The story of South African surfing icon John Whitmore

November 17, 2020 | Surfing
John Whitmore: one of the most influential South African surfers of all time

The biography of South African surfing legend John "The Oom" Whitmore has been ten years in the writing.

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

Miles has also conducted extensive research, poring over family albums and scrapbooks, and 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 the Hobie Cat and bodyboarding to the country in the 1970s.

Miles will launched a crowdfunding campaign to get the book published in 2021.

"John's life is a cracking tale of surf discovery, entrepreneurial success, and athletic achievement," the author notes.

"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."

Cape St Francis, 1992: John 'The Oom' Whitmore with the 'The Endless Summer 2' crew and cast | Photo: Gary Haselau

Why John Whitmore?

Whitmore's influential life still resonates at home and globally.

Also known as "The Doyen," John was the first to shape fiberglass surfboards in Cape Town and founded South Africa's first surfing brand in the 1950s.

John gained springbok colors for local surfers and managed three national surfing teams at the International Surfing Federation (ISF) world surfing contests in the 1960s and 1970s.

As a water sports administrator, John's efforts led to South Africa becoming a respected global powerhouse in surfing, Hobie Cat, and bodyboarding.

As a result, the country celebrated several world titles, 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 traveling American surfer, Dick Metz, that initially put John in contact with the epicenter 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 Book Project

The John Whitmore Book Project documents these and many other untold stories in an engaging narrative.

With the manuscript mostly complete, the team behind the project is embarking on a fundraising campaign. The goal? To publish Whitmore's biography in 2021.

The crowdfunding campaign will offer 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 South Africa marking the key locations of John's life.

"The Doyen" Custom Collection will also come with the book in a wooden box, featuring a roll-up wall map and an exclusive collector's item - a model replica of Whitmore's 1960s longboard.

"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," concludes Miles Masterson.

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