Tuesday, November 20, 2012

MAX WATT, SURF LIFESAVING LEGEND


MEMORIES OF 'SUPER MAX'





Max Watt of Avalon Beach passed away on July 31st 2012 aged 82. He was a thorough gentleman of the first order and a living legend along the Northern Beaches strip. For many years he was continually fighting  cardiac problems, which in no way appeared to keep him out of the surf. Despite being aware of his heart condition, it came as a huge shock to me when told of his passing. I along with many others assumed he would always be here, after all he appeared to be invincible.

The memorial ceremony held in the Avalon clubhouse was one of the biggest send offs seen at the club for quite a while. Members, former members and many friends and neighbours all attended to say their final goodbyes, as his ashes were taken out the back in the Avalon surfboat and laid to rest in his beloved surf.



Max was a Life member of the Avalon Beach Surf Life Saving club, but that did not prevent him from continuing to do beach and surf patrols as an Active Reserve member. He joined the Avalon club in 1943 and obtained his Bronze Medallion 2 years later.

14 year old Max to the left in picture of his best mate Dougie Crane (On the bike). Avalon 1944.

Max aged 19 and Norma aged 17.  1949.


He had been an active member of the surf club for 69 years and was known by all the youngsters as ''Super Max". There are many more folk who would be able to recall Max's contributions to the club and surf lifesaving movement in much greater detail than this writer, however, throughout the decades I have become aware of what a special individual this great man was and of the debt I and many others owe him.

When I joined the Avalon club back in 1959, Max was regarded as one of the best Surf ski riders in the state, if not the country. During the 1950's he was beaten by a whisker into second place at the Nationals and three years later won the NSW open surf ski championship in 1957 to become the Avalon club's first representative medal winner. God only knows how many gold medals he won competing in the district's Restricted surf carnivals for clubs from Warriewood to North Palm Beach. 

Restricted surf carnival, Avalon Beach. Early 1960's.


NSW Open Surf Ski Champion 1957.
With his brother Jackie a first rate ski rider as well, the Avalon club was always odds on favourite to win the ski races at those Restricted carnivals that were so popular during the 50's and 60's.  We were lucky to have two great athletes, as they undoubtably were. Providing support for the two Watt brothers were Peter Kelly and Wally Byrnes (the Plumber), who at times were unbeatable on their skis. It was the likes of these dedicated watermen that made Avalon such a strong competitive club in the 50's and early 60's.




During my first season in 1959-60, I was only 16 years  old and regarded Max, his brother Jack and others as highly skilled super athletes and as silly as it sounds, when I was asked if I needed a lift into Sydney after QY's on a Sunday arvo by Max, I said yes and regarded it almost as an honour. Several of us would all pile into the back of the old Grace Bros truck and with Max as pilot, it was all ahead Warp Factor One.



We would always without fail, stop at The Spit and gourmandise ourselves completely with huge battered fillets of flathead and bucketloads of chips and potato scallops. Both Max and Jack used to claim the seafood was the best in Sydney. None of us would have argued with that.


When we all resembled pregnant hippos, it was off once again to the city. We would all be dropped off on the corner of George and Park Streets and I would catch the old and long gone Lilyfield Tram home to Nelson St. Annandale. My mother could never understand why I never felt like dinner when I arrived  home.


Corner of Booth and Johnston Sts.

When I took up riding a racing surf ski at the start of season '60-'61, it was Max who was full on with what to do and how to do it. He was an inspiration to me and I am sure I can speak for my good mate at the time Tom Schweitzer, who also would have benefited from Max's advice.

Max's ski on display in clubhouse.

During 1963 when I was living in Avalon and still an apprentice at the Nestle Co. at Abbotsford, I along with two or three other locals would squeeze into the front of Max's truck and he would drop us off at Wynyard around 8 am. Breakfast for me then was a schooner of New and two cinnamon donuts, talk about healthy eating habits.

Many years later during 1991 my son Patrick had obtained his Bronze Medallion and was in the throes of learning the ropes. He was keen to be a good body surfer and one day when Max was entering the water he told Patrick, "Come on son, follow me." I kid you not, 15 minutes later the two of them were mere dots on the horizon and I began to worry that my son and heir may not ever be seen again. Eventually they swam in and joined forces with several others and were able to  return to shore riding the wave of the day.

Max was in his 70's and still doing patrols, which meant having to pass the mandatory annual run and surf swim. When I rejoined the club as an active reserve, Max's brother Jack had to pull me out of the savage shore break, as the years were beginning to slow me down and along with the effects of Carpal Tunnel syndrome in both wrists, I was cactus, but compared to Max I was just a pup. I can recall what seemed like only a few weeks after open heart surgery, he was out the back with several of the old timers, which I hasten to add, included me. The surf was running at around 8 to 10 feet and he could be seen flying down the face of many a wave, using his trusty handboard.

Handboarding. The only way to bodysurf.

