BY HELEN DALLEY PHOTOGRAPHS BY PETER CRAWFORD FOR AUSTRALIA PENTHOUSE DECEMBER 1979.
"The best waves are yet to come for the brash young kid who has turned the international surfing world upside down."
The Gold Coast sunshine is at its blazing best, the ocean deep azure and sparkling. The waves off Burleigh Heads file into the beach un-ridden. The fourth heat is about to start. It is March, 1978 and Burleidh Heads is host to the first big meet of the Australian professional surf-ing season, the Stubbies Classic. Ordinarily the beach would be crowded with surfers, scavenging, hassling each other for the best waves. But today is different. There will still be hassles but the locals have been exiled. Today the beach is reserved for the pros — those sun-drenched, handsome and often baby-faced young men from Hawaii, California, South Africa, Britain,Japan, Brazil and, of course, Australia. The tide is low, and that means good, fast waves. A voice comes over the PA. "Cheyne Horan, Peter Drouyn, yours heat in five minutes." Horan's body buzzes with excitement. He is 17 years old, just a kid, and this is only his second year of pro surfing. Last year in this same contest he rode through the elimination round only to come last in the contest. Today he is against the best and his aim is simply to improve his performance. Horan sits in his car in the parking lot listening intently to a Bob Seger tape. He doesn't move a muscle. Inside, his body is filling with energy from the music, and inside is where he wants to keep it until he leaps in-ta the water for the heat. Then, and only then, the energy will explode paddling towards the break, the surf is his. The fast, one-metre waves suit Horan's flamboyant, busy style and he is doing well. Out of the five waves each surfer must catch he has had three and there are 18 minutes to go. Then the trouble begins. Peter Drouyn, a veteran pro and possibly the fiercest competitor in the sport, is clearly losing the heat to the young and in-experienced Horan. The situation calls for the last card in the pro surfer's pack the art of screwing the other guy. Horan strokes to the inside section of the break, giving him first pick of the waves. Drouyn jockeys for the same inside position, with the end result that both surfers are almost on bare rock. Twelve minutes to go and a set appears. Drouyn is first to realise that both surfers are hopelessly out of position for it. In desperation he paddles over the top of the youngest surfer in the contest. "Piss off, Drouyn. What are you doing?" "Oh, poor little Cheyne," is Drouyn's retort. Inexperienced Horan takes the bait. He grabs the nose of his adversary's board and pushes it under the water. Drouyn goes under with it and resurfaces looking like an idiot. Okay, so now it's war in front of several thousand people who have come to watch some surfing. Drouyn goes after Horan. "I'll get you, you little bastard," he screams, chasing him out to sea. Both surfers still need two more waves to qualify. "You' re kidding Drouyn, I'm only a kid," Horan shouts back. "Yeah," says Drouyn, "And I'm gonna punch you in the head when I get to you." Peter Townend, the controversial pro surfer who manages to stir up a hornet's nest wherever he goes, is out in the water as Horan's caddy the guy who carries an extra surfboard in case the contestant loses or breaks one. "Hey Drouyn, if you can't beat the kid at surfing you shouldn't be out here," he calls. Drouyn swings around and, almost frothing at the mouth with rage now, paddles after Townend. With three minutes to go Horan finds a good wave and rides it to the beach While Drouyn and Townend continue their fracas. He hurriedly paddles back out but Drouyn now has the inside position. Amped up and smelling victory, Horan throws his hands into the air and fires off a volley of abuse at Drouyn. "I've beaten you Drouyn, you old bastard. You' re out of it. You're too old, you can't surf any more. I'm killing you." Drouyn's anger has gone beyond words. A wave comes through and he takes it, manoeuvring half-heartedly to the beach. Horan takes the next and the heat is over. Two bodyguards guide the diminutive Horan back to his car and on to his nearby apartment. The dirty play has paid off for Horan but not for Drouyn, once the master of it. The new dog has quickly learnt the old tricks.
