Welcome to the 4th episode of the third series of our podcast.
Today’s guest is former US Champion (1965) and Byron Bay legend Rusty Miller.
We discussed with him about his early days surfing in California, amazing behind-the-scenes moments and much more!
You can follow our podcast in all major podcast platforms (Spotify, ITunes, YouTube, Amazon) or read the transcribed interview here (please forgive us of spelling mistakes)
TTOS: Aloha, Mr Rusty, welcome to the show! Where are you today?
In Byron Bay, New South Wales, Australia, a very famous place fortunately, and unfortunately…yes. I’m living near the town in Byron Bay, next to some very good surfing places, we’re overpopulated with surfers right now, but at least it’s interesting…
TTOS: Today, we’re going to talk about your career and your surf life and a lot of stories, but the first question that I have for you is, in your opinion, what is the most important thing in surfing?
I thought of different things….. first of all, I will tell you what my vintage is, my vintage is 1943, I’m hopefully a wine that’s doesn’t have a loose cork, but my common denominator is, has been surfing through my life since I was 10 and today I’m 77. I think one of the most important thing for me in surfing is to understanding nature in many ways, I think not all surfers are sort of super ecological and conscious of their footprint, but I think most surfers are pretty conscious of what kind of imprint they have in their daily life. We need to respect nature and something that I’m really glad is that I’ve spent a lot of time in nature.
TTOS: And nature’s gives you back as well, right?
Yes, it does and, as I always tell, as I teach surfing here, I do private surfing now for one or two people, and we have five different schools, “ you are surfing the waves, but, you know, they don’t know your name…”
TTOS: I like that definition! The waves are treating everybody equally…..
I wish they would actually knew me ….
TTOS: to get a special treatement?
No…. I want exclusivity….
TTOS: What was your first proper surfboard?
I began surfing in 1953 and the area that I lived basically when I started surfing was just near Southern California about 20 miles north of San Diego. My first surf board was actually an old plank, which was a balsa, those days they were just changing from redwood into balsa, using fiberglass and balsa. My board was balsa and fiberglass and I’d got an old plank and dragged it. Now I was 10 years old. And then I knew some lifeguard, some County lifeguards in California that where my sort of mentors older people who were quite nice to me, one of them said, well, I’ll shape for you a 10 foot soggy board
Actually my first board was shaped out of a 10 foot used wood, Redwood stringer surfboard behind this lifeguard tower on the beach in some stand. it was called a “chip” it is kind of a big old Simmons, which was way too big for me. They actually shaped this old plank that I bought and they shaped me a seven, 10 was called a “chip”.
TTOS: what happened to that board?
I would not know, I’m not a big collector of surfboards….
TTOS: At that time, a lot of surfers were shaping their own surfboards…..
There were local guys who were shapers in those early days, some of them were the real first surfboard makers like Hobie, Dale Velzy and others….
Five or six years after that, one of these life guards up the coast and Dana point saw my surfing and took me over to Velzy surfboards and that was my first actual sponsorship, a great memory!
TTOS: Being sponsored by Velzy, it was like a dream, right?
Oh yeah, it was, he was a lovely generous guy. Those times a lot of people was getting sponsored even if those guys didn’t always worth it. The sport had just started developing you know, and growing and that back in the sixties….
TTOS: You had an amazing career and if you had to pick one moment, the defining moment of your career, which one would you select?
There was one time I went to up and down California of the United States Surfing Association was one of the first competition sort of a thing. Competitions started very early, some people thought it really wasn’t about judging, surfing and stuff. A lot of people were sort of purists about surfing and I did a years of competition up and down the coast and the defining moment was when I became a United States surfing champion after a series of competitions up and down the coast throughout the year. I assembled the most points and I was a United States surfing champion, for 1965.
TTOS: You went to compete in Makaha as well?
Yeah. a couple of times. I was in a, I was in a really good club called the WindandSea club….
TTOS: Wow. Legendary!
It started from La Ohia, California, while also other club started. The Los Angeles tribe of surfers invited our area to come to the competition. We formed a club called the WindAndSea surf club. At the beginning, basically, what we did is we just hired a bus. The facilitator was a guy named Spenson, he was a very good organizer, a public promoter of actors and singers and stuff like that. He started this club Wind And Sea Surf Club…. What we did basically we got on a bus and we picked up all these surfers up saying “Do you want to be in the WAS Surf Club”?
We went from La OHia all the way to Los Angeles, which is about 180 miles or something like that.
All along the coast, we picked up all these amazing surfers, you know, LJ Richards, Joey Cabell ( Joey was in Laguna. LJ Richards was in Oceanside), Mike Henson from La Ohia. Mickey Munoz was from Dana point…. It started like this and we won a lot of competitions…..we had also a sister club in Australia….
TTOS: Amazing story! That’s one of the most legendary surf club. The WindAndSea that really left a footprint…..fantastic! All the legendary surfers were there , later also Skip Frye…..
Skip Was from La Oya he was a good friend of Mike Hanson.
Another competition, I was quite proud to be invited, as I was sponsored by Hansen surfboards was in Hawaii during Christmas time, surfing big waves on Sunset… I went there every year from 1961
There I met another members of the WindAndSea, Pat Curren was Tommy Curren’s dad obviously. He was a master craftsman, a master shaper, I actually wrote him a letter as he was living out on the North Shore near Sunset Beach and he said, “oh, come on over”, that was my first sort of place I actually stayed…. I was quite influenced by Pat and the first real competition, one of the first major competitions for big waves was called the “Duke Kahanamoku Competition”. I was invited the first four 1964 to 1968 24 surfers invited around the world to go to Hawaii at that time…..
