It is tempting to feel as though we are living through “unprecedented” times. And that’s not surprising because we live in ahistorical times, in a place where concrete buries the past.
If you ask photographer Dick Hoole what’s the secret to capturing the perfect surf shot, he’ll tell you that being a surfer helps.
He says having that first-hand perspective gives you the edge — and he should know given his impressively large catalogue of photographs from the 70s through to the 90s of surf scenes from Australian and international shores.
“Ultimately, it’s the communication with nature when you’re out there — inside a wave with a surfer sharing and documenting that peak experiences.
Dick has captured many magic moments in the surf, especially on the Gold Coast, and it was no accident that he combined his passion for surf and photography.
He created the job he wanted — one that allowed him to continue surfing and travel the world.
After finishing school in Sydney, Dick moved to Byron Bay.
“After living in Byron Bay for two to three years and working as a younger grommet at San Juan Surfboards in the factory making boards in 1967 with the likes of Ken Adler, Bob McTavish, George Greenough and those hero surfers,” he said.
“Their influences were, ‘if you’re a real surfer kid, you make the pilgrimage to Hawaii and see Sunset Beach and the real waves’.”
So, he did.
Dick figured he’d better take some photos of his Hawaiian adventure because ‘nobody will believe he’s actually got it together and made it to Hawaii’.
One of the photos captured during that trip not only was proof that he made it to Hawaii, but proof he had what it took to shoot a cover image.
Dick’s photo of Hawaiian surfer Tom Stone at Pipeline earned him his first cover shot which landed on the front of Surfing World Magazine.
“That’s about as good as it gets.” he said.
Dick and his partner at the time Carmel Hunter, eventually made the Gold Coast their home and bought a house in Mermaid Waters in 1973.
He believed the Gold Coast had all the unique ingredients in place to be something special in the Australian surfing frontier on the east coast — and he wasn’t wrong.
“The Gold Coast is one of the world’s unique surfing destinations and everything from the climate to the access to its beautiful beaches, and Burleigh being the jewel in the crown,” he said.
“Remember there was no Snapper Rocks.
“Burleigh was the main arena because it was the centre of the Gold Coast because it was far more consistent.”
The arrival of the Stubbies surf contest organised by surfer and actor Peter Drouyn in 1977 cemented Burleigh’s reputation as a surfing hotspot.
“His [Peter] genius created a different contest and all the elements came together along with the crowd to watch the surfing and obviously the bikini babes and the whole glamour of the Gold Coast was on display.
“It was so successful that it was the foundation of all the future events like the Billabong Pro, the Quiksilver event and other ones that followed all the way through to the 90s — the formula was so good.”
Dick’s photos of the Stubbies capture some of the most iconic images of the 70s and 80s surf culture on the Gold Coast.
One image shows a tucker van on Burleigh Hill being swallowed by the crowd standing shoulder to shoulder the full length of the hill.
“It was anywhere from 6000 people plus on the headland at Burleigh Heads … that was a pretty unique gathering,” he said.
“It was the culmination of everything that the Gold Coast lifestyle was built on — there just wasn’t sun, surf, sex and rock and roll, it was the glamour of the beautiful assets and Burleigh Heads as one of the most unique waves on the east coast of Australia.”
Dick’s imagery extends to film as well — in fact he collaborated with Jack McCoy and David Lourie for the 1976 surf film Tubular Swells about chasing the best waves of Australia, Hawaii, Bali and Indonesia.
The film features Aussie surf royalty Mark Richards, Rabbit Bartholomew, Michael Thomson, Gerry Lopez, Rory Russell, Michael Peterson and Ian Cairns.
“Nobody hired us to go out there and make a film, we created the job that we wanted to have,” he said.
“It wasn’t a great money-making idea … ‘Dick why don’t you go out and make a surf film and buy a 16mm camera and start documenting the Gold Coast?’.
“A surf film gave you more information because of the media — you know you’ve got to see where the latest waves were being discovered by people in other countries that you weren’t aware of.
“You saw the evolution of surfboard designs and who was riding them, and it was just a current way of absorbing information that everyone was hungry for so they could progress in their own little barefoot adventure.
“People wouldn’t have been traveling to South Africa and doing all these things if Bruce Brown hadn’t been down there and in the Endless Summer it showed them how good the waves were.”
The tools of the trade to shoot in the water are readily available today, but when Dick and Jack started filmmaking they had to be innovative and creative to adapt equipment to deal with the capturing the magic of surfing.
“There is a shot of Jack and myself in the front yard of the Mermaid studio with all our stuff laid out around to show that we were the men we thought we were,” he said.
“We spent enough money to have lots and lots of camera toys to play with so we should have known what we’re doing with them but none of that equipment could catch capture the images now that I can get using a phone which everybody else has got.”
Tubular Swells may well be the Gold Coast’s first feature film.
“It was released the in summer of 1976, and that to my knowledge was the first feature film ever made in Queensland,” he said.
“Obviously, the film processing stuff was done at Atlab down in Sydney, but the film was put together and made in the house at night.”
While he calls Byron Bay his home now, the Gold Coast made an impression on him, with his earliest introduction to the city around 1957.
He recalls catching fish with his dad in the Nerang River, jumping off the Chevron and Isle of Capri bridge, and watching television for the first time.
“I remember when TV first came in, taking a cushion along sitting outside and watching television through the window of the post office … on the corner Cavill Avenue and the Gold Coast Highway opposite the Surfers Paradise Hotel,” he said.
It’s fair to say between that first introduction, to living at Mermaid Beach to now, the Gold Coast has changed.
In addition to capturing the surf, Dick documented the Gold Coast during various growth spurts.
His collection includes early videos of the Gold Coast Airport, various aerial shots of the city’s suburbs like Broadbeach and nostalgia favourite Magic Mountain.
“Before I bought the joint at Mermaid, Pacific Fair hadn’t even been built, it was just a big dirt field, and the caravan park was still there at the Broadbeach intersection which became the casino location,” Dick said.
“All the photos I’ve got illustrate beautifully that it’s pretty quiet on the Gold Coast in all those areas.
“That’s kind of where the interest in photography came from and it was all based around my life as a surfer and living the surfing experience at that time.”
Dick has a large collection of material, some of it unseen — but as he approaches his older years the question of what to do with it remains unanswered.
“I’ve got too many photos that I haven’t done anything with,” he said.
“I feel sorry for all the other people, surfers, I have taken great shots of.
“I got better shots of Wayne Dean than I do of Michael Peterson, but Michael Peterson turned out to be the money guy, and then along comes Kelly Slater.
“It’s just you never know at the time you’re taking the photo, whether it’s going to be a keeper or you’re going to put throw it away — and if technically it wasn’t correct, it always got thrown away.
“You don’t get to take anything with you when you die, doing something with it all now before it ends up at Myocum tip would be great.”
Listen to Dick Hoole in conversation with Solua Middleton, 14 August, Justin’s Park, Burleigh.