Cheyne Horan, now 19, is one of surfs, ing's superstars. Rated number two in the world at the end of 1978, his rise to the top of his sport has been nothing less than meteoric. After only three years in the pro ranks he has a string of contest victories, prize money and honors behind him, He has also gained a reputation for over-powering ambition, a will to win that often exceeds the desire to be popular, and a single-mindedness which has already won him lasting friends and lasting enemies. "Cheyne is the hottest of a new breed of surfers," says Sydney sporting journalist Mike Hurst, a friend and one-time manager of Horan. "He could easily become one of the all-time greats in surf-mg. He's quite an amazing character,
knows exactly what he wants both in surf-ing and his private life, and he's shrewd enough to get it, too. Cheyne has the potential to become the ultimate pro surfer because he has the looks, the con-fidence, the learning capacity, the en-thusiasm and, most importantly, the natural ability." Paul Holmes, editor of the surfing monthly Tracks, and director of surfing's richest event, the 2SM/Coca Cola Surf-about, supports this view: "Horan will be
at the top of this sport for the next five years at least. His surfing is improving all the time, he's still on the way up." In fact, when it comes to Horan's ability in the water it is hard to find a detractor. Out of the water his reputation is somewhat different. Early in 1979 he broke a three-year contract with the Bronzed Aussies surfing promotion team after only eight months. Pro surfers Peter Townend and Ian Cairns, senior partners in the team, had sponsored Horan's travels around the world to compete in the major events. With their investment in the young surfer about to pay off, Townend and Cairns were stunned when he an-nounced his departure, apparently after a dispute over his billing in the team. A battle over the legality of the contract is ensuing. The scene for our first meeting ---- Cheyne's mother's tiny flat at Sydney's Bondi Beach was a little incongruous with the surf star's jet set image. I admit I was slightly apprehensive about inter-viewing a young and horny surfer, know-ing of their reputation for being rather direct when it comes to amorous ad-vances, but when he opened the door to mum's flat my qualms disappeared. Cheyne is casually dressed with a certain flair, his thongs the only concession to his not-so-distant beach bum past. His smile is open and big, exposing a set of shining white teeth, and his expression is friendly, calm and rather sexy. The eyes are immediately bedazzling — crystal aqua blues framed in sun-bleached lashes and brows. He is the angel-faced champion and it's hard not to be taken aback. For one so young Cheyne has some complex thoughts and theories on the priorities in his life as well as his surfing. A fairly typical surfie on the outside, underneath there is a sensitivity and understanding which indicates a maturity beyond his years. Throughout our inter-view Cheyne never became nervous or bored. He frequently picked himself up on bad grammar or mispronunciation and when the tape stopped rolling he dis-cussed with his father the need for him to renew elocution classes. Short on formal schooling, Cheyne is ever-conscious of the need to keep on learning. Born at North Ryde in Sydney, Horan first met the water when he was four. He was taught to swim at a pool in Petersham and before he reached double figures he was swimming competitively in summer and ice-skating in winter. Horan Sr was a competition skater who instilled in his son the competitive spirit.
