Robert “Nat” Young Biography
Robert “Nat” Young has proven to be one of surfing’s most influential athletes and one of its most forceful personalities. With a powerful surfing style in the tradition of Phil Edwards, and an aggressive approach to life and sport, Young’s progressive surfing coupled with his inextricable participation in the “shortboard revolution” left an eternal mark on surfing performance and board design.
Young was born in Sydney in 1947 and raised in Collaroy where he rode his first waves at age 10. Robert became known as “Gnat” for his small stature but soon grew in both size and talent, going on to win the Australian Surfing Championships in 1963. With early guidance (and surfboards) from 1964 world champ Midget Farrelly, “Gnat” grew to be called “Nat” and would meet his former mentor in fateful battles for years to come, most notably, powering to second place above Farrelly in the 1965 World Championships.
Come mid-1966, Young and friends (and shapers) Bob McTavish and George Greenough entwined to form the soul of a new “involvement” school of surfing that focused on riding waves radically while remaining close to the curl and generating maximum speed. Most surfers of the era avoided the falling lip and instead focused on wide open walls for noseriding and speed trimming. The three collaborated on Nat’s self-shaped “Magic Sam” which was a thin railed 9’4” square tail with a flexible swept-back fin designed by Greenough. Not yet a shortboard, “Magic Sam” could, however, be described as the missing link between the longboard and the shortboard eras. Sam was lighter and thinner than most equipment of the time.
Young put Sam to the test when he traveled to San Diego in 1966 to compete in the World Surfing Championships and consequently set surfing off on a new trajectory. Young’s “involvement” surfing with its gouging, re-directional turns easily distanced him from the competitors that day, most famously David Nuuhiwa, the era’s eminent longboard stylist. By doing so, Young won the ’66 event and drove the metaphorical nail into the coffin of the status quo, opening the door for the impending shortboard revolution. A year later Young and Bob Mctavish packed their even shorter “vee-bottom boards” and targeted Hawaii where their ground breaking performance was immortalized in the frames of the movie The Hot Generation. That segment of celluloid changed the direction of surfing and influenced hoards of up and coming wave riders including future competitive workhorse Ian Cairns.
Although he had reached the pinnacle of the sport he wasn’t finished by a long shot. He went on to win several more events in Hawaii and Australia before temporarily quitting shortboard competition and retiring to the country to surf and rail against the establishment (including both surfing and government bureaucracies). Nat returned to shortboard competition in 1974 and then switched to riding longboards in the 1980’s and, incredibly, won four world titles by 1990.
Nat Young, confident to the point of cockiness, was often called “The Animal” based on his aggressive, powerful surfing style, and that moniker could symbolize his approach to life as well. Emerging first as a ground breaking talent and a fearless innovator, Young also tested other waters through his prolific surf writing as well as by running for public office. To top it all off, he is the patriarch of a surfing family (he is father to Beau Young, the 2000 Longboard World Champion), a multiple Surfer Poll winner, and an inductee to several halls of fame. If making a mark on surfing history was ever a goal of Nat’s… mission accomplished.
We recently put Nat together with Greg Noll’s son Jed to shape an historic reproduction of “Magic Sam”, the first such reproduction of that famous board with Nat’s direct involvement. During the shaping process Nat hooked up with the folks at the California Surf Museum in Oceanside and noticed that they did not have a board in their collection that chronicled the longboard to shortboard evolution. Adding “philanthropist” to his long list of attributes Nat agreed to allow a second copy of Sam to be shaped and that board will be donated jointly by both of us to the California Surf Museum. Check out the pictures of Nat and Jed shaping the first of two “Sams” in Nat’s photo gallery.