Surfing history: Wayne “Rabbit” Bartholomew AM

Bartholomew first burst on to the scene as a pro surfer in the winter of 1975 where he and his newly established crew Mark Richards, Shaun Tomson, Ian Cairns and Peter Townend displayed their new brand of surfing that inspired the critically acclaimed movie “Bustin’ Down the Door”

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By Martin (Marty) Olsen

WayneRabbitBartholomew AM (born; 30 November 1954) is an Australian world champion surfer, surf sports innovator, community advocate, environmentalist and more recently a politician. Born and raised on the Gold Coast, Rabbit was instrumental in the “volcanic birth” of professional surfing and is referred to often as a “Godfather” of the sport. Rabbit is the former CEO and President of the Association of Surfing Professionals and the creator of the “Dream Tour” format of professional competition surfing. Born just 3 weeks before me, we grew up in the beginning of the boom of the modern surfing era. Surfing was changing at warp speed and everyone was challenging new ideas, new techniques and exploring more and more adventurous locations.

Bartholomew playing chess

His passion for surfing began at 12 years of age and to this day, is as unwavering as the ocean. His natural talent and drive thrust him into the pro surfing scene in the mid-1970s, winning a world titled in 1978 and rating top five in the world for eight consecutive years on the pro tour.

From pro surfer to mentor and coach, Rabbit’s fervor for the sport kept him touring until the late 1980’s. When he hung up the comp rashie he founded the Wayne Bartholomew Academy of Surfing, investing his time into mentoring future legends of the sport such as Mark Occhilupo, Dean Morrison and Jay Phillips.

In a testament to his dedication, Rabbit was deservingly appointed a member of the Order of Australia AM in 2009 and Gold Coast Sportsman of the Year in 1977, 1978 and 1984.

Rabbit is a life member and former president (1987 to 2002) of his beloved Snapper Rocks Surf-riders Club. Wayne Bartholomew surfer

Surfing Awards & Recognition

  • Member (AM) in the General Division of the Order of Australia, 2009

  • Gained entry into Australian Walk of Fame, 2006

  • Inducted into USA Hall of Fame, 2001

  • Entered Sports Australia Hall of Fame, 1999

  • Inducted into Australian Surfing Hall of Fame, 1987

  • Ambassador, International Year of the Ocean, United Nations, 2008.

  • Gold Coast Sportsman of the Year – (3 times)

  • ASP “services to the Sport Award”

  • Movie of the Year, USA Surfer Poll Awards, 2008; for Bustin’ Down the Door.

  • Documentary of the Year, USA Surfer Poll Awards, 2008; for Bustin’ Down the Door.

Wayne Bartholomew tube

Career Overview:

    • Chief Executive Officer- EcoReps & ThinkLED 2011 – Present.

    • President, Association of Surfing Professionalss (ASP) International, 1999-2009; Chief Executive Officer, 1999-2003; Director, 1977-1988 and from 1992.

    • National Coaching Director, Surfing Australia, 1993- 1998.

    • Co-Founder, Wayne Bartholomew Academy of Surfing 1985-1992.

    • President, Snapper Rocks Surfrider Club, 1987-2002.

    • Co-Author, Bustin’ Down the Door, published 1996; (Bartholomew’s biography and an account of surfing during the 1970’s)

    • Author, Bustin’ Down the Door article for Surfer magazine, published 1976; the Inspiration for the surfing documentary of the same title released in 2008.

    • Co-Founder mini surf championship tour; forerunner of Australian Championship Circuit, in the 1990s.

    • ASP Masters Champion, 1999 and 2003; ASP World Champion, 1978; and ranked in the World Top 5, for 8 consecutive years.

    • Special Projects Manager for Billabong, 1990 – 1998

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Surfing Career:

Bartholomew first burst on to the scene as a pro surfer in the winter of 1975 where he and his newly established crew Mark Richards, Shaun Tomson, Ian Cairns and Peter Townend displayed their new brand of surfing that inspired the critically acclaimed movie “Bustin’ Down the Door”. Renowned as a “master of the tube” Bartholomew’s home ground of Kirra beach provided him with an almost cavalier approach to big waves helping Rabbit take out the 1978 world professional title.

He was rated in the top five in the world for eight consecutive seasons, winning events all over the world. Rabbit remains revered as one of surfing’s fiercest competitors and greatest strategists – as well as one of its most flamboyant characters. After retiring from the professional circuit in the late 1980’s, Bartholomew dedicated himself to furthering the development of surfing.

couple surfers

In 2008 the surfing documentary “Bustin’ Down the Door” was released based on Rabbit’s Surfer Magazine article from 1976. “Bustin’ Down the Door” detailed the blood, sweat and fears of Shaun the Prawn (Shaun Thompson), MR (Mark Richards), Mohammed Bugs (AKA Rabbit), Kanga (Ian Cairns), PT (Pete Townsend) and MT (Michael Thompson) and their small group of merry Australian and South African surfers who took clues from Bowie and Ali and shook the world with their aggressive surfing in Hawaiian waves – and their aggressive promotion in the surfing media.

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The crew from “Bustin’ Down the Door” from left to right – Pete Townsend, Michael Thompson, Ian Cairns, Shaun Thompson, Rabbit Bartholomew and Mark Richards.


Wayne began surfing at a competition level as a junior in the early 1970s, where he quickly made a name for himself as a fierce competitor and stylish proponent.

His first major title came when he was crowned the Australian School Boy Champion in 1972. He would go on to win multiple Queensland Men’s Open titles as a semi professional surfing competitor over the next few years.

In 1977, Wayne turned full-time professional and finished second behind South African surfer Shaun Tomson in his rookie year. In that same year, he contested the first Stubbies Surf Classic at Burleigh Heads, regarded as the first man-on-man style surfing event ever contested, but was eliminated from the contest by Michael Peterson in the semi finals.surfer on the wave sliding

Returning to compete in 1978, Wayne dominated the competition on the world tour and secured his first World Surfing Champion title.

Spanning a decade, Bartholomew competed on the world professional surfing tour until 1987. He ranked in the top five surfers for seven consecutive years. In his professional surfing years, he was widely considered one of the greatest surfers of the period.  Famed for his bold attitude, flamboyant style, fearless competitive drive and tactical insight.

World Masters titles

In 1999 Wayne won the ASP Masters World Surfing Champion title in France, the same year he took the helm as president and CEO of the ASP.

In 2003 he won the ASP Grand Masters World Surfing Champion title, making him a three-time world surfing champion and further cementing his status as an icon of the sport.

Wayne in tube surfing

Rabbit had witnessed, guided, cajoled and created a whole new era of surfing which would continue to develop at an amazing pace throughout his professional surfing career and on to today. His influence on surfing as a sport is truly unsurpassed and lands him as a sort of Royalty in the surfing arena.

young surfer Wayne Bartholomew

WAYNE “RABBIT” BARTHOLOMEW on Ke Iki Road, Oahu, Hawaii, 1976. Photo by Jeff Divine.

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