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Byron Shire
February 1, 2023

Nat’s Church of the Open Sky

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Nat Young relaxing on land on the weekend. Photo Ti Deaton-Young.

Eve Jeffery

With a blaze of groundbreaking performances and a swag of titles claimed from all over the world to his name, Australian world champion surfer Nat Young’s seventieth birthday inspired some reflection on the waves and characters that have marked his spectacular career.

Last week Nat spoke to The Echo about his new book Church of the Open Sky, which explores what it means to be a surfer, with a collection of true stories of his surfing life – and the friends, foes and heroes he’s met along the way.

Young says he was lucky to travel the surfing world since he was 15 years old. ‘A lot of the surfers in COTOS, the ones who lived in Byron from 68 till 79 and others who came for short stays, have been forgotten and yet their contribution to surf is immense,’ says Young. ‘Russell Hughes, Garth Murphy, Bill Engler, Rusty Miller, Bobby Brown, Kevin Platt…

‘Russell was the first guy I saw get fully tubed at The Pass – they were all surfing warriors. This was the tribe that I was a part of in Byron when there were only a handful of dedicated surfers living in Byron.’

Midget Farrelly, Nat Young and Bob McTavish. Photo supplied.

Young has written the book for the surf tribe who are interested in factual history and people with surfing consciousness. ‘I am not a trained journalist, although I wrote a surfing column for the Sunday Telegraph for eight years.

‘One of my best friends, John Witzig, gave me a diary in 63 as I was leaving for my first trip to Hawaii. “Don’t come back till you fill it up” he said. I have kept a diary ever since. COTOS was written from those references.’

Young says riding quality waves is his number-one priority. ‘I do it every day when there are rideable waves; that is what matters to me and thousands of others, our religion.

‘I am lucky enough to still have my health I have never stopped surfing and will not until the rest of the tribe have a big paddle out for me – paddling out, joining hands, is our tribal tradition, it is our way of saying respect for a life lived as a dedicated surfer it has always been done in Hawaii and all Polynesia.’

Dewey Weber and Nat Young, Malibu 1968. Photo supplied.

Young says there are some aspects of surfing that he has left behind for good. ‘Getting the shits because there are too many people in the lineup is a hard habit to break, but it’s just not realistic being an angry old man.

‘A lot of my friends from the 60s have stopped surfing. That’s fine but if you feel the urge to still ride a good wave then get real, it’s 2019! Smile, it’s contagious.

‘The fact is there are more and more people. I can’t blame ’em. We were lucky enough to find the source as the first members of the Ozzy tribe; the cubbies did not have any idea what was going on with riding waves. We baby boomers were the first wave, pardon the pun.’

Young says he can’t help thinking about what will happen to our grandchildren’s grandchildren’s children. We have to make it better, as surfers see the pollution, the problems big and small, and want the people in power to have their priorities right.

‘I want more surfers in the world because it will make the world a better place, make more people conscious of the need to protect our planet, climate change. Compared to everyone else surfers tread lightly on the earth.’

What’s next for Nat? Surfing tomorrow morning. ‘This one of the finest winters I have seen on the north coast. The last two years were shitty – it’s such a pleasure to wake up to a good strong swell and off-shore wind.

‘As I am almost 72 I like the creature comforts with my surfing, choosing the right board for the wave in front of you, riding one or two to the best of your ability.

‘Here is an interesting thought: The older I get the less I need to feel satisfied’.

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The Echo loves your letters and is proud to provide a community forum on the issues that matter most to our readers and the people of the NSW north coast. So don’t be a passive reader, send us your epistles.