NICKY Wood had a surfing world shaped by the gods. His father was Merewether club legend Robbie Wood.
His mother Judy, is a sister to another of our profiled greats, Peter Cornish.
After he came into the world in October 1970, the close-knit relations between Merewether surfers meant Mark Richards, still a young teenager, became godfather to baby Nick, as Robbie had been to Mark.
Young Nick was surrounded by great surfers from the start, and history shows he lived up to the expectation, beating the world's best in Easter 1987 to win that year's Bells Easter Classic - one of the most prestigious events on the tour - in his first Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP) contest.
He beat another Aussie, Richard 'Dog' Marsh, in the final, and was just 16 years and five months old.
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In the years before then he had risen through the ranks of the Merewether Surfboard Club, and through the junior competition system that was grooming him for one thing: to surf professionally.
In a 1990 profile for Surfer magazine, pro surfer turned journalist Derek Hynd said Nicky had "counted his trophies not so long ago, and the tally topped 150."
Wood was still a boy when he won Bells, and the next few years caused him problems when he added some 15cm to his height in one 12-month period.
"I grew too quickly. I first felt my knees start to go when I was 15 - they'd start to crackle," he told Hynd.
"Then when I was 17, after I came home from Japan, I went surfing at Ballina . . . and when I came in my leg was all puffed up.
"I went straight to Sydney for arthroscopic surgery. The next day I tried to walk but collapsed."
The Hynd article cemented Wood's enigmatic reputation with its content and title - "The Phantom" - an overt comparison to surfing's original phantom, Michael Peterson.
Despite the orthopaedic problems, Woods stayed on the tour until 1994.
Apart from Bells, his contest record on the World Surf League website includes wins in the World Cup at Sunset Beach, Hawaii, in 1990, and the Hang Loose Pro in Hawaii in 1991.
World champions during his era included Australians Damien Hardman and Barton Lynch, Americans Tom Curren and Kelly Slater, and South African Martin Potter. His wins in the ASP events of his day are here at his World Surf League biography.
In a contest coda, Wood won a wild card to Burleigh Heads contest in 2010 after he lodged 30 entries in a sponsor's competition and had his name drawn from a barrel.
At 39, he scored 6.83 out of 10 for "the only decent wave that came his way", bowing out to Mark Occhilupo, who was 43 at the time!
Wood has lived quietly for years on the Tweed coast, not that far from Judy, at the south end of the Gold Coast.
He has two younger sisters Tiffany - of 2000s girl group, Bardot, fame - and Cassie, and an elder sister, Rochelle, is president of the Stray Cats Project fighting to save the Stockton Breakwall cats from extermination.
"Nick still surfs," Rochelle says. "But he's more likely just to go for a swim every day. If he does go for a wave, it will be away from the crowds, from the commotion."
In September 2018, we reported Rochelle's efforts to find Nicky's lost trophy from the Bells contest.
It never came back despite Rochelle believing that "people know where it is".
It would be a lovely bit of timing to see it resurface in time for the WSL Newcastle Cup pro contest, starting on Thursday.
Rochelle Wood shares some more memories of brother Nick
"Dad had us all in the surf from the time we were babies," Rochelle says
"Nick had his first board as soon as he was big enough to carry one.
"Many days were spent at the Cowrie Hole and at Blacksmiths, where the waves are easier for beginners to navigate."
It was also where Mark Richards had his first surf, as journalist David Knox reported in Richards, A Surfing Legend, his authorised biography of MR, published in 1992.
"But Merewether was always our local beach and a part of our blood," Rochelle says.
"Dad would take us out in whatever sized surf and I always remember if you wiped out - you'd be rolling around in the wash, thinking 'oh my god, I'm about to lose my last bit of air'!
"And then suddenly you'd feel a huge hand clasp around your ankle or arm and Dad would haul you out of the deep and back to the surface!
"I was inevitable that one of us would surf as our career.
"In Dad's day you couldn't make a living from surfing, but by the time Nick was born, people were doing it and the money and sponsorships were getting bigger and that could be your livelihood.
"It's the same with most sports. There was a time when lots of good footy players were still working as garbos, so they could train and work at the same time for their footy. Unheard of now.
"We used to go up and down the coast for all the surfing competitions in a big campervan, and we could camp wherever we went. We couldn't afford motels and in those days no-one else was going to pay for your accommodation."
Rochelle was also there, close up, to see the difficulties caused by Nicky's late and rapid spurt of growth.
"Nick went off to Japan one year to surf, and then off to a few other countries after that.
"We picked him up when he came back to Sydney Airport and he was just so much taller in just a few months. It took us all a moment to recognise him because he had grown so much!
"That was when his knee problems started. The had a big impact. Nick was in constant and terrible pain from his knees for years. Before and after competitions he would icing and then heating his legs and knees for hours to try to ease the pain and help the movement in his joints.
"Watch a surfer in the water. Focus on the knees and see the huge amount of pressure they have to cope with.
"From using your knees to help force the board under a wave when paddling out, to jumping up from lying down, to pumping your legs as you ride across the wave to turn the board where it needs to go. It all takes its toll."
Rochelle says she went to Hawaii with Nick a few times and recalls a month that she, Nick, his partner at the time, Natalie Ayoub, and Central Coast pro the late Mark "Sanga" Sainsbury, spent in a rented condominium at Waimea Bay.
"It was just magical. Nick loved Hawaii so much. Not just the surf, but the lifestyle there and the Hawaiian people that he had made many great friends with."
Rochelle says Nick will always be remembered for winning Bells at 16, and says he will forever be the youngest winner, because 18 is now the bottom cut-off age for entry.
She says Nick has been at the Tweed for about 15 years, and has four children, aged from 29 to 10.
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