Midget Farrelly: The man you didn't see in the media
ANGOURIE filmmaker Monty Webber was 13 years old when he picked up his first surfboard - a 5'6 Midget Farrelly pop out - for $20 second-hand.
It was his first personal association with the 1964 world surfing champion, the 'Donald Bradman of surfing' who danced along the waves, but it wasn't to be his last.
"He was the most famous surfer in Australia when I was a kid and he was my hero, mostly because I loved my board so much," Webber said.
"He made really exquisite surfboards."
About a year ago, Webber turned a hero into a friend when he contacted the iconic longboarder with a view to make a documentary.
Webber said while Midget was wary at first, they quickly became firm friends and often spent time talking on the phone, "mostly laughing".
The Palm Beach resident who still surfed every day was an entirely different person, he said, to the "curmudgeon" media outlets had historically made him out to be, partly in regard to a rivalry with Angourie surfer and former protege Nat Young.
It was around the time Young took out the 1966 world championship on a shorter board that surf media outlets began to eschew Midget and turn their focus towards the newer characters of competitive surfing.
"(Midget) was a good one to laugh at himself and very different to the Midget the media had chosen to create," Webber said.
"Here was this guy who had lived his entire life in and around the ocean and was arguably more of a water-man than any other Australian, and he had been defined in the media as the surfer who couldn't give up his title."
It was a narrative that would continue to define him in the public sphere, but behind the scenes the strong-willed water-man was forging his own storyline.
He enjoyed other sports, including surf lifesaving, skating, windsurfing and hang gliding, and continued to contribute to the surfing world silently by creating and selling surf blanks for new generations of surfers.
"My brothers when making boards would go to surf blanks, and he was making the core of the boards," Webber said.
"The truth was he won more surfing competitions and had more to do with surf design innovation... than history has recorded. He's one of the most influential shapers of all time, and that's largely overlooked. He was super creative, super innovative and also just didn't play the game."
By that, Webber meant Midget had a strong vision for surfing as a 'clean', drug-free sport, and was disheartened to see that vision crumble as surfing became synonymous with the emerging drug culture in the late '60s.
Asking him earlier this year if his staunch views affected the outcome of his life, Midget responded he was always going to keep surfing and do whatever excited him and put a smile on his face.
"He said to me there's a pure, clean, happy life to be lived out there, and that was the message he wanted," Webber said.
"He'd seen and understood what humans were capable of and thought it was important that we all try to be our best, and he had a vision of that for surfing."
Thankfully, the former world champion lived long enough to see his vision come true.
"(A few months ago) he described sitting at Palm Beach and watching the girls surf with the same kind of elegance and flowing dance that he aspired to, and they were living clean lives... and he just went 'wow, we made it'," Webber said.
"He was really happy to see so many girls surf - and surf well. It brought him a great amount of joy, as if it took the girls to take up longboarding and emulate what he was doing for the circle to be complete."
Of Midget's own influence in the water, Maclean-based surf photographer John Witzig summed it up best.
"Midget was the most elegant and beautiful surfer of the period," he said.
Bernard 'Midget' Farrelly died on Sunday, aged 71, after a battle with stomach cancer. He is survived by his wife Beverlie and three daughters.