Introducing #1 in an occasional series of surf history pieces written by wordsmith & fount of knowledge, Wayne Golding.
First off the blocks:
KINGS OF THE POND
Kevin ‘Head’ Brennan
Kevin Brennan was a surfing prodigy, an extravagantly talented switchfoot who could surf the Platts off riders twice his age and double his size. By the time he’d turned 14 he was doing things on a surfboard that most of his peers wouldn’t be doing until the following decade. He, along with the great and equally tragic Bobby Brown, was a master of the parallel stance.
Known as ‘The Head’, due to his disproportionately large noggin, Kevin had little use for school and from an early age spent most of his time surfing his local, Bondi Beach. The rest of his time was spent dodging truant officers and nurturing a career in petty crime.
Even as a junior, Kevin possessed a talent for attracting crowds, either lined up along the water’s edge watching gob smacked as he walked on water with an agility and unaffected style that disguised a tendency of boards of that era to fight their owners all the way to the beach, or else being chased through the Bondi car park by a mob of fellow board club members after being caught rifling through their gear. On one of the occasions that he was caught he was left, tied naked to a pole at the southern end of the beach. Only lesson he might have learned that day was not to get caught the next time
In 1965 at the age of 15, Brennan did what no other Australian surfer had done before or since, winning both the NSW State junior and senior titles. To win the senior event he had to beat ’64 world champ, Midget Farrelly, and Nat Young who claimed the world title in 1966.
Unfortunately, Kevin’s talent stopped at the water’s edge. Apart from picking up a few minor endorsements and appearing in Paul Witzig’s classic, Hot Generation he was unable to translate his success in the water into a career or even a reasonable living on shore.
Brennan eventually followed his celebrity up to Sydney’s northern beaches where he walked smack into a very heavy, dope-fuelled scene. Never the sharpest knife in the drawer, he quickly immersed himself in a drug lifestyle that eventually left little time for surfing.
Details of his life from that point on mostly revolve around hearsay and distant memory with most of the stories related to drugs and none of them particularly inspiring. The one thing that’s certain is that in 1975, ten years after what was probably the best day of his life, Kevin Brennan died of a heroine overdose in a Kings Cross nightclub. He was 22 years old and mourned by the few friends that he hadn’t managed to completely alienate and a handful of dealers.
photos from A pictorial history of Surfing Paul Hamlyn 1970