Friday, September 9, 2022

Doc, Ant (1944-2003)

Aloha and Welcome to this installment in the LEGENDARY SURFERS series on South African surfer Anthony van den Heuvel; called “Doc,” “Ant” or Tony by many friends.

This retrospective of Ant was put together shortly after his passing in 2003, by Garth Robinson and Andrew “Roosta” Lange with the help of Bruce Gold and some of Ant's other friends; submitted to me to be included in the LEGENDARY SURFERS collection.

Andrew “Roosta” Lange wrote:

"Energy cannot be created nor destroyed, but merely transferred from one object to another."

  – Albert Einstein 

Rest In peace Anthony 'Doc' van den Heuvel. Born 1944. Died Sunday morning, 21 September 2003, in his camp on the dunes overlooking Supertubes, Jeffreys Bay. 

The Doc will go down in history as one of South African surfings' martyrs – For his lifestyle, his attitude and interpretation of living to surf, staying on the beach and staking his claim and right to live and die on the dunes ovelooking one of the worlds most hallowed surfspots. It's a story so overwhelming and tidal I feel almost a little young and insignificant to reflect Doc's true message, so I have enlisted the help of three other 'custodians' of our South African surf culture; Bruce Gold, Christine Moller and Shorty Bronkhorst, interview-style to help weave this one down the line and into some proper sense! 

All three being Doc's true 'partners-in-crime', Christine and Doc were two of SA's first representatives charging the North Shore of Hawaii almost three decades back, whilst Bruce and Shorty go as far back as surfing itself and have shared Doc's path so we can be rest assured of an accurate and honest reflection of what really went down... 

Ant photo by Jason Coniry

AL: You and Doc were cruising together on you first trip to J-Bay, right?

Shorty: It was in 1966 when he came back from competing for South africa in Peru and ah, we actually did a trip to Cape Town and stopped off here in J-Bay on the way, and then stopped again on the way back. Then I had to get back, hey, and Doc said "Im staying a bit longer!" (laughs) and of course there was nothing here I mean not a house in sight. We all camped in the dunes down the bottom of the point. 

AL: What was the story with Doc when they wouldn't give him his Springbok colours? 

Shorty: He didn't actually get them because there was John Whitmore you see, who told him that if he didn't cut his hair he couldn't surf and he just wouldn't cut it! So they never gave him his colours. That tells you a lot about Doc, hey? Rather than cut his hair, he'd rather not have his Springbok blazer! (more laughing) 

AL: What do you reckon, Christine? 

Christine: "Well, I also knew Tony since he was sixteen. It was during the Durban Lifesaving Club days, he was with Pirates and Shorty was at South Beach then. Tony became a pro lifeguard as well. 

AL: So then how did you two end up meeting in Hawaii? 

Christine: I was over there from California and he came over from South Africa to stay and surf the North Shore. It was before all the contests started happening. Just before we left they started having one or two events, it was around '66 i think. 

AL: Did he charge? 

Christine: Charge what? Oh, (laughs) well, I guess he did – I think we were all were surfing like crazy in those days. 

AL: Were you guys like partying hard? What was the whole Hawaiian social scene like back then? Did you guys chill out in hammocks and drink weird smoothies or what? 

Christine: No, it was quiet. I mean we'd go home, make dinner, go to bed‘n get up early the next morning! There was no nightlife. There were some youngsters from San Francisco and they got a light show going in Honolulu, that was about it. 

AL: What about that really solid wave Bruce was telling us about that you and the Doc shared at Sunset when it was big? 

Christine: We had a lot of waves at Sunset, I suppose. Well, it's different; the waves over there. I had my semi-gun, that was a beautiful board from Greg Noll. I could ride it in three foot surf or ten foot surf.

AL: What was the story? 

Christine: I dunno, the waves got bigger and bigger the way I hear it! (more laughter) I don't think they were that big. I dunno. I suppose you don't think about it when you're young and strong, you just go out there and you surf! 

AL: Young and stupid, hey? Just like me! Bruce, where and when did you first meet Doc? 

Bruce: End of '68, hey, right here at the point. 

AL: Were you guys camping or what? 

Bruce: Ja, we came out here on a surfing trip and Doc was staying here in a half a bus, half a silver bus. He'd been here for a while. He had a sore back from doing a flick-flack on a tiny green 5'6" surfboard. I even saw him shaping a board on the beach with some Aussie. Gavin Rudolph rode it the first time. I remember that was J-Bay in 1968. 

AL: How would you describe Doc's style of surfing? 

Bruce: Very controlled, very powerful. Precise and considered surfing, stylish. 

AL: What era suited his surfing best? 

Bruce: Longboard surfing for sure. Mickey Dora came back here and he only rode longboards and he inspired us more or less to stay on the longboards. 

AL: Tell us a cool story about the Doc. 

Christine: Many years ago with my blue Kombi we went over to St Francis. We were actually looking at the pictures today. And Tony says "This is how you go in here," as he waxes his board. There's all those stones there and he goes climbing over the stones and jumps on his board and starts paddling and knocks his skeg off! (heaps of laughter) 

It was around '92 when I first heard from an Aussie that the infamous Doc was on the scene again, having moved out of the Pellsrus township. Staying at Koffie's Surf Camp, keeping the coals blazing around the fire and telling the tourists surf stories. I had to see it for myself and thus started my friendship and 'tutelage' with the Doc, Supertubes and the politics of Jeffreys Bay. Since all I'd ever heard through grommethood was the name, like he was one of the pioneers of J-Bay or something, respect came naturally. You see Doc was as respected as he was hated at times. