Great waves, great loss

Peter in Kuta, Bali, 1978.

Another great week for waves (until Skunky Sunday, which seems to be becoming a habit) but also a sad week for surfers. Last week in these pages we noted the passing of Danny Watt, a gentleman who quietly personified what we all hold so dear about the surfing lifestyle.

This week two more true gents of surfing who flew pretty much under the radar most of the time moved on to the perfect point break in the sky, one a Noosa local since childhood, the other an inveterate surf traveler who passed through Noosa often, and left only good vibes and cruisy tracks.

Peter Neely grew up as a surfer on Sydney’s northern beaches, worked in advertising for a while, but, like this writer, heard the Morning Of The Earth call and joined the first wave of Bali surf tourists in the mid-1970s. Around the same time he had also discovered Noosa with muso mate Col Noble (see photo), but while Noosa was ultimately home, Bali was to be his lifelong passion.

A good surfer, Peter mastered the waves of the Bukit peninsula during almost a decade living in Bali, and was a judge at Bali’s first professional surfing event, the Om Bali Pro, in the early ‘80s. When he returned to Noosa in 1986, he opened the Kuta Baru Bali-based clothing and accessories shop in Hastings Street with wife Lynne, while working on a master plan that would “force” him to keep returning to Bali on a regular basis.

Peter, like many of us who developed a fixation on surfing in Bali back in the day, felt a cultural responsibility towards the tiny island whose future had been fundamentally changed by its discovery by surfers. His response was both simple and ingenious. He began publishing a humble guide book called “Indo Surf and Lingo”, which, while masquerading as a guide to surf breaks, cheap accommodations and even cheaper restaurants for first-time visiting surfers, was really a guide to showing respect for a beautiful culture we had invaded. From the simplistic Indo lingo phrases and basic vocabulary, to Pete’s sly advice about behavioral adjustments, it was a book that worked on all levels.

At a lifestyle level, it also meant that through its lifespan of more than 25 years, every time stocks ran out, Pete would have to nick back up to Bali and sell enough ads to cover the next print bill, hopefully coinciding with a good winter swell or two.

Sadly, Peter Neely was diagnosed with motor neurone disease last year, and passed away earlier this month. He spent his last months campaigning for greater MND awareness and legalizing euthanasia in Queensland. He will remembered by his many friends and colleagues as a man (and a surfer) who cared deeply about those whose paths he crossed.

Born in Adelaide in 1945, Ken “Kiwie” White was one of those wonderful surf travelers who could pop up anywhere in your life, anywhere in the world, and you could immediately resume the conversation you were having decades before. Which is exactly what happened to me when Kiwie fronted me at the Noosa Festival of Surfing not so long ago and resumed a conversation we’d started in the ‘70s in either Whale Beach, Burleigh Heads, Sunset Beach or Kuta, we couldn’t remember the place but we could sure as hell remember the substance.

Originally one of the “West Coast Surf Chasers”, a bunch of surf-crazed Adelaide teenagers who drove an old woody around the Eyre Peninsula in search of waves, Kiwie (the nickname came from Kiwi boot polish but Kiwie always spelt it his way) was selected to surf for his state in the first world surfing championships at Manly in 1964, where he met star surfers from Hawaii and California like Joey Cabell, Mike Doyle and LJ Richards. Kiwie’s humble approach to life won him friends everywhere, and he soon found himself invited to hang out with the stars in Kauai, California and Mexico.

Over the decades, Kiwie would just show up to go surfing, and was always made welcome, in the knowledge that if ever you were going to Port Lincoln, where he had settled with his family, or his beloved Cactus Beach, he was your man.

A damn fine surfer into his 70s, a year or so ago Kiwie was diagnosed with mesothelioma, an aggressive cancer caused by exposure to asbestos, which he traced back to an early surf trip to WA, when he and a mate kept the wolf from the door by pulling down asbestos ceilings.

As long as he could, Kiwie kept travelling and surfing, and campaigning for his many causes, which included paying for the installation of defibrillation stations at remote Cactus.

Two very different men, Pete and Kiwie, both good surfers who I feel privileged to have known.

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