First Noosa Festival of Surfing, 1998. Scotty second from left
One of the great larrikins of Australian surfing, and one of our greatest treasures, left the beach last week after a long slide into dementia.
Scotty Dillon, a regular at the Noosa Festival of Surfing until a few years ago, loved a long slide on a big day, and handled this final one, as he always did, with style and humour.
Scott Dillon was born in Bondi in 1928 and was bodysurfing with his father before he could walk. A diminutive figure but a larger than life character, Scotty was always a storyteller, and sometimes the yarns seemed embroidered with the years. But what is undisputable is Dillon’s bold and fearless approach to life, from tackling the biggest waves he could find in Australia, California, Mexico and Hawaii to stamping his authority in the boxing ring and putting his neck on the line as a professional speedway driver.
Scotty became a skilled toothpick rider during his early teens, and by the late 1940s he was a regular at Ben Buckler off Bondi when the swell was running. At Sydney Grammar School, Scott also trained as a boxer, and the ring took precedence in the years after World War Two when he won two Australian championships as a bantamweight and only just missed out on selection for the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki.
Brushing aside this disappointment, he travelled to California with his great mate Barry “Magoo” McGuigan and surfed until the money ran out, when he sought work in the logging camps of Canada. Back in Australia in the mid-1950s, he married Mitzi and, inspired by the arrival of the Malibu chip surfboards in 1956, decided to join fellow Bondi surfers Bill Wallace and Gordon Woods in the surfboard manufacturing business. He was also considered to be one of Australia’s best big wave riders, tackling the Queenscliff and Bare Island bomboras on the very biggest days.
At the Legends Museum, 1990s
At the beginning of the 1960s Dillon joined Woods and Wallace in the move across Sydney Harbour to establish the hub of the surfboard industry in Brookvale, a group that later became known as the “Brookvale Six”. By then he was regarded as a master craftsman whose experimental designs and cutting-edge fins attracted the attention of leading surfers and shapers like Bob McTavish, who did a brief shaping apprenticeship with Scotty.
Always looking for new thrills, Dillon became a respected speedway driver at the Sydney Showground and Liverpool Speedways in the mid-1960s. He captained NSW in midget speed cars and sedans between 1966 and ‘71.
In the late 1970s Scott moved his surfboard business north to Coffs Harbour, and gradually began to scale down his operations. In 1999 he opened Legends Surf Museum, just off the Pacific Highway, where he introduced busloads of backpackers to surfing’s rich history, until the building of the new motorway forced its closure.
Scotty rides the Queenscliff Bombora, 1962
In late 2015, filmmaker Shaun Cairns and I interviewed Scotty at length in Coffs Harbour for our film Men of Wood and Foam, and although he was a bit hazy on his personal history, he still had his spark and his wicked sense of fun. Local shaper Billy Tolhurst and I subsequently arranged for a blank and some shaping tools to be set up outside his room at the Legacy Nursing Home. Steve, his main nurse, phoned me in great excitement a couple of weeks later. “He’s shaping again, and it’s not bad! He wants to start a new label.”
The last time I saw Scotty was in January at the ScreenWave International Film Festival at Coffs Harbour, where he was special guest at a packed-house live music screening of our film. I sat next to him as the film played, watching him grow more animated as the familiar figures graced the screen. “That’s me! That’s Midget, bloody Midget, he was good.”
I asked his daughter Lindy if we could take Scotty on-stage for the post-screening Q & A, and we guided him backstage as the credits rolled and got him seated on a comfortable lounge. I asked him just one question: “Scotty, now that you’ve retired from the surf scene, what do you miss the most? Shaping a beautiful board, riding a big wave, after-work beers with your mates?”
He spoke clearly into the microphone: “Nuh, I miss the chicks!” He smiled and gave a weak little fist pump. Cue standing ovation. Ah, Scotty, gonna miss you, mate.
Scotty’s last fist pump. Coffs Harbour, 2018