The John Whitmore Book Project

South African author, Miles Masterson, has interviewed more than 120 watersports legends over the past decade, including Americans filmmaker Bruce Brown and surfing and sailing innovator Hobie Alter, and 1977 surfing world champion, South Africa’s Shaun Tomson. 

The John Whitmore Book Project

John ‘The Oom’ Whitmore with the ‘The Endless Summer 2’ crew and cast, Cape St Francis, 1992. Image includes John Whitmore (bottom right), surfers Robert ‘Wingnut’ Weaver and Pat O’Connell (US), Shaun Tomson and Sharon Ngcobo (SA), as well as filmmakers Bruce Brown and son Dana Brown, and other local and international cast and crew. Image courtesy Gary Haselau (centre top).

Miles has also conducted extensive research, poring over family albums and scrapbooks, as well as visited national libraries and archives. All this in a quest to tell the incredible life story of one of South African surfing’s founding fathers, John ‘The Oom’ Whitmore (1929-2001), who also brought Hobie Catting and bodyboarding to the country in the 1970s.

Writing now almost complete, Miles has launched a crowdfunding campaign to get the book published. “John’s life is a cracking tale of surf discovery, entrepreneurial success and athletic achievement,” Miles says. “The goal has always been to create an entertaining read while preserving a classic slice of South African sporting history. Hopefully, with our crowdfunding campaign, we can now make that a reality.”

Why John Whitmore?

Whitmore’s influential life still resonates at home and globally. Also known as ‘The Doyen’, John was the first to shape fibreglass surfboards in Cape Town and founded SA’s first surfing brand in the 1950s. John gained Springbok colours for local surfers and managed three SA surfing teams at International Surfing Federation (ISF) world surfing contests in the 1960s and 1970s. 

The John Whitmore Book Project

John ‘The Oom’ Whitmore with the first full Springbok surfing team bound for the 1966 ISF World Championships in San Diego. (L to R): Donald Paarman, Robert MacWade, John Whitmore (manager), Margaret Smith, Marlene Webb, George Thomopoulos (captain), Errol Hickman, Cornel Barnett. Image: Whitmore Family Collection.

ohn’s efforts as a water sports administrator led to South Africa becoming a respected global powerhouse in surfing, Hobie Catting and bodyboarding, eventually resulting in several world champs, including 1977 IPS World Surfing Champion Shaun Tomson, and 1978 Hobie 16 World Champions Mick and Colin Whitehead. John also helped to establish their supporting industries, which thrive to this day.

But it was a chance encounter in 1960 with a travelling American surfer, Dick Metz, that originally put John in contact with the epicentre of Californian surf culture. Metz convinced his close friend, Bruce Brown, to visit South Africa and – directed there by Whitmore – he discovered ‘the perfect wave’ at ‘Bruce’s Beauties’ in Cape St. Francis, an epochal moment in surf history that was captured in the global smash hit movie, ‘The Endless Summer’. 

The John Whitmore Book Project

John meeting American filmmaker of ‘The Endless Summer’ fame, Bruce Brown, along with 60s US surf stars Robert August and Mike Hynson, in Cape Town in 1963. John steered Brown towards Cape St Francis, where he stumbled on the surf spot now known as ‘Bruce’s Beauties’, a discovery that made ‘The Endless Summer’ a worldwide box office hit. Image: Robert Price / Whitmore Family Collection.

The John Whitmore Book Project

The John Whitmore Book Project documents these and many other untold stories in an engrossing narrative. With the manuscript now mostly complete, the team behind the project is embarking on a fundraising campaign via South African crowdfunding platform Thundafund. The goal? To publish Whitmore’s biography in early 2021.

The crowdfunding campaign offers several premium products for backers, from limited run soft- and hardcover books including never-seen-before photographs, one-of-a-kind stickers and t-shirts, to two exclusive premier reward tiers, ‘The Oom’ Signature Series and ‘The Doyen’ Custom Collection, the latter tiers available to a total of only 60 backers. 

Supporters of these premier tiers will have their names published in the book, and will also receive limited edition Whitmore prints and a map of SA marking the key locations of John’s life. ‘The Doyen’ Custom Collection will also come with the book in a wooden box, feature a roll-up wall map and an exclusive collector’s item: a model replica of 1960s Whitmore longboard.

Says Miles, “We hope that the surfing and Hobie Catting communities will rally behind our effort and play a part in chronicling and preserving The Oom’s considerable legacy for future generations.” 

Crowdfunding link: bit.ly/theoomthundafund

“Then and now” in the Greater St Francis Region – #2

Granny's Pool, St Francis Bay as it was in 1960

Granny’s Pool in the late 1960s. Note all the sand on the now stabilised dunes, that would have replenished the fabulously broad beaches of St Francis Bay. Photo: Geoff Cowling.

Granny's Pool, St Francis Bay as it was in 2020

The same scene today. The dunes are stabilised and the sand has gone, exposing rocks and making it difficult to walk from Granny’s Pool to the main beach, especially at high tide. Rising sea levels associated with global warming will result in more erosion, possible requiring the construction of sea walls to protect the homes perched on the crest of the once mobile dune. Photo: Timm Hoffman and Richard Cowling.

Other posts in this series can be viewed at https://stfrancistoday.com/then-and-now-in-the-greater-st-francis-region/