Surfers their stories: Barry 'Magoo' McGuigan

The 'Surfers their stories' series explores the personal surfing journeys of 12 Australians. This is the story of one of Australia's "old souls of the surf", Barry 'Magoo' McGuigan.

Barry 'Magoo' McGuigan portrait (2012-06) by Barry McGuiganAustralian National Surfing Museum

Barry 'Magoo' McGuigan

Barry ‘Magoo’ McGuigan, like many surfers, was more well known by his nickname than by his real name. Magoo was born in Sydney in 1929, which, at the time, made him one of this country’s most conspicuously active “older” surfers.

Barry 'Magoo' McGuigan South Bondi Surfboard Riders Club Early 60s by Barry McGuiganAustralian National Surfing Museum

He grew up in Tamarama near Sydney’s famous Bondi Beach and attended Bondi Public School before moving on to schools at Ultimo and Woollahra. His early working life was spent as a Butcher before moving to a 32 year long stint as a Fireman.

Magoo recalls first seeing surfers in the late 1930s at Tamarama where he began body surfing and hand board surfing, before moving on to riding surfboards when he was 14 at Bondi in the early 1940s.

Barry 'Magoo' McGuigan and Surfboard (1965) by Barry McGuiganAustralian National Surfing Museum

At this stage Australian surfers were riding 16 to 18 foot hollow plywood surfboards called “Toothpicks”.

“There were no tutors” recalls Magoo who was inspired by the legendary Jack ‘Bluey’ Mayes. “We just watched other surfers and tried to copy what we had observed. It was a challenge just to stand up and keep you balance on hollow 15 foot Toothpicks, they weighed about 40 pounds with a bung hole to release the water the boards would take on and metal grip at the tail (no leg ropes)”.

Aussie Longboard Titles (2012-06)Australian National Surfing Museum

Magoo’s surfing travels saw he and his friend’s journey all over the world.

Barry 'Magoo' McGuigan Surfing (1960s)Australian National Surfing Museum

In one instance in 1963 he and another surfer had bluffed their way into the prestigious Makaha Championships in Hawaii by claiming that they were the Tasmanian and Queensland surfing champions. This ploy soon backfired as the surfer’s confronted huge waves in the contest.

Magoo paddled out into the famed Makaha Bowl “I caught my only wave straight to the bottom, was held down for 2 waves and swam into the beach with my tail between my legs.

Barry Magoo McGuigan Yoga (2010) by Barry McGuiganAustralian National Surfing Museum

Magoo attributes his surfing longevity to keeping away from some of the other stuff people have got into and to practicing Hatha Yoga.

For many years Magoo competed in longboard contests and more recently organised and ran an annual charity surfing event that has raised over $200,000 for cancer research.

Magoo says of surfing, “It keeps you wanting to live forever because it’s healthy, and ever changing”.

Barry 'Magoo' McGuigan Surfing at Aussie Titles (2012-06) by unknownAustralian National Surfing Museum

Sadly since being part of our exhibition Magoo passed away at the age of 85 after fighting with Hogkins Lymphoma for a number of years. This was deeply ironic for someone who had done so much to raise funds for cancer research over the years.

Surfers Their Stories: Barry 'Magoo' McGuiganAustralian National Surfing Museum

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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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