SGC Profile – Mal Sutherland, Chairman – Surf World Gold Coast

Posted on Friday, March 24, 2017

Surfing stalwart Mal Sutherland is the Chairman of Surf World Gold Coast, the city’s first surf museum located in Currumbin. Part of the original steering committee set up in 2008, Mal has been the Chairman since the museum opened in March 2009 and has been involved with organising and running events, and maintaining the history of the industry that has shaped the city, in particular the Southern Gold Coast.  

Mal has lived on the Gold Coast for the majority of his life and attended Coolangatta State School from 1945 – 53 when it was at the original site where the Kirra Hill Community and Cultural Centre now resides. 

His love of the water began at four years of age, and Mal started surfing on rubber surf mats, known then as surfer-o-planes, when he was six years old. He then graduated to 16 foot longboards when he was 13 and was one of the first surfers in Queensland to get a Malibu, later owning one of the first foam boards seen in the state.  

In those early days Mal travelled up and down the East Coast searching for waves and getting to know the up and comers in the industry.

“It’s estimated there were no more than 1,500 boardriders on the East Coast of Australia in the late 1950s,” said Mal. “I was lucky enough to meet people who became movers and shakers in the industry, and when they wanted something done in Queensland, they contacted me. I was fortunate to be in the right place at the right time – that’s why I had the opportunity to do all the things I’ve done.”

It also led to Mal’s lifelong passion for his famed surf photography, picking up his first camera at Christmas in 1960. When the first surf magazines came out, Mal was on the masthead of Surfabout Magazine as the Queensland correspondent.

“Surfing only became semi-professional in 1972 and really professional in 1977 – so in the early days, I was just following the locals around, taking photos of people enjoying themselves in the sport.” 

Several of Mal’s surf photos will be on display at the upcoming Gold Coast Film Festival screening of The Endless Summer at Kirra Hill on Saturday 29 April.

The support of this event by Surf World Gold Coast has been largely driven by Mal, who remembers the impact the iconic surf film had when it was released in 1966, and his role in showing filmmaker Bruce Brown’s earlier films. 

“Paul Witzig had invited Bruce Brown to Australia in December 1961/January 1962 to screen his movies and to film the Australian segment of his next movie ‘Surfing Hollow Days’. Through Paul I managed a couple of theatre bookings and distributed posters for his films.

“We played three films – Barefoot Adventure, Slippery When Wet and Surf Crazy – all on different nights. The Capitol Theatre (in Coolangatta) seated 1,100 people – and we had to turn people away every night. 

“When we came around Kirra Point, there were people lined up all the way from the Coolangatta Sands Hotel right down to the theatre, which is where The Strand is now. The movies only had a musical sound track and after introducing Bruce to the audience he personally narrated the movies from the stage.

“It was a great time – I was just stoked to be involved.”

It’s no surprise that Mal believes the Coast wouldn’t be what it is without surfing. “People were coming down by train in the early 1900s from Brisbane and Ipswich to come surfing. When they opened the train line up, the train stopped right in the main street of Coolangatta. 

“At that point, there were three towns – Coolangatta, Burleigh and Southport. There weren’t many people on the Gold Coast then, but the town grew through the people that came here to surf.” 

Now, Mal hopes the screening of The Endless Summer, digitally remastered, will be enjoyed by surfers and locals in general, both young and old.

“It will be good to get a lot of the younger kids up there and see a bit of their heritage,” he said. Mal will also display a number of photographs of local surf identities and beaches of the era, and Surf World will have surfboards on display for filmgoers to view, including some of the earliest boards from the era.

Mal’s original signed poster of the film from 1966 – signed by one of the film’s stars, surfer Robert August – won’t be making an appearance. “That one’s hanging up behind my grandson’s bed,” he laughs.   

The Endless Summer will screen at the outdoor cinema at the Kirra Hill Community and Cultural Centre as part of the free Gold Coast Film Festival on Saturday 29 April, 2017 with entertainment and exhibitions from 5pm. Film screening begins at 6pm.

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