Many of you may not know that there is a Pipe Master in residence at Canggu Beach. In light of the Pipe Masters competition that started on Wednesday, IndoSurfLife sat down with Two-Time Pipe Master Larry Blair to talk about his connection with the contest and Bali.
Larry holding the coveted Trophy
When did you start surfing?
I started surfing when I was about 7 years old at Coogee Beach, Sydney. That was in 1965.
What were the boards like at that time?
In ’65 and ’66 there were lot of malibus, but I used a short board for that time. My first board was 7’6’’, that was considered really short at that time. I had another one that was a 6’4’’. But I was only 9 or 10, so that was still a lot of board!
Who were your idols?
Wayne Lynch and Gerry Lopez… Both goofy-footers!
I met Gerry at Uluwatu when I was 15. He showed me where to sit and take-off. I remember: where the grass met the rock. We surfed together a lot, then later in Hawaii too.
When was your first time in Bali?
In 1975 or ‘76.
What was it like getting to Uluwatu then?
You had to take a motorbike and then walk for a long time. Going into the cave you had to climb down a rickety bamboo ladder, and you would pay someone to take down your board. It would wobble as you climbed up and down – it was actually pretty dangerous.
Were the waves different at that time?
No, the waves are the same today. It’s just so much busier now. I used to go and surf there by myself all the time, it makes it hard to go back now.
The master at Pipe
Did you have legropes?
No I don’t think so. You had to pick your waves at Ulu’s; you had to be careful. When I first started surfing we didn’t use leashes at all. Then when they came out you would tie the nylon cord to your ankle with a handkerchief. Very dangerous, because if you got caught on a rock or something, the knot would tighten and you couldn’t undo it.
What was your favorite wave in Bali then?
I was 15 when I first came here and I came from surfing Coogee Beach and Maroubra, and there I was in Bali; it was so hot and offshore all day. It was an incredible dream to just surf and surf and surf. My favorite wave was Uluwatu because I didn’t know any better. When it was a bit big we would walk to Padang Padang and surf all day with just 3 guys out and perfect sets like corduroy peeling in.
When was the first time you went to the Pipe Masters?
1978. I’d been there before in 1976 and surfed the North Shore for about 4 months. I went back in 1978 when I had just turned 19. I’d won the Coca Cola Surfabout competition in Australia and part of the prize was an invitation to the Pipe Masters. The waves in Hawaii were perfect and well suited to my style.
What boards were you riding?
Jeff McCoy. Single fins. They’re great for barrel riding. My boards now are pretty similar, except that they have 3 fins!
How big was it?
In the final it wasn’t so big. In the preliminaries it was 6ft. It’s just a perfect wave.
Larry today at his home
You were in the finals in your first year competing at Pipe?
Yes. I was in the finals with Rory Russell, Hans Hedemann, Gerry Lopez, Joey Buran, Dane Kealoha. A 6 man final, lots of hassling, there were no rules. I was surfing against my idols like Gerry and Rory; big-wave riders who had Pipe as their backyard. I got some inside ones, a couple of barrels and enough to win.
So surfing against your idols you won the Pipe Masters the first time you competed there?
Yes. It was a bit of a surprise. They didn’t really know me there, I guess they were expecting Gerry or Rory or someone like that. The next time I was over there it was a bit different.
Yes, I went over there to defend my title at the Pipe. It was big. They made it a bit more difficult because they knew who I was, there was some sabotage….
How was free surfing in Hawaii then?
I had met a lot of guys surfing in Bali: Gerry Lopez, Fast Eddie (Rothman). In Bali we were all equals and would just have fun; I would surf with them in Hawaii, they were supportive, I was lucky because surfing at Rocky Point it got quite intense. But I have good memories of Hawaii.
Who was in the final in your second Pipe Masters?
Dane Kealoha, Shaun Thompson, Mark Richards, Larry Bertlemann, Tom Carroll and myself.
What was the reaction to your second win at Pipe? How was it received by the Hawaiians?
They weren’t happy at all. They were arguing with the judges. Back then you had five waves. What happened was that on one wave I had gotten a long barrel, and came out with my hands over my head and scored a ten, but then I fell off from the spray and wind. This was a point of contention. Another wave I got a ten on, I got a barrel, came out, and saw that there was another little swell at the sandbar. I lay on my board and managed to catch it and get another barrel there. Dane Kealoha had already had his 10 waves so had paddled in and was watching this from the beach. Dane needed to win at Pipe to win the world title that year. After this it became difficult for me in Hawaii; People being aggressive in the water, and being verbally aggressive. You need to remember I was just 20, I was 60 kg and barely out of school.
How did this affect you?
Well I decide to quit competing and not just because of this experience. The competition thing just became political and it was not as well organized as it is today. I went home and studied and set up a business.
Larry Blair and Larry Bertlemann being honored
But you still surf everyday?
Which was the most significant contest for you ever?
Definitely the Pipe Masters, it was the biggest contest then, and even now. If you look at the history of the competition most of the people who have won it are world champions, usually they are the best surfer of that year. Because the waves are so perfect the good surfers shine there; it brings out the best in the surfer. If they are a little better, it shows.
Do you still have the trophy somewhere?
No. They don’t actually let you keep it. My friend called up the organizer a few years ago and asked to give me a trophy of some sort, and he replied I didn’t need one, that the win itself was enough!
When was the last time you went back to Hawaii?
5 or 6 years ago for the Exhibition at the Pipe Masters. It was great. They had everyone there, Kelly Slater, Andy Irons, everyone. Actually I preferred the one before that, where there was just 4 of us: Gerry Lopez, Jeff Hackman, Rory Russell and myself. They flew us to Hawaii, put us up in a big house on the beach, limousine out front. They rented out the reception hall at the Waimea Beach park and had a celebration of memories for the four of us. It was really special. Afterwards they cleared the water and it was just the four of us out surfing huge waves.
Did you get any waves?
A couple. It’s scary though now that I’m older. I’m just not at the same level as before when I was competing.
And now you live in Bali. How long have you been here?
About 4 years. I’d been here many times before. I’m happily married to a Balinese girl and we have a boy called Reef with another on the way. I’m not mucking around!
What has changed in Bali?
Change is inevitable. Surfers seem to make places popular. Places like Bali, the North Shore, Kirra, they become trendy and are very populated now.
Despite the changes and crowds you may see Larry surfing around Bali’s well known and lesser known spots. He still rips and is enjoying living in his adopted home. Not just a master at Pipe, Larry is the master of the understatement and this shone through in our interview in addition to his kindness and concern for others. We appreciate the time he took to sit and tell his stories to us.