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“Never give up”: surf pioneer Ray Wilson returns to town

June 19, 2022 BY

Ray Wilson outside his old Torquay home on The Esplanade where he still visits. Photos: TIM LAMACRAFT

WHEN surfing pioneer Ray Wilson moved from Anglesea back to his old stomping ground of Torquay recently, he brought with him an old memento of his time spent on the coast that now hangs on the wall of his room, a southern right whale skeleton.

“It had died and washed up between Bells and Winkipop … I went down with a sharp rock and cut the whole thing out and carried it back to my house in Torquay and waited until the ants did a job on it. It weighs 40 kilograms … the whale itself was about 14 foot.”

Ray is somewhat limited in how much memorabilia from his more than 60 years of ocean life he can now hold on to, given he’s in an aged care home in Torquay, but those who know him will be aware of his ongoing ability to vividly illustrate the history of the region and his place in it.

A keen member of the Torquay sailing club, Tigers football player, the first boardriders club “the Point Danger Danglers”, the first official Victorian Surf Title holder (1964) and long-time resident of Torquay’s esplanade, Ray is deeply enmeshed in the region.

On the day we catch up, at the recently renamed Doc Hughes, a superb rainbow dominates the gun metal grey sky as we watch the surf roll in.

“How lucky are we?” he said out loud to me and a passing staff member.

“How good is this?!” Ray surveys a rainbow from Doc Hughs.

“This’ll keep blowing all night, tomorrow will be pumping at Bells”, he then remarked of the storm that was whipping up a decent swell.

We’d just met at his old house at 38 The Esplanade, where he grew up with his mother, that’s now owned by a Melbourne woman he’d needlessly introduced himself to recently.

“I was telling her I used to live there and my name and she said ‘yeah, I know who you are Ray’,” he laughed.

“Nice lady, she showed me around inside and it’s much the same … aside from the yuppie kitchen.

“She’s left a chair out for me on the deck, told me I’m welcome to come and sit whenever I like, water the garden.”

It’s a suitable stopping point as he makes his way around town on his new electric bike, inspecting the swell at spots like Drainos and Point Danger he’d have surfed thousands of times.

He still gets itchy feet when the waves are good, or the wind is blowing nicely for sailing.

“You think ‘oh well, I could go out’ and then all of a sudden you go ‘hang on a minute, how old are you?’ … ‘have a grip of reality will ya’,” he said.

Ray and his new electric bike.

Now in his mid 70s and recently healed from a hip operation, his rides around the town that’s now an international surfing mecca bear little resemblance with the sleepy town he grew up in, although the water is a constant.

“The ocean … it doesn’t change much but the buildings do … the old houses are fairly rare.”

The other constant is his unwavering ethos to how one should approach life.

“I never give up, there’s always looking ahead, what am I going to do tomorrow.

“The sun’s going to come up and be really good and the temperature’s going to get warmer so that’s okay.

“Age doesn’t mean anything, age is just time, that keeps going. If you stop, everything else will stop around ya, because you made the decision to stop.

“If I don’t make the decision to stop, I’ll keep doing things I like until I think, ‘I’ve had enough now’.”