In the Burleigh Heads carpark, amid board-topped station wagons and zinc-covered noses, I met Derek Hynd. Derek was a renowned Aussie surf journalist whose profiles, essays, and tour dispatches I read avidly. He infused pro surfing with Biblical importance. He could make even the most vanilla surfer sound interesting. How he came to writing is a great story unto itself.
In the late seventies Derek was ranked in the Top 16. His knock-kneed carves and zingy 360s featured prominently in surf magazines and movies. He rode with a low-slung style, his lithe, rubbery frame much like Mick Jagger’s. He had a reputation for being a shrewd, merciless competitor. He was vying for a spot in the Top 5 when the tour rolled into Durban for the 1980 Hang Ten International.
Derek held a solid lead in his crucial quarterfinal against the gentlemanly Mike Savage of South Africa. He took off on a glassy waist-high wall and proceeded to tear it apart. In the shorebreak, as the wave dashed across a shallow bank, he pumped his orange and yellow twin fin with all his might. Suddenly he was on dry sand. He jumped off running, as if from a skateboard, his urethane leash stretching taut behind him. When he turned around the tail of his cocked board leapt at him. He saw a flash of orange and yellow and felt a horrific pain in his left eye.
Knowing that he was seriously injured, but knowing also that if he held his opponent off the good waves he could still win the heat, Derek paddled back out. He sat as close to Savage as possible. Savage was forced to look at him. The ooze running down his face was not blood. And while another man might have responded to Savage’s recoil by going into shock, Derek was hoping it would work the other way around. He moved in closer. Only after Savage and water photographer Paul Naude screamed at him to go in did he do so.
Derek was rushed to hospital and taken straight in to surgery. He had severed his optic nerve. There was no recourse. Two days later he stepped out on to the street with a patch, countless stitches, and a glass eye.
He returned to competition the following year and finished 7th—the first one-eyed surfer in ASP history. Disillusioned by poor judging and a system he was at odds with, he retired from competing, but continued on tour, this time as a coach/journalist. As a coach he employed a heavily tactical approach, and took great pleasure in watching lesser surfers outsmart giants. As a journalist he wrote snappy, contentious pieces that often enraged the pros in question. His column in Surfing World was called “Hyndsight” and bylined with a Cyclops logo.
A shaggy fellow given to Blundstone boots, pink shorts, and tweed vests over T-shirts, Derek was nothing like the puffed-up surfers who huddled in competitor’s areas. His shoulders slumped and his aquiline face wore an expression of perpetual disbelief. He spoke slowly, cryptically. He clutched a grey exercise book, and wrote in it constantly.
As the monthlong, four-event Aussie leg passed, we became friends. He asked odd questions—about Malibu, my Valley upbringing, the L.A. punk scene. I felt like I could tell him anything. And apparently he felt the same.
That’s an excerpt from a long-form piece I wrote about the first time I met Derek Hynd in 1986. We now share over three decades of friendship. His contribution to surfing is mighty— https://www.beyondlitmus.com. He is a quiet environmentalist, living cleanly, simply, almost monastically. He has inspired generations of surfers.
I recently visited Derek and his son at their home in northern NSW. Derek put on a great Aussie BBQ, and regaled us with fascinating stories and observations from his half-century of surfing.
Then, just a few days ago, I got word that his home had burned down in a sudden fire, and that they lost everything, including a dog. I was also linked to a Go Fund Me account. I went straight to it (I lost my home in the Woolsey Fire last year—I know how it feels).
HERE's the link if you’re so inclined.
All photos by Jamie Brisick.