RIP: Gordon James Philipson (1938-2021)

14 Jan 2021 3 Share

Nick Carroll

Senior Writer

PT, Rabbit, and Gordon, 1972

PT, Rabbit, and Gordon, 1972

COASTALWATCH | PADDLE OUT | NICK CARROLL

Gordon Philipson, who has died aged 82, was a man of a different time, in both world affairs and in surfing.

Born on the brink of WW2, he was already an adult by the time Australia’s Baby Boom generation discovered surfing. While many of them defined their lives through the classic surfing ideal of freedom, this graceful gentle man defined himself by a different vision: service.

Gordon was raised in a big Queensland family, one of 11 children, and became a boilermaker by trade, working for a while on the Cudgen sand mining projects in northern NSW. He developed a love of big fast cars early in life, and hung on to a very ’50s Elvis slick-back hair look that should have put him on the wrong side of the fabled Coolangatta surfie/rocker wars of the 1960s. Instead he was an original member of Snapper Rocks Surfriders’ Club, and his scary Ford Customline V8 became the go-to vehicle for surf trips up and down the coast.

Peter Townend recalls surfing at Greenmount with Gordon. After a surf PT and his original surfing mate Al Miscamble would hang out in the carpark next to Gordon’s Ford, listening to Glenn Campbell’s “Galveston” on the radio. “To this day whenever I hear that song it reminds me of the friendship with Gordon for the next 50 plus years,” says PT. “I played my vinyl copy on the turntable on the day I heard of his passing.

The 1974 Qld team, Gordon front and centre. Note the original Coolie kids, MP, Bugs and PT, along with numerous others

The 1974 Qld team, Gordon front and centre. Note the original Coolie kids, MP, Bugs and PT, along with numerous others

“He took so many of us on our first surf trips, mine was a first trip to Noosa with MP in the Ford where the surf was perfect, he dropped MP and I at the National Park entrance where we walked around to Ti Tree to surf pretty much by ourselves while Gordo went back to Johnson’s to surf his favourite spot in the world.”

On another trip, Gordon’s boilermaker skills came in even handier than his driving skills. This was a big hike across to Western Australia with great mate Graeme “Blackie” Black and John Sims, both Snapper superstars of the ’60s. They surfed a bit and were on the way back, near a town called Kimba in South Australia, when the car’s motor failed.

John’s parents sent him money for the trip home, but Gordon and Blackie were stuck in Kimba. According to Graeme, Gordon’s trade got him plenty of work fixing harvesters in that wheat country, but it took them two months to earn enough to buy a new motor. Once they had though, “the townspeople didn’t want Gordon to go. He was such a top bloke, they appreciated the person he was, and were really devastated to see him go.” Like we said, different times.

In similar fashion, organised surfing in Australia back then was very far from the tightly operated business it is today. Local and State competitions relied on a handful of volunteers who typically stepped up from a club to run things as best they could. Gordon stepped up from Snapper Rocks to the Queensland branch of the Australian Surfing Association. By 1970 he was heading up the organisation, just as Queensland’s incredible first Coolie-kid talent surge was about to begin.

The ASAQ was run by pencil, paper and home phone, but it ran like clockwork. The contests rolled out by Gordon and his team gave thousands of younger surfers a sense of structure and belonging at a critical time in their lives. The great Sunny Coast surfer Jody Perry, a frothing grom at the time, put it beautifully in a recent tribute to Gordon: “We all saw him and the other administrators (Eric Aberdeen, Barry Townend, Eric Cowley, Bushy Mitchell, and Gordon) as father figures. Beautiful people that we all looked up to. It was like we all had five dads.”

Coolie’s Kerry Gill recalls an ASAQ trip in 1972, when he and five other Queensland junior champs, including Rabbit and Dave McDonald, were sent to Sydney to compete in the Australian Schoolboys champs at Maroubra. Gordon organised the lot, including pre-trip photos on the plane steps, high style accommodation, and tickets to Luna Park with 200 free rides. “It was our first big trip away from a relatively still sleepy Gold Coast …. we were treated like young Hollywood stars. Unfortunately in true Queensland style we ran amok (in Luna Park) and were kicked off every ride.

Coolie royalty: Wayne Deane, Joe Larkin, Gordon, and Barry Townend at a ASAQ 40th anniversary dinner. All are now passed away.

