The SA surfing landscape is littered with strong characters. Mike Larmont falls squarely into that ‘larger than life’ category.
Besides being one of the first Saffas to venture to Hawaii, where his appetite for those XXXL winding North Shore walls and peaks was developed, no-one from the original Bay of Plenty era charged that break and Cave Rock harder than he did.
I remember a Saturday afternoon in the late seventies when Mike paddled out with friend and team rider Dave Hansen. Crazy big water with a 10 knot onshore making ugly ribs on the face and creating chandeliering sections. Throw in a rip from hell – it was about as gnarly as it ever gets. A thrashing was on the cards, hence the lack of takers – besides Mike and Dave, the lineup was empty. A set started towering a hundred metres out. Mike swung in late on the second wave, losing the rail and catching a clap that had him puking up a gallon of seawater on the beach. So what did he do next? He paddled right back out there and picked up a bomb that he ripped to pieces, finishing off with beautiful layback that epitomized the concept of grace in the face of mayhem.
Those were the golden years. Talented surfers like Bruce Jackson, Shaun, Michael Tomson, Gavin, Jonny Paarman, Naude, Espo were catching all the headlines, here and just about everywhere in the world. Mike challenged them to achieve greater heights, most especially when it was bombing and nearly out of control.
He also developed a lifelong friendship with Randy Rarick, the co-founder of pro surfing (known as the IPS back then), who started bringing a host of Californian and Hawaiian surfers to Africa to compete in our part of the emerging world tour.
As PT (who has known Mike since 72 when they shared digs on the North Shore) put it so succinctly. “a man’s man”.
His attitude to his surf business was an extension of his approach to the ocean. Mike’s indelible signature is on such iconic brands and concepts like Zigzag, Lightning Bolt, Rip Curl and the original modern twin fin. All start-up enterprises at a time when the surf industry was still finding it’s feet. He broke lots of new ground by literally taking what was then a growing SA surf market by the scruff of the neck and succeeding where others feared to tread.
Competition drives progress
In the late seventies the rivalry between Safari and Larmont was epic. This clamor for top dog status energized surfing in Durban. Every competition win, even at club level, was another brand victory for one or the other. Mike had a lot to do with sparking that condition.
His West Street empire was run with an iron fist. A no-compromise brand of leadership style. Paul Naude, Barry Wollins, Roman Rezak and others benefited from Mike’s mentoring while working for him.
Mike surfed representatively for 26 years and, along with Bruce Jackson, coached the winning South African ISA surf team in 2002.
Mike still makes those beautiful single finned Bolts so prized amongst those who know a little about surfing’s heritage.
By Pat Flanagan 2015