by Tim Baker
Century of Surf will land in book stores on Monday and I have been waiting a while to share this one, as I reckon it’s probably the best story in the book. How many Australian surfers knew that our national surfboard champion of 1939 was locked up during World War 2 because he was born in Germany?
Harry Wicke was born in 1914, the same year Duke Kahanamoku first came to Australia, so his lifespan is literally our Century of Surf. He had an Australian mother and a German father and the family moved to Australia in 1927 when Harry was just 13.
He quickly became a keen surfer, built himself some of the first locally made hollow boards and proved just about unbeatable in paddle races in 1939, largely because of his knee paddling technique and his super light hollow boards. He easily qualified for the Australian team for the Pacific Games in Hawaii in 1939 but, with war brewing in Europe, he was denied a passport by the Australian government because of his German ancestry and kicked off the team.
Once war broke out, in a systematic round up of German nationals, police came to his home and arrested his foster brother and when they spotted young Harry they figured they may as well arrest him too. He spent three years in a Prisoner of War camp in Tutura, in northern Victoria, and upon his release he was denied membership of Manly Surf Club, where he was formerly a member, though they have since made him a life member.
Remarkably, Harry is still alive at the age of 99, having recently moved from a retirement village at Victoria Point, on Moreton Bay, to a nursing home in Bundaberg. Remarkably, too, Harry sounds like a man who knows what it means to get barrelled.
I spent a lot of time with Harry during the research for Century of Surf – I had never imagined I would be able to learn about surfing during the 1930s from someone who lived through it. Harry’s sharp as a tack and was pleased to tell his story, which he had kept secret for decades. He was the first person to receive an advanced copy of the book and seemed happy with the finished product.
Meeting Harry really opened my eyes to just how much of our history remains untold and how significant stories of our past can easily be lost to the sands of time. So happy to get to know you Harry and thanks for trusting me with your story. I recorded and edited this interview with Harry with the help of my filmmaker friend Jeff Licence, of Tiger Monkey Productions, to be make sure we had a permanent record of his remarkable story. Enjoy.
For more by Tim Baker, check his blog at http://bytimbaker.tumblr.com/.