|Tension in the competitors tent
When Cheyne was 11 the family moved to Bondi Beach and surfing took over. Says Cheyne: "Dad found it pretty hard to get used to at first. He was always pushing me into skating but he eventually had to accept that I was going to become a surfer." So swimming and ice-skating lost out, but the early competitive experience stayed with him. Anything he played, he played to win. When he lost there'd be this sudden thumping inside him, this nagging voice saying: "I wanted to win, why didn't I ?" In surfing Horan has become a fear-some competitor. He psyches himself up constantly, making himself believe he is invincible. Some people have said over-confidence is his greatest drawback. When he was 15 he told Mike Hurst that he had the ability to become the Muhammad All of surfing, and that spirit has stayed with him. Each year in pro surfing he has aimed to do better than the previous year. In 1978 he came 11th in the Bells Beach Classic, ninth in the Stubbies, fifth in the Surfabout, fifth in the Gunston 500, second in the South African Hang Ten and he won the Waimea 5000 in Brazil on his 18th birthday in front of 35,000 people. Each place was a better result than the year before. In 1979 he has so far placed seventh at Bells, second in the Stubbies and triumphantly won the Surfabout after the finalists had been airlifted to Belts Beach to catch the biggest swell of the season. His only failure this year was the Hang Ten International in July, which he badly wanted to win. Instead, he blew it. Horan claims the pressure on him wastoo great. Others have pointed to an alleged weakness in larger waves. The All complex emerged again August when he left for the all-importE-Us East Coast contests, boasting that he would win the 1979 world title and hold it for three years. With Newcastle surfer Mark Richards firmly entrenched in the number one slot and only a few contests remaining on the circuit, it was easy to dismiss Horan's comment as mere arrogance, but the facts were that he was within striking distance of the title. It would have taken a superhuman effort to snatch it away from Richards, and Horan's message was obviously that those efforts were not beyond him. Gamesmanship? In three years Horan has learned all there is to know about gamesmanship. Says Mike Hurst: "In that incident with Drouyn, Cheyne was no angel. He knows how to hassle the biggest hasslers of all." Horan: "Sure I'm a good hassler. I go out at Bondi on a crowded day and really aggravate people.
|Cheyne's victory salute after winning Surfabout '79
You have to play dirty sometimes just to stay in the race." When he's at home Cheyne occasionally plays snooker with a bunch of war veterans at a local club They are sharp players who have taught him tricks which he astutely applies to surfing. "The old guys won't give you a shot," he says. "They set every-thing up to hold you back. It's the same in surfing when your opponent sits on that in-side position all day. You've just got to use rat cunning to out-manoeuvre him." The gamesmanship continues on shore. With interviewers there are times when Horan evades the truth to protect his image. He was well aware of what he wanted to project when we met — the innocent face and big blue eyes belied the facts. When asked about surf groupies he smoothly slipped around the subject, anxious to avoid offending either the groupies ("I need them") or the sponsors of his sport ("I can't be irresponsible"). The pros are all extremely image-conscious. As top surfer Ian Cairns!puts it: "You can't make big money just by surf-ing. You make the money by proving yourself in the surf and then selling your image for product endorsements." Horan's image is still in the formative stage but he knows where he's going and he understands the changes and disciplines required. Friends say his taste in girls has changed remarkably in the last year. He now prefers smart, creative girls to the pretty but dumb beach bunnies he used to squire around town. As one friend says: "Cheyne now wants someone unusual who will expand his physical and intellectual awareness. He believes that bursts of creativity will rub off on his surfing style." One of his current girlfriends is a young newspaper reporter, one of Sydney's "Salami Sisters" who provide a humorous lifestyle column for a Sunday paper. "I ad-mire her because she's young and she's doing what she wants to do," says Cheyne. "Cathy (he doesn't even want to know her last name) wanted to be a writer when she was 16 and I wanted to be a pro surfer. We've both succeeded, so we've a lot in common."
