Max Wetteland, the "functional" surfer, passes away at 76

July 7, 2015 | Surfing
Shaun Tomson, George Thomopoulos, Errol Hickman and Max Wetteland (left to right): the Durban surf gang in 1983 | Photo: Pat Flanagan

Max Wetteland, one of the most influential surfers in South Africa, has passed away at age 76.

Wetteland was born in Durban, in 1938. He began surfing at 12, and when he was 15 he already rode his own wooden boards. In the late 1050s, Max won three national paddleboard championships.

For many, he was the pioneer of surfing in South Africa. In the mid-1960s, his country didn't have a surf industry with contests, surf shops, and a well-developed surfing community.

When the first-ever ISF World Surfing Championships took place in Manly, in 1964, Max and few friends were sent over to represent their country flag. Wetteland reached the semifinals, loved the experience and decided to boost the surf scene in South Africa.

The Wetteland Surf Team, 1965: Max promotes his Surf Centre

"A smooth, functional style is what Durban surfers should strive for because this is what makes surfing an art," Max Wetteland told The Natal Mercury, on November 5th, 1964.

"Most Durban surfers to not know what they are doing. All they worry about is what they look like on a wave. If they have a pair of 'baggies' and ride their boards spectacularly, they are happy."

The South African had learned from Phil Edwards and "Midget" Farrelly how to adapt his riding to the mood of the sea, to ride smoothly and never do anything unnecessarily.

He opened Durban's first surf shop at 50 West Street and introduced lifesaving to the Island of Jersey. In his early 20s, Max Wetteland developed a passion for surfboard shaping.

He produced South Africa's first urethane surfboards. Later, Max and friends kicked off the Durban 500, a pro surfing contest held from 1969 to 1999. Later it would become the Gunston 500 and then the Mr Price Pro.

In 1975, he moved to Vancouver, Canada and invented the "snow skate," an exotic snowboard. He returned to Durban in 1982, won longboard and dedicated his time to manufacturing polyurethane blanks for surfboards and windsurf boards.

Max Wetteland is featured in "The Endless Summer."

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