Wayne “Rabbit” Bartholomew, is an Australian surfing icon, World Surfing Champion, ocean and live music advocate and all-round legend.
Growing up surfing the sandy points of the Gold Coast’s Coolangatta, Rabbit burst onto the international scene in the 1970’s, rocking the status quo of Hawaii's North Shore and going on to be crowned World Surfing Champion in 1978.
A Cooly local and founding member of The Drop Festival, we caught up with the legend to discuss his career, favourite local hang outs and Drop Festival highlights.
You’ve had many highlights throughout your surfing career but do you have a personal favourite career highlight?
Magical career moments, nailing a 10 Point Ride at Pipeline the day I clinched the ‘’78 World Title, scoring a perfect 10 in the ‘99 World Masters Final in France and a 9.5 in the 2003 Masters Final at Makaha, Hawaii to get one back on my arch rival Mark Richards, who had inflicted a few floggings on me back in the day. These were “field of dreams” moments that stay with you.
Another career highlight was adding bells and whistles to my Dream Tour concept when CEO/President of what is now WSL. Those foundations have stood the test of time.
What was the inspiration behind bringing The Drop Festival to life?
Surfing and music have run a parallel course in culture and lifestyle since the youth revolution of the 69’s. When I first started running surfing events as I wound down my Pro career, I always had live music on Presentation Night, including a memorable night in Coolangatta with Spy v Soy opening for Midnight Oil. Even my own band, The Firewalkers, opened but as entertaining as we were, we lacked a few musical skills so I just focussed on running great surfing events and booked awesome Aussie talent.
I always wanted to bring this all back to surfing events and the inspiration for The Drop Festival came from a conversation I had with music industry veteran Ken Obrien. Similar to The Dream Tour concept of Best Surfers Best Waves, The Drop vision was initially about insane live line-ups at WSL venues such as Cooly, Bells and Margaret River. It was all about the right fit for the surfing demographic and the timing was cool with all the amazing Aussie talent.
If you can narrow it down, what has been your favourite Drop Festival memory to date?
Each and every Drop Festival have featured incredible artists, each venue has enshrined its own ambience with too many magical moments to single out one or two because the afterglow resonates, and the punters all leave with smiles and sweet memories.
One funny passage happened at Margs in 2018 when these 5 gorgeous girls from Perth were trying to get to The Drop, which was about 20 kms away. I was getting a ride with The Dune Rats and I secured a ride for the girls. They had no clue who was who and we had such fun with that. The guys wanted to check out John John Florence surfing Margarets and the girls were asking why they weren’t coming to The Drop. It was hilarious, especially later when they recognised them on stage!
Where is your favourite surf break in the world?
My tastes have changed according to my decreasing levels of courage. My favs used to be Kirra, Burleigh, Sunset Beach & Pipeline, then became Hossegor, JBay and Honolua Bay then settled into Snapper, Dbah and Superbank.
You’re a Coolangatta local- tell us about some of the hotspots we should check out when we come to town...
There are many first-class restaurants, cafes, juice bars and spots to chill with the great vista of Coolangatta Beach. In the main drag there are numerous Thai, Mexican and Vegetarian Restaurants and of course trendy eateries such as Rosie’s.
It is hard to go past our Surf Clubs for budget meals and cook refreshments on the balcony overlooking the various Super Bank pointbreaks. Arguably the best Real Estate on the Gold Coast, starting with the home of The Corona Pro, the Rainbow Bay Surf Club, overlooking the famous Snapper Rocks.
There are beach bars along Cooly and Kirra and plenty of great bakeries for groms of all ages. The Social Bread just across the border in Tweed has become the IT bakery of late, with local treats.
One thing for sure; the combo of the best WSL Men’s and Women Surfers coming to town, complimented by the amazing artists in The Drop Festival, Coolangatta lives up to its image as a global surf hub come the waiting period for the Corona Pro.
Image credits: Swilly, Merkel/A Frame, Ian Laidlaw