Ian ‘Kanga’ Cairns was just 15 when he first gained Australia-wide recognition as an aggressive surfer. It was around May, 1969, when the Australian Titles were held in his home state, Western Australia.

Even then he was regarded as an excellent big wave rider. During his first trip to Hawaii in 1972 he was acclaimed by many as being one of the hottest surfers on the North Shore. In November 1973 he became the third Australian to win the world-renowned Hawaiian Smirnoff pro contest. He received $A3361 for his trouble. It was a great achievement for the current Western Australian champion.

During a break in competition at the Bells Easter contest (1974), Ted Bainbridge talked to Kanga Cairns about Hawaii and his surfing


TB: How did you get into the Smirnoff contest?

Cairns: Well, I was second alternate and Clyde Aikau was the first – I was just there, you know, breathing down Fred Hemmings’ neck!, Clyde had got into it and Evo Honza, from Peru, didn’t turn up for his heat so I just went straight out.

I came third in my heat, second in my semi final and then won the final.


TB: Had you any idea you’d won it?

Cairns: I knew I had a really good chance. I knew I’d placed, there’s no way I couldn’t have placed because of where I’d taken off from and the waves I’d gotten. It was very close. The waves were 8 ft. most of the time, but I did get one that was 10 ft. It was probably 6 to 8 ft. but I got a couple of rare ones.


TB: Do those places (in Hawaii) work in the same way that Johanna works down here when Bells hasn’t even got a wave?

Cairns: Yeah. Except they all face the same way, but the type of reefs magnifies the swell different ways. Sunset is a really deep reef, but you can surf it down to 2 ft. near the point where it’s really shallow.

Rocky Point is kind of a ledging point which goes out under the water. The waves come in, hit the ledge and suck out over the really shallow reef. It’s because the reef’s so shallow that it makes the waves really rip off.

Then there are places no one ever surfs. We had a break with really a good left and right but no one ever surfed it.


Read the full Ian Cairns interview in BREAKWAY MAY 1974.