Phil and I got to know Tony quite well in the early 70’s when we purchased a few pieces of memorabilia (an original Endless Summer poster with advertised showing dates at the Dendy Brighton for one) and manufacturing aids (sash clamps) from him as he closed the South Melbourne store. It is with great regret we never saw him surf but there is no doubt he was an absolute gun with very little fear of those giant ocean swells. He must have been extremely fit with a huge lung capacity to even tackle the paddle out when Bells Beach unleashes those massive sets that can shut down from Rincon thru to Winky Pop. Tony (The Big O) had a reputation in Victoria as a big wave rider, not too dissimilar to Greg Noll, one of Hawaii’s pioneers, to surf monster swells that hit the North Shore at Pipeline and Waiamea.
Photo: Images used with permission from Barrie Sutherland (©), WaterMarks Gallery
As you can see in Barry Sutherland’s magnificent photograph taken at Torquay Point in 1964 for the very first Victorian Surfriders Association Competition, Tony was a highly organized person with all his Team riders (one exception) wearing matching comp shorts.
On closer inspection of this photograph Tony can be seen as an extremely powerfully built athlete (fourth in from right side) not unlike his famous footballing Brother Rod.
The Big O was a larger than life character, well educated and an excellent speaker. He and his offsider Colin Turner were a major influence with the promotion of surfing and skating in Victoria. They ran most of the early surf movies at the Dendy Brighton. Endless Summer and many others had a generation of surf groms frothing. Colin in fact, went on to produce 3 good surf movies. Ecstasy in 1971, covering the Australian titles of that year held at Bells Beach and Johanna. The second movie “All Time Bells” covers Simon Anderson’s win in the giant waves of 1981 on his inspirational Thruster while his third movie The Legend of Bells 1982 takes a look at the history of Bells through the eyes of its pioneer group – but is a little repetitive with footage from his two earlier movies.
By modern day terms Colin was a great networker, mixing with the stars and trying his best to put surfing and skating into the limelight.
In the late 60’s whilst involved with the ASA and helping at the Bells contest, Colin came up with the idea of a Bell as a trophy for the contest. He purchased 3 from a Melbourne shipwright and with the help of an 18 Y.O. apprentice chippy in Victorian Surfing Champion Rod Brooks, they made the first “Bells” Trophies (1967), a tradition that has continued to the present day.
With the help of a budding young Brighton talent in John Law (Victorian champ of surf and skate), Colin’s marketing of GT Skateboards was so successful that Tony added a GT Surfboard to his range at the Melbourne surf Shop.
All three Trigger Bros had GT skateboards and the older brother Peter was the one with the most tricks (See Peter’s original deck below ) On a visit to Tony’s Sth Melb store in 1967 to buy a pair of red Hang Ten boardshorts Colin and John Law (later Quiksilver) invited me along to the Webcraft factory in Footscray where the GT skateboard decks were made. Upon arrival I was quite shocked to see literally hundreds of Coffins lined up, I was a little apprehensive having just met Col and John for the first time some 20 minutes earlier, the skate decks were just a small sideline to a prosperous business in the dearly departed.
As the sport of surfing exploded in popularity in the Sixties so too did The Big O’s store. In addition to his own brands he had taken over Max Gill Surfboards and as a result had to enlist the help of Victoria’s King of Surfboard Production the highly organized George Rice to manufacture most of his boards.
Like his brother Rod, Tony was also an excellent sportsman in fact as an athlete he narrowly missed out on Australia’s Track and Field team for the Olympics. Becoming a leading figure in Victorian surfing, Tony rose to be president of the Australian Surfing Association and with the help of a hard working Stan Couper and family they pulled off a coup in having the 1970 World Titles held at Bells Beach. A great front man for surfing the smooth talking Tony had convinced the Premier of Victoria Sir Henry Bolte to financially support the running of the Event. Tony “The Big O” sadly passed away on May 14th 2011. Colin in his early eighties now resides in Geelong.
A big thankyou to Barrie Sutherland from the Watermarks Gallery for the use of some of his images. You can view more of his classic shots on his website. http://www.watermarksphotogallery.com.au
Colin Turner sells his three movies on DVD via mail order. Check out this flyer for full details on the movies and how to order.