Nat’s Nat and he’s coming back

Nat Young at 18, winning the 1966 world surfing championships. Photo courtesy Stoner Estate.

By Phil Jarratt

He might be 71 and wearing a new knee, but surf legend Nat Young will be back in Noosa next month, hot to clock some points time while here to promote his new book, Church of the Open Sky.

Back in the early days of the Noosa Festival of Surfing, the 1966 world champion was a regular celebrity guest, along with wife Ti and the family. While dad loved to display his unique style in the legends exhibitions, elder son Beau, who also racked up two world titles, was a perennial finalist and frequent winner in the pro division, and later on daughter Nava and younger son Bryce both enjoyed distinguished performances here.

Nat is sometimes painted as a controversial and polarising figure in Australian surfing – basically because he took no prisoners and never took a backward step, to throw a couple of clichés into the mix – but over the 45 years I’ve known him, I’ve found him to be talented, smart, funny, and immensely loyal to family and friends. All of which shines through in Church, easily his best book yet, and he’s written a few.

I was particularly interested to read his account of his relationship with the late Midget Farrelly, one of surfing’s greatest feuds that lasted almost half a century, and remained unresolved when Midget died too young a few years ago. I’d heard some of the stories from the man himself, but Nat has rarely written about this weird estrangement of our two greatest surfers of the 20th century.

It makes compelling reading, but so does most of this memoir. Nat and I shared many mutual friends who sadly are no longer with us, so I was fascinated to read his take on Bobby Brown, Miki Dora, Bob Evans and Donald Takayama, among others. But one area he touches on only lightly is the autumn and winter of 1966, when he, Bob McTavish and George Greenough turned the Noosa points into a research and development laboratory that ultimately led to the creation of a thin-railed board called “Sam” and Nat’s winning of the world title in San Diego that September.

I’ll be delving into that, and a whole lot more, when I join Nat for an “in conversation” session at the Noosa launch of Church of the Open Sky at the Land & Sea Brewery, from 6pm on September 12. Ticket information from Land & Sea and Annie’s Books on Peregian.

And, on a sad note, there is not a reader nor a writer in the Noosa region who doesn’t love Annie Grossman to pieces. She and her great support staff, Rachel and Palmira, have done so much over so many years to support local authors, that I know all will join me in sending big bunches of love to her in this time of loss of partner Ben.

Man of many names

It took me forever to track down John York, mainly because he changes his name as often as his underwear, and currently lives in a wild place that Google Maps insists is best reached by navigating a jungle path that has subsided in the wet season, leaving only enough space for four wheels to pass if you are both cautious and courageous. Since I am neither, I quickly bolted out of the hired mini-bus and directed proceedings from the other side of the ravine. (Cameraman, wife and driver all made it safely to the other side, you will be relieved to hear.)

So here we are at last, an hour late but John York, currently known as Yohan Trombeta, is unfussed and calling welcomes from his room overlooking a lovely river in the centre of Bali. On my last two trips to Timor-Leste, the name Yohan kept coming up, this international man of mystery who had been such a giving mentor and inspiration to the young artists and musicians of that struggling country.

And at last we meet. And he looks and sounds like a younger Tom Wegener, full of enthusiasm and the joy of his crafts. Yohan is originally from Minnesota, so that might explain it. Whatever, I begin an instant bromance with this dude.

Recently out of the University of Wisconsin in Madison, Yohan and a bunch of student troubadours were touring Australia in early 2000, performing circus cabaret gigs on campuses and wherever they could. In Melbourne and Darwin, they bonded with the pro-Timor-Leste movement, and decided on a whim that they would take their free-wheeling act to Dili.

Yohan fell in love with the country, the culture and a local lady, formed the Teatro Bibi Bulak (Theatre of Crazy Goats) and mentored most of the kids who are now the art and rock gods of Timor.

All these years later he is still working with the best musicians in Timor-Leste, touring a free jazz concept called Timor Noise with Galaxy Band co-founder Etson Caminha through Australia and Europe over the past year, while based in Bali and helping out local experimental bands.

I spent too little time with Yohan last weekend, something I hope to change over the coming weeks.

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