Last year, for a feature in Vol 256, we gathered a crew of south-west surf legends to look through a roll of film we found buried deep in our archive, featuring shots from the launch party of Wavelength Issue 1, way back in 81.
The group, which included multiple British and European champ Nigel Semmens, mag co-founder Geoff Tydeman and local industry bods Pete and Gary Collins, regaled us with tales from the night, recounting the elaborate backstories of many of the colourful characters who made up the national scene back in the early 80’s.
A few of the images featured Ted Deerhurst, otherwise known as Lord Ted, who was Britain’s first-ever pro surfer. Here’s what the crew had to say when they spotted him:
Gary: There’s Ted Deerhurst with Shaun Thompson…
Nigel: Lord Ted!
Geoff: No he was a viscount. His dad was the lord.
Gary: Didn’t he become the first English pro?
Nigel: Yea, his parents used to give him a subsidy and just say go surfing. He so wanted to be a pro surfer, so he just travelled around the world on the pro-circuit.
Pete: But he didn’t do so bad did he?
Nigel: I tell you what, I remember seeing him at Sunset one time on a massive wave, just air dropping out of the lip. He did brilliantly.
[Ed. Ted’s best ever result came at 12 foot Sunset Beach, where he knocked out Cheyne Horan to make it to the semis of the 1978 Jose Cuervo Classic]
Nigel: He used to play on the Lord thing too, I remember once we found him in his hotel room in Hawaii with a girl, wearing a silk nightgown and a cravat.
After stints growing up in California and Britain, at 18 ‘Lord Ted’ moved to Hawaii, joining the pro circuit two years later in 1977.
“He was handsome and likable,” writes Matt Warshaw in EOS, “and while some pros resented the fact that he had essentially bought his way into the profession, he was for the most part a popular addition to the world tour. For years, Deerhurst was the only touring British pro. He came to the attention of the surfing world in 1982, when he was featured on the cover of Surfer magazine, posed with five custom surfboards and two hunting hounds on the rolling lawn in front of the family manor.”
After 20 years of competing at the top level, Ted was sadly found dead in the bathtub of his Hawaiian home. He was just 40. The coroner reported heart failure brought on by an epileptic fit as the cause. However, now, a new book by Andy Martin about Deerhurst’s life has posited an entirely different theory.
According to Martin, who spent time with him in Hawaii in his final years, Deerhurst may have in fact been murdered by Hawaiian heavies after falling in love with a stripper named Lola.
In an excerpt from the book published on The Independent, Ted describes a threatening visit from two North Shore ‘security guards’, sent at the behest of an ominous enforcer connected to the strip club, after he refused to stop seeing Lola:
“One day, Ted heard a knock on his door. I was back in Hawaii and he was telling me about this shortly afterwards. He was still looking a little pale and shaky. We were in d’Amicos – a hundred yards up the Kamehameha highway from Sunset – having a pizza. He wasn’t all that hungry and was merely poking at his Napolitana. Normally he would be shovelling it in. His mind wasn’t on the job.
“What’s up?” I said. Which is when he told me the whole story.
The two guys had been perfectly polite. And that is what made the whole thing so terrifying. You didn’t encounter politeness all that often, not on the North Shore. It was a rarity. And, said Ted, they were “dressed in suits”. By which I think he meant that they were wearing long pants (also rare) and probably short-sleeved shirts. Not t-shirts. They meant business. No weapons were produced either. And yet every word had the force of a sawn-off shotgun behind it. They were big guys, the size of sumo wrestlers, but fit-looking, in shape. Looked like they worked out. And one of them smiled a lot too. Ted never did find out what their names were. Didn’t think to ask.
But they knew his name all right. “Hello, Ted,” they said. “Or should we say Lord Ted?” They were some kind of “security”, but on an island where security made you feel anything but secure.
Ted grinned a nervous sort of grin. “‘Ted’ will be just fine,” he said.
They also knew exactly where he lived, needless to say. Because they had knocked on the door of no 100, East Kuilima. Ted’s little condo. It’s up the stairs. The place downstairs is another number. So it was half a house. Nothing imposing. Modest, but a roof over his head. Space to park his boards and a spare pair of shorts. And these two guys had come up the stairs and knocked on his door and were standing politely on the porch.
Ted had opened the door but was standing on his side of the threshold. They never crossed the threshold either. They did not venture into Ted territory. They remained politely conversing from their side of the line. Two big smiling guys. Or rather only one of them smiled. He did all the speaking too. The other guy just stood there sullenly, not really doing anything. Not yet anyway. He was only an implication, but a damn big heavy one.
There was some exchange to do with how there was a big swell coming. In Hawaii there always was either a big swell coming or a bunch of guys saying that it was. Ted agreed that it certainly was coming.
“We hear you’re a good surfer, Ted,” said the smiler.
Ted tried to be modest, even though terrified. “Well, not bad,” he said.
“Way we hear it, you could be champion, one day.”
‘Well, look here, Ted, how do you think it would be if you had to surf on just one leg? Do you think you would surf as good then?’
“One of these days maybe,” he said. He wasn’t about to argue with that.
Then they got to the crux of it. “Well, look here, Ted, how do you think it would be if you had to surf on just one leg? Do you think you would surf as good then?”
Ted could envisage it all too easily. He imagined that they would probably blow a hole through his leg with a shotgun and it would have to be amputated, something like that. Probably not a machete. That was too much hands-on. They weren’t literally going to chop his leg off, but it would amount to the same thing. He gulped and managed to croak a reply. “I think that would be hard,” he said.
The guy had a good chuckle at that. “Oh, come on, Ted,” he said, striking a cheerful, upbeat note and slapping him on the shoulder. “It wouldn’t be all that bad. A challenge, yes. But you’d adapt. These new artificial legs they have these days, they’re better than your actual leg. Yeah, maybe you’d be even better with just one leg. Don’t you think?”
Ted said nothing. He had run out of words. His throat was dry.
“Or…” said the guy. Long pause. “OR,” ramming the point home with a raised finger just in case Ted was not getting it, even though he clearly was getting it, “you could just leave Lola alone.”
“Lola,” said Ted.
“The blonde. She’s not yours, brah. So you should stop seeing her, stop fooling around with her, stop driving her in your car, stop giving her presents. Stop fucking her. Because if you’re fucking Lola you’re fucking Pit Bull.”
Ted said nothing. The thought was hideous.
“Just stop. Or you could try surfing on one leg. Which would you prefer?”
Ted managed to come out with a line that has stuck solidly in my mind. “It’s her loss,” he said. Good line. That was clear then. The two guys were satisfied with that line. Anyone would be. Anyone other than Ted that is.
“Yeah, I guess she’s going to be real sad for a while. But don’t you worry, we’ll look after Lola. She’ll be OK.” Like they really cared.
They said a polite farewell to Ted, went back down the stairs and got into their car and drove away. There was no violence at all. Ted was not roughed up. No blood was spilt. No injuries were incurred. And yet the threat of all that happening, right up to and including the removal of a limb, was abundantly clear in Ted’s mind. Ted had worked it all out. He always had it all worked out. “Lola told Pit Bull she was leaving him for me and he couldn’t take that so he sends in the heavies. It’s jealousy pure and simple. Guy like Pit Bull, he just can’t stand the heat.” I nodded sympathetically while demolishing my pizza.”
Buy ‘Surf, Sweat and Tears; The epic life and mysterious death of Edward George William Omar Deerhurst‘ here.