The Barthlomews and Townends have enjoyed seven decades of friendship. Back in the forties, my grandparents owned the original Coolangatta Hotel, where Rabbit’s mum, Betty, worked in the dining room long before either Rabbit or I had been thought of. So we’ve been connected for a long time, Rabbit and I, but the essence of our friendship jelled in the late Sixties when we were still groms in the Kirra Surfriders Club.
Being a few years older, I didn’t compete against Rabbit in those early years. I had my in-town rivalry going with Michael Peterson for the first part of the decade and then after Fred Hemmings declared me the first IPS World Champ in ’76, I took off to do the stunt double work in “Big Wednesday.” That was when the focus of the Coolangatta rivalry moved to MP and Rabbit.
But in the later part Seventies we were rivals, starting with the landmark ’77 Stubbies where the “Original Coolie Kids” ended up on the same side of the draw in the first professional man-on-man event. Bugs killed me in the quarters and the showdown in the semi-final between he and MP is one of folklore. MP beat Rabbit in a close one and went on to beat Mark Richards in the final, in pumping Burleigh Heads. It was to be MP’s last hurrah.
Rabbit won the ’78 IPS World Title and became a dominant force on the pro tour into the mid-Eighties. For seven straight years, from ’77 to ’83, he was ranked in the top five in the world, way outlasting the other Coolie Kids’ competitive careers.
Rabbit had the aggression of MP and the more flowing moments of style that I had developed from international influences. When he took that combination to Hawaii and translated it to the more powerful breaks of the North Shore, he was immediately respected for his no-holds-barred approach, attacking every wave with his trademark off-the-bottom off-the-top combinations. His barrel riding skills, developed in his favorite hometown Coolangatta break, Kirra, were second to none.
Rabbit had style and charisma in and out of the water. From his Jagger-esque on-land persona, to his starring roll in Bill Delaney’s “Free Ride,” which inspired a generation. Beyond his ability to ride waves, Bugs will be remembered for his contributions to the sport. He was an early mentor to his ’80’s running mates, “Kong” Elkerton and “Chappy” Jennings. In later life, his teenage upbringing of Dean Morrison in his Kirra Point apartment. There were also his coaching stints with the Australian National team and the countless number of groms he’s inspired as President and member of Snapper Rocks Surfriders Club in Coolangatta. Then there is his tenure at the helm of the ASP, which is un-paralleled and may never be equaled. He definitely didn’t do it for money because for my mate Rabbit, it was the right thing to do. It was right to give back to sport he loves. —Peter Townend