I was most honored to be there and also the other thing, was that the Duke was alive at that time.
Duke was not wealthy, he was an amateur at that time, you weren’t allowed to be paid for it and because of Kimo, McVay, very lovely person, he started recognized how important Duke was.
Duke was the ambassador of the surfing world, in 1965 he came down to Asutralia and gave an exhibition, he wasn’t the first surfer in Australia, but he sort of introduced the the excitement of surfing into there, he was quite an essence.
In one of the competitions, in 1967, I had an accident and I broke my leg taking a big wave, they took me to the hospital and I had put a cast when I came back. I was upset of course, because I wasn’t in, I was, I was in the semi-finals, it was going pretty good, but, the good thing is, you know, I was upset, but then there’s a picture of me sitting with Duke, I sat next to the duke, watching all the competition in the finals and all that. Having a picture with the Duke, where him and I sit in there was really cool.
TTOS: Looking back at your career, would you have changed something, doing something different?
I really can’t answer that very well. Other than thinking, if I had a fortune teller told me , you won the lotto or a big Melbourne cup race…
it’s interesting. That’s an interesting question in that way, because even though I talked about misfortune and thinking that wasn’t good, It was actually good. Maybe you shouldn’t play around here with your fate….
TTOS: You know, when I asked the same question, for instance, to Tom Caroll, he said , you know maybe I will have continued surfing for an year of two instead of stop competing….
A lovely guy, Tom. what I love about surfing that is such a good tribe, such an interesting thing.
Some people like Tom, he was super successful, the first million-dollar sponsored surfer and he is not one of those younger guys that they don’t really care that much about history or something like that. Tom Carroll is super respectful ready to help and listen to everybody.
TTOS: Reading about you, people saying you are a legend, do you consider yourself one?
Being a legend, it’s almost a cliché….
I’m still alive. I’ve been surfing since I was 10 years old, now I’m 77, I have an easy name to remember and I’ve surfed all around the world. I guess it’s a compliment, but like I said, it’s a bit of a cliché. I’m part of that history I wanted to actually, I went to, you went to university and I was going to be a history professor or a history teacher, but actually, that’s what I’ve ended up with is to teach surfing….
TTOS: I remember I asked the same to Greg Noll……
He’s lovely, He’s a real beautiful spokesman for surfing, by the way, speaking of Greg, he had these amazing things called “Greg Noll reunions”. I think I went to five or six of them and all these surfers around the world in Hawaii and Costa Rica! 24 people around to go to all these places fully paid, sponsored, amazing time for us and for everyone who was lucky enough to come to his event to have him organize all that, all that all his reunions, just fantastic.
Phil Edwards came, Miki Dora came, Bruce Brown was there and Tom Maury and Grubby Clark and all these sort of older guys being together and talking about not schmaltzy sentimental stuff, but you know, all seeing each other again and saying, how are you, how are you going? just to appreciate all the, you know, amazing tribe….we’re a tribe and there’s all those original guys were pretty much implied expanded population-wise the world of surfing!
I remember a funny story about Micki Dora, he came fully expensed, but there was a condition….the only thing is you have to show up for the photo….I knew him through a good friend of mine . I was responsible to make sure Mike was there at the photo time, Greg’s pulled me and said “ listen, go get him go. He’s a room number 27” I knocked on the door and he opened the door and had this pillow in his ear and said, oh, I’ve got this horrible headhacke….
Another incident in the hotel, it was a big swanky hotel, somebody was were walking across the in the lobby and was taking pictures of Mickey and he ran up and he grabbed the camera and he’s going to take the camera and throw it down.
“You can’t take pictures! You’re not supposed to take a picture of me through the camera!” He threatened the guy, scared the heck out of that guy.
TTOS: you met a lot of surfers is ther one so far that left the particular mark was very meaningful for you ?
Phil Edwards, we’re talking now late sixties, everybody thought he was the best surfer in the world, but he wasn’t in the competition, he was just, by accolade by his peers. His peers thought he was the best one. Fortunately Phil Edwards lived only 10 miles north where I lived and he was about six years older than me.
I would have been 13 or 14, he was in his early twenties kind of thing, and I remember, in Swami’s he appeared as only when the surfing was perfect. He had a lot of influence, I mean, his style was amazing.
One of the best thing he told me was “Surfing is not a sport, is an art”
TTOS: What are you currently work on?
I’m helping my wife in writing a book…
Every once a year is my wife and I, we have a publication annual publication called Rusty’s Byron guide, which is like a little magazine, which is about sort of the spirit and feeling of Byron, we get different people to write articles.
And my surf school, I have couple of coaches helping me and I do private lessons for one or two people per time.
TTOS: We’re going to finish our interview with a short question and answer session, please answer the first thing that comes up to your mind…..
The best surfboard that you ever ridden…
I think the most memorable surfboard it was a balsa wood board, but it was like the first time they made some like a tiered teardrop shape. nine foot kind of thing, but, you know, obviously a wider point that, that from the center I just remember, I don’t know why. It was a Velzy pigboard
TTOS: Your favorite shaper
There was a local guy from California, from Santa Barbara and years ago, I had a lot of different kinds of boards is I got in Michael K., he still lives here, he was a very good shaper
I also have some very special surfboards made by Dick Fence Straller just up in Queensland, 50 miles up north.
TTOS: Personal question, your favorite song..
TTOS: Your favorite surf spot…
Currently obviously it’s Lennox three point breaks along here in this area, it gets special, It gets big. It gets a thrill deep outside, It’s a lovely place.
TTOS: Your Favorite surfer
Phil Edwards, of course
TTOS: The last question is a little bit unusual, we want to know your best relationship advice…..
Learning to love, tough love…..