Phil Ball remembers the old trick of guys hobbling in for their National Service medical in the 60s on crutches, some even in borrowed callipers, showing huge lumps on their shins and groaning in pain.
Any surfer would know there was nothing wrong with them; just evidence of bone calcification from hitting their Malibu surfboard constantly. But it worked; deemed medically unfit – until the doctors woke up to the scam.
It was a rare victory for those classified as surfing bums of that long-ago care-free world, hounded by police who so often wrongfully accused them of carrying drugs based purely on them having a surfboard on the roof racks of their clapped-out Bongo van.
Now 59, and an instructor with his business Ocean Living Surf School at Goolwa Beach – and half the police force surfing too – Phil smiles, and says “those were the days”. On this occasion, a miserably cold day, he looks at his new class, 20 or so Year 7 students from St Joseph’s School, Kingswood and notes how today’s kids haven’t changed – but we have.
“Look at them,” the grandfather of two insists. “They’re having the time of their life and they’re all so well mannered and behaved. You can tell they’re good kids; a credit to their school and their parents.
“They were like that in our day too, but going surfing branded you differently. Today we look at these St Joseph’s schoolchildren hoping they come back to our beautiful Goolwa Beach in years to come and make surfing what it is – one of the great tourism attractions.
“What was considered something radical is now a mainstream sport with the middle-to-upper class predominantly among the millions upon millions of surfers around the world.”
But above everything, Phil sees how surfing is now changing the lives of young people in Goolwa who are facing more challenges in life than any old bean-popping hippy may imagine.
“One day it just struck me how there were a lot of kids who lived here at Goolwa, but you never saw them on the beach,” Phil said. “I contacted the Alexandrina Council, who were very good, and they put me on to a wonderful person, Nina, a social worker who worked with Indigenous children and country health.
“Nina was fantastic, and the next minute we had the kids she worked with down here surfing. I also got them involved with the Goolwa Surf Life Saving Club. We then got other kids with greater challenges in life than most, especially with drugs and so on, and they all loved it.
“Suddenly there were no barriers out there. They were just being kids and we were all on the same wavelength; surfing became the common denominator. Most of all, they learned how to laugh again, and I think that is so important.
“My idea is, once they go surfing, they have real energy and a purpose in life. It becomes something they want to do by choice, not because they are told.
“They forget about the negatives in their life and just worry about staying on the board. And they work hard at it and you can see the sense of achievement on their faces. You discover deep down they are good kids.
“Helping them has given me more satisfaction than anything else; definitely. I’d like to do more of this, but there is a long process especially with funding cuts. It’s both a physical and a mental thing.
“I get people out here for two hours and they can’t believe how much exercise is involved. They get tired, and with our local kids that I love to work with and encourage they start to think more about eating healthy food and looking after their body better. It’s all natural exercise.
“Teaching kids from all backgrounds changed my outlook on our youth right from the start. I was getting in the same rut that a lot of us do as we get older, you know, saying the kids of today aren’t like we were, but they are. They are fantastic; all people are… it’s just that some go off the rails.
“In our day we played up, got into strife and had lots of fun, but today’s kids have it tougher getting back on the rails.
“Back then if we wanted to be a hippy and live on the beach you could, but not now. The freedom has gone; move into the caravan park and pay they say. There are fewer opportunities with employment and we are letting our youth down.”
Phil has surfed since he was seven years old after his dad, Ray “Snow” Ball, a country footballer of note including tough days with Koolymilka in Woomera alongside Australian Football Hall of Fame Inductee Neil Kerley, shouted to him in his Aldinga Beach general store, “Hey look at that” pointing at two young men riding big Malibus.
“They were surfing on a high tide on the reef, and I found out they were the Dale brothers, including Wayne, who became a famous surfboard maker and a very good surfer,” Phil said. “My brother and I thought, wow, and we were hooked on surfing.
“Dad was originally from Western Australia, and even as young lads on the trips going over there he had us surfing at just about very spot on the way.
“Years later my brother got a job with surfboard manufacturer Don Burford shaping fins and during lunchtime at school I’d go in there and watch how they made them.
“I started making boards for my mates at school; a lot of them weren’t very good. This was in between building up a lawmowing round with 25 regular customers, and one of them later gave me a job selling stationery.
“I headed off in the sunset for the schools on the West Coast with a surfboard in the back of the car. I told my bosses I needed to stay over there longer to build working relationships with the principals and teachers, and we did as we surfed day after day.”
Phil was known as ‘the pencil man’ for 30 years leaving as an executive at ANCOL, when in 2010 he bought the Ocean Living Surf School from a friend.
“I thought straight away; time for a lifestyle change from Hallet Cove and to live the dream,” Phil said. “I guess it was unusual becoming a surfing coach at 54, but I have never felt that I am too old. I am still fitter than half the young blokes on the beach now.
“I found being older and working with young kids an advantage. It’s about life experience. I am accredited with Academy of Surfing Instructors, which is internationally recognised, and I am very proud of that.”
Phil the teacher also became a student, achieving a black belt in taekwondo, having been trained in Port Adelaide by Korean Jung Il Na, the father of talented professional golfer Stephanie Na.
For the record, Jung Il Na travelled to every Australian city before choosing Adelaide as the best place to live, and when he asked around where was the toughest part of town they said Port Adelaide so he set up his school there.
The environment is a bit different to Phil taking 1min 17 sec to walk over the dunes from his home to the pristine Goolwa Beach at six o’clock in the morning to work on what he refers to as art, and we call surfing. No wonder the hippies of his era lived on the beaches; they were not only outsmarting the Nasho medicos, but everyone else.