I must admit I was more than a trifle concerned a few weeks later, when I noticed Max and what I assumed were his grandkids, slowly floating and swimming up the beach on a flat surf less day, through the middle of millions of small bait fish.  All were wearing facemasks and snorkels and were enjoying themselves no end. With so many tiny fish about, I was wondering if anything bigger may have been interested in a feed.


Whenever the Avalon ocean swim was taking place, Max, when he was not competing, would be on his old plywood wave and fishing ski, paddling around the course in case some competitor required assistance, or even rescuing.


Time eventually caught up with him and he reluctantly was forced to retire from active duty. It still did not stop him from performing many preventative actions when on the beach, or on the rocks fishing. Even then he still enjoyed a decent body surf with his many mates and others. Throughout the years he won many SLSA competitions involving swimming, ski paddling and rowing and sweeping surf boats.

Max demonstrating how not to do it at the Avalon Carnival, January 30th. 1950.


Max also received many SLSA and community awards, for his diverse contributions to life saving and the community itself. He was a recipient of the SLSA's 50 year service award and was named the Pittwater Citizen of the Year. The Manly Daily has an award for the most outstanding service to the community. This award I'm led to believe has only been presented to a total of 100 recipients. One of those was Max Watt who was awarded the Manly Daily Centenary Medal for his efforts, which ensured he would be remembered as being amongst the 100 most influential citizens from the Northern Beaches.
Norma Watt with Prez. Christine and Chief  Instructor Louise.
Jackie Watt.
Julie Watt.
John Watt.   Memories of Dad.                          Memorial Service photos courtesy of  Brian Friend.
Did I mention that Max was partial to the odd wetting of a line? If not, then I can assure you he loved to fish. "No man can have too many fishing reels," he once said. His wife Norma said she was lucky she enjoyed fishing too, otherwise he would not have become interested in her. The Manly Daily reported her as saying, "What other wife would let their husband clean fish in front of the fire during winter?" Two stories about Max, to surface at his memorial came from his son John.


John said he was extremely young at the time and there he was with his dad fishing from the rocks when both of them noticed a much larger than normal swell approaching. Max calmly told his son to pick up the loose gear and walk backwards towards the cliff face. "Now take a firm grip and hang on tight," said Max. The swell broke and became a huge wave that completely enveloped them, almost sweeping them from the rocky platform. No sooner had it receded when Max called out, "Come on, there's at least 5 minutes before the next big one, we can catch a couple of tailor before then." 


When young John was around 13 years old he was taken by his dad out the back during a heavier than normal surf that was thumping in. When out the back Max kept on urging John to swim hard and catch a wave. John said he looked over the top of a few and backed off. Max began scolding him and on some occasions even attempted to push him onto a wave. "What's wrong?"asked Max, "It's too hard," answered John. "Of course it's bloody hard," shouted Max, "If it wasn't hard, everyone would be doing it."

Depending on the tides and the surf conditions, Max would be seen at least 500 metres offshore, fishing on his racing surf ski. He would use an 8 foot length of floorboard as an outrigger to stabilise the craft.This was another tip I learnt from him, when I started fishing from my ski. Sitting between his legs was a wooden fruit case with all his fishing paraphernalia, that doubled as a storage box for the catch.

Quite often he would be seen at the water's edge with pippies and a stinky piece of mullet pulling out metre long beach worms for bait.

He would only ever use a hand line and every now and then he was known to have caught the odd Mulloway. He always would return to shore with a mixed bag and obviously was a very successful fisherman. He was a cunning bugger though and was not too keen to give away trade secrets, such as where the reef was offshore. I lost count how many times I pleaded with him to let me know what bearings to use, so as to position oneself over the exact spot. Eventually it was brother Jack who let the cat out of the bag.

Sunday mornings all the members would be out off the pool at the southern end body surfing. Max would make a habit of joining us all and always kept us entertained. He would never stop handing out advice in his own exclusive way and got a buzz out of taking the piss out of all and sundry, particularly Kegs, bloody hell they were good times with great people.


One of Max's many close friends was his next door neighbour and former club captain Roger Sayers. I feel sure he would have a bucketload of stories to tell about Max and I can categorically state that Roger will miss him heaps, in more ways than one. It seems whenever Roger was too slow at heeding Max's advice to mow his untidy lawn, Max would bite the bullet and mow Roger's lawn himself.

Max and his best mate Doug Crane.

For as long as there is surf rolling in at Avalon, Max will always be with those men, women, boys and girls who volunteer their time to save lives. He leaves behind his loving family, wife Norma, son John, daughters Julie and Margaret,  his younger brother Jack and five grandchildren, but although unseen, he hasn't really left them or us. He's simply out the back with Huey, Brian Daniel Sheehan and his best mate Dougie Crane doing what he has always done and loved, his spirit and deeds live on as an inspiration to us all.


Rest in peace Max, you were indeed a one off special and a true living legend. 




Special note:    The news article on Doug Crane remains the property of the Crane family and   
                          Pittwater News Online.
                          Sadly Doug Crane passed away in December 2011, six months after the interview.


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