Derek Hynd is an Australian surfer/shaper/writer. A former contest pro and intelligent writer, his recent video at J-Bay blew minds with his breathtaking finless surfing. We spoke with Derek to learn more about this unique and creative individual.
What was your life like growing up?
A normal upbringing – came from inland, aged 10, with my family. Got into Surf O Planes, then Coolite boards whilst still in primary school. Played soccer left footed, hit the surf with my dogs every pre-dawn for years through high school in days when you could still light a fire and warm up after a surf without much rubber on at all.
Flunked my leaving certificate at school. Went back to college to do it again. Killed it. Got into Sydney Uni and completed an Economics degree.
Went surfing for a living.
When did you get your first surfboard?
1969, aged 12. It was a 9’6” Gordon and Woods from one of my mother’s friends whose son had stopped surfing. I had it cut down to a dramatic 6’9” pintail. It went really well.
What was the feeling you had when you first stood on a surfboard?
Well, it was on my brother’s logger—around 1967. We were at Narrabeen Lagoon at the entrance to the surf and stood on it going down the rapids. It felt like freedom—way better than going fast on a pump up scooter.
Who did you look up to and admire when you were a young man?
Timmy Rogers as the doyen of backyard board builders in the area. Terry Fitzgerald as a mentor in physical and mental things. My father as an engineering genius who sacrificed so much to work long hours. My mother who, as a skilled pianist, used to light the house up as well as making the best spaghetti Bolognese of all time. My older brother, Rod, who was part of a really talented surfing crew up at Avalon. And he was a bloody good bike rider on Kawasaki 350s and Mach 3s.
I looked up to a fair few people around Newport, but drugs got a lot of them. Back then, it only took one bad move—from being innocent teen to dead man walking. There were perils back then for sure… 1972 to 1977.
Of all the places you have traveled to, what place in particular stands out and why?
Okay, no locations, but the island of Shikoku in 1980—where I had what I still think was
the surf of my life. The cultural shift juxtaposed with the most extraordinary storm situation… an island of 15 shades of green and river mouths that, in freakish times, are like versions of Front and Backdoor Pipe. The Japanese surfers held a secret; knew what they had. It was outrageous. Cobblestone river mouths extending far into the ocean during and after big rains.
Also, the South Coast of Durban around the same time for virgin experience. But when it comes down to it, it’s where you are with family or friends when everything is smooth and “cruisey”. A minor pleasantry can be as good as life gets in the right mindset.
Who or what inspires you?
Mikey Meyer at J-Bay on the right board – style and line. Roger Erickson, from Hawaii 20 years back, as a mentor to many big wave riders and a stoic survivor having come through the flipside of “The Dream”… the American Nightmare.
A gannet trimming the line at J-Bay. A beautiful woman in full flight, anywhere, doing anything. My son, any time he goes hard. Kids in their first years of surfing, riding the waves of their lives. Breaking free of constraint.
Bands that never made it: Poi Dog Pondering, Galaxie 500, Pico. That they stayed in the underground saved their souls.
Being in control out of control.
What is the greatest thing you have learned in your life?
Do you have any regrets or wish you had done something differently?
Maybe not have jumped off my board at low tide in Durban with the leg rope set to spring back and destroy my left eye, but no biggie. Had I not done so, life wouldn’t have unfolded as it did.
Helped my father more in his workshop, perhaps, instead of surfing so much.
Probably telling a traveling surfer, Mark Penches, not to head north to surf The Haven in South Africa. I warned him, but didn’t tell him not to go. He had his heart set on it, girlfriend in tow. Good wave up there, but notorious. He was killed by a shark in the first minutes of his first surf. He’d read about it in Surfer Mag’s “The Surf Report” and was determined to surf this “J-Bay of the Wild Coast”. Whoever wrote that wrote a death warrant.
What are you most proud of?
Nothing. Maybe the son… in a small moment of magic.
What meaning does surfing hold for you and how has it changed your life?
Well, it’s a cleansing mechanism, a free form instrument, a projectile into the unknown. It provides hope. As an odyssey, it gives as it takes. It breeds respect for natural wonder. It hasn’t changed my life because it… well… is my life.
In the negative sense, as a competitor, surfing turned me into a prick in the local lineup. Newport Peak was a tough spot 30 years back. In the positive sense, outside of competition, it taught me a lot about the moods of the sea, about where to be, when to be,
and how to be “there” in the prolonged moment.
What brings you the most happiness in the world?