During his first two years as a globetrotting pro, Horan had a steady girlfriend in Sydney. She sat at home and pined while he was away, and he finished up just feeling sorry tot her Now he is careful not to form any lasting attachments, but he also claims to shun the advances of most of the groupies he meets on the road. "A chick might come to me as a groupie and leave as a friend," he says. "if I sleep with her under those circumstances I don't consider that she's been used because we've found a mutual affection. I'm not too stoked in one-night stands but, on the other hand, I'm really scared of falling in love. If a relationship starts to hang me up I get rid of it. I suffer frequent bouts of puppy love and I just have to tell myself, look, I'm a pro surfer, right? I'm not allowed to fall in love." Even so, as Cheyne moves out of his teens the affairs of heart become more challenging. There is someone special in South Africa, where he spends three months of the year, another lady in Victoria he thinks of often and, of course, the slightly bent, creative gang he hangs out with in Sydney's Eastern Suburbs. Like most surfers, when he's not competing Horan likes to rage, "get blind", go dancing. Frequently seen at Sydney's in-famous Bondi Lifesaver rock club in the early hours, Horan likes the feeling of be-ing on his home turf. He likes to be recognised and if he's not yet a star out-side the close knit world of surfing, his presence on a crowded dance floor doesn't betray it. He projects an air of cool confidence and it's difficult to imagine that loneliness often plagues him. "I haven't got many friends in pro surfing," he says. "It's hard to maintain close friendships in such a competitive environment Everyone is a threat, or a potential threat. You never know who you re going to meet in the water next." It is a fact of life in pro surfing that every dollar counts. The surfers who travel the world circuit spend nine months a year in hotel rooms and on planes. Their bills are astronomical and if they don't take out a good portion of the prize money they have to rely on sponsorship deals to see them through. Hence there is fierce competition to secure deals with surfboard and clothing manufacturers and undercutting is rife. Horan detests the practice. "If I have to settle for less or lose the sponsor-ship it's bad for everybody," he says. His current sponsors, McCoy Surfboards and Rip Curl Wetsuits are worth an estimated $20,000 a year to him in airfares, equipment and cash. It's a good deal, but Horan has to supplement it with his instinctive eye for a quick profit. Faced with taxation problems after he won $4000 in Brazil he invested in diamonds. When he has spare time he buys old cars, restores them and rarely fails to make a profit. Unfortunately for young stars like Horan, the prize money offered on the international surfing circuit appears to have stagnated. The economic climate has forced several large sponsors out of the sport and, with the exception of Australia and Japan, contest purses this year remained the same or shrank.
|Backgammon game with arch rival Larry Blair while flying to Surfabout
Early in his career Cheyne was frequently criticised for his "jack-in-the-box" style of surfing, an exuberant approach which was often more energetic than graceful. Age and experience have smoothed out the rough edges and his repertoire is varied. He is hesitant about discussing influences, but he will admit to careful study of the technique of Michael Peterson, a surfer from Queensland's Gold Coast who set the pace in the early '70s. "I went to see one surfing movie eight times," says Cheyne, "just to watch one wave of Peterson's. i couldn't believe the speed he got out of a turn.' Now he is performing manoeuvres Peterson never could. His current favourite? "A quick re-entry inside the tube. You flick the board around as you're going up the face of the wave, right under the lip. The timing has to be perfect." Needless to say, the ultimate thrill is the tube --- the wave that folds over and forms a hollow cylinder. ". . a tube I can sit in-side and feel total satisfaction when i come out.' Horan seems entranced as he explains. " It's you and the ocean together in there. You're tucked up in what seems like a tiny room. If the tube closes up there's nothing you can do; and if you make it out the end there's an incredible feeling of elation. Like the ocean let you squeeze through. The bigger the wave the greater the danger factor, and when you're dropping down the face of a monster with all that water on top of you, you feel like a Christian sticking his head into the lion's jaws and saying, come on, eat me up." At 19, Horan feels his best years in surf-ing are still in front of him, but already he's planning a future beyond surfing. He is concerned about the development of the sport and the opportunities within it for former competitors. He would like to see increased media coverage and sees himself as a surfing commentator of the future. He emphasises his point by dramatically mimicking a commentary. "Surfing doesn't get enough coverage," he says. Aussie surfers are the best in the world right now and yet contest results don't even make the papers." The brash young kid who has turned the surfing world upside down with all the subtlety of a 10m close-out set swamping Waimea Bay pulls no punches when ask-ed to explain his philosophy. "I feel I've been put on earth for a purpose," he humbly confides. "That may sound weird, but I have these visions. I feel that there's this duty I have to perform and once I've done it be taken . . killed somehow. Just what that duty is I'm not sure. Right now I'm striving to be the number one surfer in the world and once I've achieved that maybe spin right off the edge. Or if I can handle it, maybe go on to greater things."