WHEN Mark Richards was growing up at Merewether, another prodigious talent was making a name for himself as a goofy-footed tube-riding genius a few clicks north at the left-breaking reefs of Nobbys Beach.
His name was Peter McCabe, and if Richards represented the competition-driven - and dare we say it, commercial and corporate - side of surfing, McCabe was the underground hero who ditched contests for the perfect barrels and tropical delights of Indonesia.
Nowadays, Peter shapes surfboards from a converted shipping container at Redhead, quietly appreciating a lifetime of respect as "a surfer's surfer" - even if there's feeling he could have been even more successful had a few tossed coins had landed the other way.
THE STORY SO FAR:
- Ten point rides: Newcastle's best surfers across the decades
- 'Girls can't surf?' Yes they can. And how
- Boardriding brilliance on the bus from Wallsend: Kelly Bashford
- Longer hair, shorter boards: Peter Cornish
- 'Radical Roger' Clements, with rare 1968 video footage
- Opposite ends: Smooth Belinda Baggs and the frantic Sabre Norris
- The impossibly stylish Craig Anderson
- Paige Haggerston: Aussie champ at 17
Then again, McCabe was one of the true pioneers of the Indonesian exodus that helped turn Bali into a tourist mecca, and which revealed the existence of similarly perfect surf the length of the Indonesian archipelago.
His Indian Ocean exploits, especially in the then-newly discovered break of Gragajan or G-Land on the eastern tip of Java, were breathlessly devoured in mid-to-late '70s surfing magazines, and in such movies as the celebrated Tubular Swells.
McCabe had the same catlike grace that was more famously possessed by the Hawaiian great Gerry Lopez, the King of Pipeline who emerged into global surfing fame in the 1960s.
Lopez, who is seven years older than McCabe, had left the often unruly swells of Hawaii for the groomed perfection of Indonesia.
They remain in touch to this day and Lopez's open endorsement of Peter's tube-riding skill gave the Novocastrian an unquestioned gravitas.
McCabe, like almost everyone in Newcastle, was schooled in board shaping by Sam Egan.
From 1977, McCabe's Tradewinds surf shop at Newcastle East was an Aladdin's Cave of fibreglass, surf clothes and surfing talent.
McCabe's boards are still a favoured brand with Newcastle Beach and Nobbys crew.
His latest shaping bay is a converted shipping container at Redhead.
McCabe is one of those surfers whose brilliance was unquestioned at the time, and whose reputation has continued to grow through the years.
"I first paddled out at Nobbys in 1964. It's 50 years in April since Stephen Cooney surfed Ulu's (Uluwatu in Bali) for Morning of the Earth," McCabe says, referring to the famous surf film.
"It's 45 years in April since my second trip to Indo, the first trip to G-Land.
"If you measure it by cover photos (on the front page of surfing magazines, MR's the only Newy bloke with more than me.
"I did get disillusioned with the contests, but at the 1974 nationals at Burleigh I came fifth in the final.
"It was Michael Peterson first, then Peter Townend, Rabbit (Wayne Bartholomew), Mark Warren, me, then Richard Harvey, so I went all right!"
All that tropical sun has take a toll and McCabe says he's dealing with Bowen's Disease, defined as the earliest form of squamous cell skin cancer.
"I should have spent more time in the barrel," he laughs.
"Too much, too many times, too long. But I'd do it exactly the same if I had my time over.
"And that's a quote!"
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