Small things. Small mercies. Happy thoughts. Little deeds.
Tell us about your dogs specifically and your love for dogs in general.
Okay, it should be known that this site’s [associate] editor is a dog lover. (Laughs) My dogs, when I was a kid, used to be really loyal in the ritual of running next to me on my bike on the mile or so ride down to the surf for the early session. Used to be dogs galore with their young masters lying around the fire as us school kids surfed—tribe and pack.
I passed an old gent on the street a couple of years ago. I had my frail dog, Jock, a cross Jack Russell/Corgi. Jock was as much of a gentleman as a dog could be. The old gent bent down to give him a pat. I asked him how many dogs he’d had in his life. Instantly, he was gone into the depths of his past: he was five years old, he was 20, he was 50. He was gone for about 30 seconds. He said, “Seven…eight, I believe.” I suggested to him that a life reasonably well led could be gauged by the number of dogs. He smiled and agreed. He went away thinking about those old long gone friends of his. Dogs represent mutual love and devotion, great times even in times of hardship. In my family, since childhood, we’ve had six or seven. It’s funny, but humans don’t really own dogs.. dogs own humans.
Who are some of the people you feel are shaping the path for surfing today?
Can’t say anyone is as individuals. The corporation shapes surfing. The corporation pays for performance. The corporation pushes the message. The corporation wins over those who buy the line. Anyone who surfs for themselves, rides boards from their own space, distances themselves from as much bullshit as is possible is doing a beautiful job.
I remember Sonny Miller describing when Rip Curl’s boat pulled up at Bawa well away from mainstream traffic around 1995. As Curren and Frankie got ready to surf, they saw a speck in the lineup without any sign of a boat around. Not only that, but he took a big set and got totally pitted to the extent of blowing Tom right out. Turned out it was Garth Dickenson and he was so off his head with malaria that he didn’t know much at all. He’d been living in the jungle. Here was a guy of heavy talent who’d just dropped out of the field of normal sight to get out there and explore for himself. Fantastic.
What is your favorite board? Your favorite surf spot?
7’0” finless—good enough in all conditions. Any spot can be as good as surfing gets. A one foot shore break with a neatly inoffensive section can hold the stoke of the best wave on the planet. Just a matter of adjusting the mind.
Why do you like to deconstruct?
Don’t know if I like or seek to deconstruct, but breaking things down and finding magic in reduced things just feels good. It’s not about challenge or discovery, just realization. Constructing from minimalist standpoints seems as worthy a pursuit as any.
What do you feel about surfers now showing an interest in going finless?
Gets back to the corporation. Sage Joske, found via the Hawaiian great Tom Stone, the essence of the ancient Hawaiian method. Sage has a pure outlook. He adapted the boards of Tom Stone to Australian conditions. He patterned his own way. Tom Wegener did a great job for years in developing the lost art of alaia riding and inspired Sage to push boundaries of alaia performance surfing. Jacob Stuth was Tom’s protégé, who also busted a ton of ground. Through word-of-mouth, these guys did wonders to change lineup attitudes of what was and what wasn’t valid. They came before the publicity … “the message”. There weren’t too many of us around. When we met for the first time with vastly differing equipment up at Noosa, it felt like a genuinely pioneering moment. Can’t rightly say when the last such meeting in the long line of surfing history would have been. A long time ago. Greenough’s time?
Tom, for wont of basic family necessity—after advising every Tom, Dick and Harry how to build alaias for peanuts—has since sold out to Asian production on the fiberglass side of the finless fence. He’s killed Bambi, regardless of his boards being far removed in the method of surfing from mine. He’s sold out to the “crass mass”. Can’t say I blame him if his family really is the bottom line of his decision, but the future is looking far more sobered. The innocence has been demolished. There’s a lot, a ton, of progress ahead. Not sure about the impact, but I sure hope surfers hold true to local production.
What’s your favorite meal?
Steak. But it has to involve real hunger.
What are you currently listening to on your iPod?
iPod? Are you kidding? When the Walkman first came on, I had to stop after a few years to save my hearing. I love good music loud, but tinnitus was the present danger. My father suffered a life of it from engine rooms. However, if I was listening to something long, heading up the coast, it’d be an album of Galaxie 500 or maybe Neil Young Everybody Knows This is Nowhere. After 40 years, as good as any album ever made.
What causes/organizations do you support?
What are you most grateful for?
I wouldn’t say grateful but I would say mindful, respectful.
Photography by Dane Peterson.