Tom Hoye Surfing Legend

Tom Hoye moved to Yallingup from Santa Cruz over 40 years ago. The surfing legend tells his story to Tom de Souza.

Tom Hoye Surfing Legend

You can’t see Tom Hoye’s surfboard shaping warehouse from the street. Not unless you really look. The brick shopfront is tucked behind a row of jarrah trees. The front door is locked, so you have to walk round the back, past Tom’s battered 1985 Nissan Patrol.

Tom has been here for 40 years. He’s been in the Margaret River region for half a century, during which time surfing has exploded and shaping machines have developed to meet demand for boards. But Tom still prefers the old-school approach. It’s hard physical work for a 74-year-old who bears the battle scars of a life dedicated to surfing, but he knows in his heart he will shape a better surfboard using the techniques he has fine-tuned over his lifetime.

“I’m not a production guy. I’m just thinking better surfboards,” says Tom. “I don’t use a machine because I know I will make a better shape by hand. The stuff I do, you can’t measure. It’s part art and part physics.”

Tom Hoye Surfing Legend

Tom grew up in post-WWII America, the son of a single-mother schoolteacher. They lived a few blocks back from the beach in Santa Cruz. As a child he spent most of his free time at the beach and, from the first time he saw it, Tom was transfixed by the wonder of surfing. On his 15th birthday, his mother bought him his first surfboard, an eight-foot Mike Winterburn from a hardware store for 75 bucks – a lot of money back then. Instantly, Tom was hooked.

In his final years of high school, Tom started work with Californian surfing legend Jack O’Neill – the man who invented the wetsuit. It was 1962, and surfboards were rapidly progressing.

Foam and fibreglass were being used instead of fickle balsa and heavy redwood. O’Neill’s surfshop was at the forefront of that evolution.

“Jack had opened up the shop, and I followed him around for a few months until he gave me a job. I never looked back. I worked for Jack for eight years, and then started my own shaping thing,” says Tom. “Jack was a father-figure because my dad wasn’t around. Brilliant guy. He influenced the way I live 100 per cent.”

By the mid 1960s, Tom was a well-established in Santa Cruz. He had his own shop, was married, and had a young daughter. But Santa Cruz was becoming crowded. Tom knew he had to get out.   He wasn’t sure where to go, until one night, he saw a photo which changed his life.

“Paul Witzig [renowned Australian surffilmmaker] came to Santa Cruz showing the surf movie Evolution in 1969. And on the cover of that movie poster was this photo of Wayne Lynch bottom-turning on a six to eight feet wave. I went, where is this place?” says Tom. That wave was the Margaret River Main Break.

Tom Hoye

In 1970, Tom caught a boat into Sydney. He landed with a thousand bucks, his wife and daughter, and spent a year shaping for Bennett surfboards, scrounging enough money to head west. “I was enthralled with Margaret River straight away, before I even saw the waves here,” he says. “And when I saw the town, I knew that this was the kind of place I wanted to be.”

Yallingup was the centre of the Margs surf scene, so Tom started shaping boards from the Lurch Shack, where the Shaana Café stands today. Twelve months later he moved to a shearing shed at Smiths Beach, and turned the Lurch Shack into a surf-shop. It was the first coastal surf-shop in the region. “It was just half-a-dozen Quiksilver board shorts, and about two-and-a-half wetsuits,” he says. “It was mostly a place just to show the boards, and for people to hang out.”

More travel followed – South Africa, Hawaii, back to California – but Tom knew he wanted to settle in Margs. And in 1977, that’s what he did. A year later, he bought a block in the new Margaret River industrial area, and two years later, he built the factory he still operates from today.

Tom Hoye Surfing Legend

One winter day in 2005, Tom and his mate Rob Mansell-Ward went to Sugarloaf Rock. A six-and-a-half metre swell was running. Tom wanted to watch the waves.  “There was water on rocks that I’d never seen wet before,” Tom recalls. “We went right up the top and watched for close to an hour. We were getting ready to go and there were two big waves on the outside. They were about 1,000 yards out. When they got to 500 yards out the rock just seemed like it shrunk.

“We could have run back off the rock and saved ourselves, but it didn’t read that way. It looked like all the others. Then a heartbeat before it hit the rock, we realised two 20-feet swells had doubled up together. I knew I was going to get wet, but I was a rabbit in the headlights.

“The wave hit the ledge and exploded. Then I got hit with eight feet of green water going sideways. It just wiped the rock. Rob was higher than me and had time to lay down and lock onto the rocks.”  But Tom didn’t. The wave washed him down 60 vertical feet of cliff, and when it passed, he found he was wedged into a rock a metre above sea level.

“I felt I didn’t fall that far. But I turned around and I was 100 feet from where I started. I was conscious. The ocean looked like it was gonna come get me. I knew I had to get up and leave instantly. That was when I looked at my leg.”

Tom’s right leg was horribly mangled. He had snapped the tibia and fibula, and there was bone sticking out through the skin. His foot was bent around 180 degrees. He couldn’t move, but if he didn’t, death was almost guaranteed. Rob stated the obvious – they had to get out of there. Tom filled him in on his injuries, but his mate couldn’t see a way to get to him.

“If I went off the edge, I was dead,” Tom recalls. “They would’ve found me three months later eaten by crabs.” Fortunately, there was a lull and, with Rob’s help, Tom dragged himself back up the cliff. A rescue helicopter flew him to Perth.  Surgeons reconstructed Tom’s leg with  bolts and a 20mm titanium rod, but the climb up had seriously damaged nerves. It took 13 months to heal – and Tom’s surfing capabilities never fully recovered.

His passion, however, remains immutable. You can see him paddling some days at Southsides. It doesn’t matter if he can’t ride waves the way he used to, he’s still stoked to get in the water when he can. “Jeez, I’m 74-years-old, and my passion hasn’t flickered from the day I started.” he says.   “It’s a pretty amazing thing, surfing. It never leaves you.