Coolie royalty: Wayne Deane, Joe Larkin, Gordon, and Barry Townend at a ASAQ 40th anniversary dinner. All are now passed away.

“When we returned to Coolangatta after the trip of a lifetime thinking what’s Gordo goin’ to say, we were simply met with a gentle, ‘I’m glad to see you all back safely.’”

Gordon spent some time supporting national ASA president Brian Austen in the late 1970s, while Brian struggled with illness. Eventually for a time he took on the role of president of both organisations at once, assisted by PT’s dad Barry, who became a lifelong friend.

He spent a lot of time coaching people in the art of running these shows, which believe it or not, didn’t come naturally to everyone.  Robert “Bushy” Mitchell was one such student: “I listened and watched Gordon in action at meetings and events, it was an apprenticeship in learning administration skills but more importantly people skills. Gordon would offer advice, just quietly on the side … all with a minimum of fuss. He also taught me just to take care of the situation at hand: sort the problem, look for a solution. He got a huge kick out of seeing the younger generation of surfers doing well.”

In 2019 with PT.

In 2019 with PT.

Among the numerous life memberships of surf organisations, in the 1970s Gordo was offered one by North Shore Boardriders. He’d made the club trophies and presented them for a number of years. Gordo declined the honour at the time, saying it might present an appearance of favouritism, but last year he accepted. To present it, Bushy Mitchell went to visit him in his Kirra apartment: “We called into his flat and he was tickled pink. Duly had an ale and a good yarn — checked out his Corvette in the garage, with recently added side exhausts. We even went down into Coolangatta to get a pie.”

Later, “Gordon pulled from behind the couch a Wayne Deane board — dusting it off, he said he had to get back in nick to have a wave or two.”

Gordon never married. He is survived by eight of his 10 siblings, and numerous nieces and nephews.

(Thanks to PT, Bushy, Kerry Gill and Jody Perry for their help with this piece.)

Tags: (create Alert from these tags)

blog comments powered by Disqus
More From Latest News
Sean Doherty: Somewhere Between 'Searching for Tom Curren' and 'Eraserhead'

Sean Doherty: Somewhere Between 'Searching for Tom Curren' and 'Eraserhead'

The Story Behind Tom Curren's Offbeat New Search Vid

3 29 Jan 2021
Nick Carroll: WSL Adds a Fourth CT To Australia in 2021?

Nick Carroll: WSL Adds a Fourth CT To Australia in 2021?

Australia, All of Australia, May Soon Be a CT Bubble

6 29 Jan 2021
Watch: The New Tom Curren "Search" Movie is All-Time

Watch: The New Tom Curren "Search" Movie is All-Time

It's called Free Scrubber

4 28 Jan 2021
Recent

Sean Doherty: Somewhere Between 'Searching for Tom Curren' and 'Eraserhead'

The Story Behind Tom Curren's Offbeat New Search Vid

3 29 Jan 2021
Nick Carroll: WSL Adds a Fourth CT To Australia in 2021?

Nick Carroll: WSL Adds a Fourth CT To Australia in 2021?

6 29 Jan 2021
Watch: The New Tom Curren "Search" Movie is All-Time

Watch: The New Tom Curren "Search" Movie is All-Time

4 28 Jan 2021
Five Rides (And a Wipeout) From New South Wales Super Session

Five Rides (And a Wipeout) From New South Wales Super Session

3 26 Jan 2021
Video: Connor O'Leary's Backhand Surfing Is Worth Hitting Replay For

Video: Connor O'Leary's Backhand Surfing Is Worth Hitting Replay For

3 25 Jan 2021
Latest News

Sean Doherty: Somewhere Between 'Searching for Tom Curren' and 'Eraserhead'

The Story Behind Tom Curren's Offbeat New Search Vid

Nick Carroll: WSL Adds a Fourth CT To Australia in 2021?

Australia, All of Australia, May Soon Be a CT Bubble

Five Rides (And a Wipeout) From New South Wales Super Session

Pipeline comes to Australia's East Coast, featuring Paul Morgan, Laurie Towner, Matt Dunsmore and more

Popular This Week

OUR EPIC LONG WEEKEND

Almost the day of dreams. Almost.

Video: The Fizzlot kids – SW Grom Bash

A stoked out portrait of Australian Junior Surfing in the year 2018.

Padang Comes to Life as Late Season Swell hits Bali

Golden hour at perfect Padang Padang - it's been a good week to be in Bali... Photo: Childs

Go to Top