As a kid, Nat Young had big feet and a huge self-confidence. His parents loved him winning, and they fed that confidence. Not many people understand that things were different in Australia in the early ’60s. There wasn’t a whole lot to go around. But Nat’s parents were breeding a champion. So much so, that every time he won, his parents gave him a steak dinner, which was a rare thing back then. His brother Chris didn’t get the steak; he got the sausages.
The first time I remember being impressed by Nat we’d gone down to the South Coast for a surf. He pulled into this small, chest-high barrel and stuck his head through the roof of the wave, looked at me with this huge smile, and just kept motoring down the line, his body covered, grinning like the conductor of a choo-choo train. He was just a super exuberant kid, a real pump-up.
By the mid-’60s, George Greenough and I were best mates and lived together off and on. In 1966 we were tucked away at Noosa Heads with Bob Cooper and Russell Hughes. George had invented his high-aspect fin and was riding on his knees close to the curl. I was shaping boards with the express intent of riding like George while standing up—being engaged with pocket and lip, accelerating through turns. This became known as the “involvement school.” We liked to surf deep, and felt the Phil Edwards thing was too far from the action. And that was our influence on Nat.
He came up to visit us that winter. I was 22 and he was 17. We got into all kinds of adventures and he loved them. We’d drive up to Double Island Point and he’d grab the wheel and do donuts on the beach. We’d go nude surfing. He got to appreciate the beauty of red wine. We were hippy surf bums and it was an awakening for him. Whispers of what George and I were doing had already made it down the coast. So, Nat brought a Gordon Wood copy of my ’66 design with a copy of a Greenough fin on it. That was “Magic Sam.” It was a sweet little hull, but the fin wasn’t right, so George put it on the grinder and foiled it properly for him. And that was it, we sent Nat off to the World Championships in San Diego, and he won.
A lot of people say that contest marked the beginning of the shortboard revolution, but it didn’t. Magic Sam was a longboard—shrunken down a bit, forward trim, strong tail hips. It wasn’t until a few months later in ’67 that I went to Sydney to make true shortboards with flat bottoms, not the hulls that George inspired. Meanwhile, after winning in San Diego, Nat took several months off. He went skiing and hung out with celebrities. By the time he came into the factory in August of ’67, the shortboard revolution was in full swing. The racks were full of them, including two for Wayne Lynch. Nat took one look and screamed, “Why didn’t anyone tell me?”
Nat’s first turn on one of the new boards was massive, swooping, and brilliant. By his third wave, he’d broken the fin with his pure animal power. I’ve only seen a few like him—guys who can think bigger and handle situations normal humans can’t—and I knew then, Nat was the man to take the shortboard to the world. —Bob McTavish