Feature

Interview: Chris Brock

A retrospective conversation.

Chris Brock had already spent a few years wandering the globe for surf when he first set sail aboard the Morning Light. In New Zealand he’d saved his coin diving for abalone. In Hawaii he’d subsisted on government food stamps and honed his tube-riding skills on the then-uncrowded North Shores of Kauai and Oahu. His 1975 Morning Light voyage from Santa Barbara to Australia with George Greenough came together by chance. Brock showed up in California. Greenough needed a first mate. They left on a two-year jaunt to Tahiti, Vanuatu, and the Cook Islands three months later.

Today Brock lives in a home on the point at Lennox Head—just across the bay from Greenough. He shapes as many boards as he needs to make ends meet, signs his name, and slaps a “Convert the Military to Earth Repair” logo between the fins. In our conversation, Brock spoke vividly about the travel adventures of his youth but expressed finding greater contentment with simply remaining planted near Byron Bay as time has passed. “Now I’d have to at least think twice about taking the Morning Light trip,” he said. “They reckon there are big shipping containers and patches of garbage floating out there.

Kyle:  What first drew you to Byron Bay and how did you meet George Greenough?

Chris:  I grew up in Bondi. When I was really young I saw one of the first surf movies of Phil Edwards at Byron Bay. A couple of my friends had been there on a train. So from about age 13, I would catch the train to Byron and stay at the Pass. Eventually I left school and was trying to figure out what to do. My dad said, “I’ve worked all my life and I’m still at square one. I reckon it’s best for you to go after what you enjoy doing.” I liked surfing, so I came up here and went with that. Then I met George [Greenough]. He was at Lennox Head, filming for Fantastic Plastic. This was winter of 1968. I wish he’d never ridden the spoon in that movie. It’s the only surf footage that a lot of people see of George and it was the wrong board for the conditions. He should have been riding an air mat. Then he really would have been turning heads with his speed.

Kyle:  At what point did you guys start planning the Morning Light trip to Australia?

Chris:  The night I arrived in Santa Barbara George took me to the dock where the Morning Light was anchored and asked if I wanted to go to Tahiti. I didn’t really know what he had in mind when we left. We knew were going to end up in Australia but we wanted to take our time. Our first stop, I remember waking up and there was an island peak way off to the left. George said, “Look Chris. That’s Huahine. We’ll go there first.” We didn’t come through the pass until late afternoon. We spent a little more than a year of that trip in Tahiti.

Kyle:  Why didn’t you ever poke around Fiji for surf? I’ve heard that you got a tip on the waves near Tavarua.

Chris:  We were cooking fish on the beach at Huahine when this lady came up and told us about this place in Fiji that they call Magic Island. That was Namotu, right by Tavarua, where the boats anchor on the inside. This American guy—I don’t remember his name—was at Huahine while she was telling us about it. Apparently he brought word back to California. At the time, it just felt like there were so many places you could have gone. If I was the captain of the boat I think I might have gone in there and had a look. But the Fijians were hassling boats with young people and there was a big storm so George stayed away from there. After Tahiti, we went straight up to Vanuatu but it was nothing like Restaurants and Cloudbreak.

Kyle:  It seems like you both got along extremely well given how long you lived in close confines—and sailing without a ton of experience. Were there any trying times along the way?

Chris:  George stepped on a stonefish and got dengue fever all at once. He went back to California to recoup for a few months. I didn’t have any money so I just stayed anchored in Tahiti and looked after the boat. About that time, I sailed around a little on Peter Fonda’s boat, the Tatoosh. We were off the coast of Papeete and someone said it was huge on the other side of the island. They hired a car to drive us across. We could see these big, angled swells barreling along the reef at Teahupoo. George and I had anchored there for a few months and never saw another surfer. If I hadn’t spent time in Hawaii before that, I probably wouldn’t have surfed Teahupoo or half the breaks we did. George had his spoon and he used to tell me that he would go down in the cracks of the reef when the sets came. He was the first person I ever saw who could duck dive.

Kyle:  How did your early years traveling form the way you think about surfing now?

Chris:  The people who live in the flat below me have a boat in the Mentawai Islands and they’ve been trying to get me to go for years. I haven’t made it because I can’t be bothered traveling anymore. I asked George if he wanted to go and he said no as well. We’re both just happy here. Surfing can be a lot more interesting than just trying to rip a wave apart. I find that people who understand the underlying values of surfing are the ones who keep doing it for a long time. Matt Hoy’s dad just moved here from Newcastle and said, “I’ve got so many friends who I used to surf with when I was younger and they don’t surf anymore. They’re the ones missing out.”