Australian Screen

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High on a Cool Wave (1968)

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clip The big time

Original classification rating: G. This clip chosen to be G

Clip description

In one of the first big swells on the north shore of Hawaii in January 1968, the cream of the world’s surfers gather to size each other up at Haleiwa.

Curator’s notes

The middle of the film is all set in Hawaii, most of it following a hot new Australian surfer, Peter Drouyn, as he makes his Hawaiian debut. Drouyn, born in 1949, had won the Queensland championship at 15, in 1965. That same year he won the NSW junior championship as well, even after he was badly assaulted by some surfers at Manly, the night before the contest. This footage is from late 1967-early 1968, shortly after his 18th birthday. In 1970, he was ranked number one surfer in the world.

The scenes are shot at Haleiwa, on the north shore of Oahu, and they give a good impression of how competitive surfing had become. This was before the establishment of a surfing pro tour, so this is more like a free-for-all, in which almost every gun surfer in the world tries to establish a place in the pecking order. Many of these names are now legendary: Joey Cabell, Mike Doyle, Ben Aipa, Nat Young.

What no one knew at the time was that Peter Drouyn was living a troubled life. In an article in 2011 in The Sydney Morning Herald, he described how he had suffered from panic attacks from the age of 12, confused by the persistent feeling that he was ‘supposed to be female’. He told reporter Frank Robson that from the age of 13, he identified surfing as the only way that he could escape his gender torment. He set himself a series of goals that he had to achieve, in order to stop feeling scared. Riding huge waves in Hawaii was one of those challenges. Another was to become world champion, which he did not achieve, although he came close in 1970, at Bells Beach in Victoria. Drouyn now lives as a woman on the Gold Coast.

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