Never anything but individual, Terry Fitzgerald emerged at the start of surfing’s true pro era — the ’70s — and played a key role in finally pushing high performance way clear of the sport’s longboarding roots and into the realm of the power carve. In his prime, he’s represented the peak example of the “total surfer” — a man who could ride any wave, anywhere, on his own equipment, without compromise.
Born in Sydney, Fitzgerald grew up playing rugby football and learning to surf at Maroubra Beach. Later, his family moved to Sydney’s northern beaches, near Narrabeen, where he quickly made a reputation as a brilliant, flamboyant surfer who played by his own rules — willing to try anything if he felt it might advance his skills. Late in 1969, he moved to Queensland briefly to join the Kirra Boardriders — where the action was in Aussie surfing at the time. Kirra’s unofficial HQ was Joe Larkin’s surfboard factory, where the likes of Bob McTavish, Peter Drouyn, Peter Townendand Michael Peterson worked or got boards. After learning some of the surfboard craft under Larkin, Fitzgerald moved back to Sydney and created his own label. In 1970, he started Hot Buttered in a dilapidated wooden house in the industrial suburb of Brookvale.
That same season, he went to Hawaii, and his surfing at Rocky Point and Sunset blew minds. Footage from the movie Morning of the Earth shows a creative, super-fit Fitzgerald drawing lines all over the place with amazing speed and flair. He met Dick Brewer and started a great design collaboration that included Reno Abellira, Sam Hawk and Owl Chapman. This resulted in modern mainstays like the spiral vee (a basic double concave) and wings.
Back in Australia, Fitzgerald carried his design thoughts into Hot Buttered, working with the super-hot performance school at North Narrabeen. Surfers and shapers who passed through his factory over the years include Simon Anderson, Col Smith, Derek Hynd, Steve Wilson, Greg Day, Greg Webber and many more. Along with their unique design twists, his boards became famous for the airbrush spray work of Martin Worthington, who drew anything from leaping dolphins to psychedelic sunsets.
Fitzgerald’s competitive surfing hit a peak in 1975 with his Australian Open title win and a victory at the Lightning Bolt pro event at Velzyland. He also won the first major pro event in Indonesia, the OM-Bali Pro at perfect, big Uluwatu in 1980 and was ranked ninth in the world in 1977. But his involvement in surfing has gone far beyond competition. Always a pioneer, Fitzgerald became one of the first big-name surfers to explore Indonesia. He went to Grajagan in 1973 with Gerry Lopez and Sumbawa the ’80s before most surfers had even heard the names. His outrageous body-torqued surfing at Jeffreys Bay , South Africa, in 1977 led the sharp-witted Australian surf journalist Phil Jarratt to nickname him “the Sultan of Speed.” Fitzgerald publicly shunned the moniker but privately loved it, using the name on a late ’80s Hot Buttered video series. He also surfed many spots in Tahiti, sponsoring kids like Vetea “Poto” David — who later went on to a successful pro career — and numerous other local Tahitian gremmies.
By the early ’80s, Fitzgerald had set up Hot Buttered in places as far-flung as England, the United States, Japan and Papeete — well ahead of today’s trend toward multi-national surf corporations. He was a founding member of Australia’s original pro surfing organization, the Australian Professional Surfers Association and took a strong hand in reviving his country’s flagging competitive fortunes in the mid-’90s. He helped pull together an industry-wide effort to step up junior competition.
Today, Fitzgerald runs Hot Buttered from Sydney with continuing international distribution. Terry is shaping, surfing and living closely to the surf pulse of Narrabeen.
His sons Kye and Joel both have substantial international reputations as freethinking individuals who are prone to big carves — picking up just where their father left off. — Nick Carroll