell is rung each year by the winners of the male and female events.
It was also rung often in the Wood household, after Nicky’s famous win.
“My mum used to ring that bell as a joke at dinnertime,” Nicky’s sister, Rochelle Wood, said.
“We’d come to the table for dinner because of the bell. It’s so much a part of our family history.”
Rochelle put a post on Facebook this week, saying her brother’s trophy had been lost about a decade ago.
He’d stored it in the shed of a mate, who later put it into storage in Newcastle. When the storage fees weren’t paid, the trophy was sold at a Wickham auction house.
Rochelle received a big reaction to her Facebook post.
“I think I may have actually tracked it down. The guy [from Newcastle] who might have it is in Indonesia,” she said.
“Apparently he’d been shopping it around privately the last few months, trying to sell it.
“No one would touch it because the surfing world was like: ‘No, Nicky should have that’. His name is on it and he’s the rightful owner and winner of it.”
Rochelle said she was happy to pay for the trophy’s return. “I don’t expect anyone to be out of pocket,” she said.
The Chosen One
Nicky Wood surfed on the world tour from 1987 to 1994, according to surfing records.
Surfer magazine described Wood as a “fast, spidery and entertaining” surfer.
“From age 10, Wood was The Chosen One. His godfather and personal board-maker was Mark Richards. Nat Young was a family friend. Michael Peterson paddled Wood into the lineup at Snapper when he visited the Gold Coast. Wood collected local, state and national titles the way other kids collected Hot Wheels,” the story said.
Wood was known for being an enigma. He was nicknamed “The Phantom” because he would appear, surf in an event, then disappear.
Rochelle said he was “really low-key and not an ego-type person”.
“The fame part of the surfing came along with it. He didn’t like that. He liked the travel and sponsorship, but not the media part.”
He liked to socialise with his mates, but his need to escape from the limelight was, perhaps, a way to deal with the attention of becoming famous at such a young age.
His career suffered distressing injury setbacks. He was plagued by trouble to his knees after a 15-centimetre growth spurt in his youth, but tried to manage his afflictions to keep competing on the tour.
The Encyclopedia of Surfing said his “stretched knee ligaments were a source of constant pain”.
He’s now 48 and lives on the Gold Coast.
“He’s been up there for 20 years at least. He still surfs,” Rochelle said.
“He’s a dad with four kids. My whole family lives up there now. But we’re Merewether/Newcastle people born and bred.”
In The Genes
Nicky had the surfing gene. His dad Robbie was a champion surfer, surf lifesaver and ironman. His mum, Judy, was also a surfer.
“Dad used to take Nick out surfing when he was five,” Rochelle said.
“He started in the surf club doing Nippers. He was so good on the board. He loved it so much, he gravitated towards that. It went from there.”
Rochelle said her brother’s surfing earnings “set him up” to a point.
“He does a bit on the stockmarket. He’s good with numbers. He’s got one of those brains,” she said.
Rochelle said her brother “doesn’t like any attention on him”, but the trophy “does mean a lot to him”.
She’s hoping that word gets around and others can help return the trophy to her brother.
“You can’t underestimate Novocastrians and the surfing community and how they pull together,” she said.
Anyone with information, can contact Rochelle through Facebook.
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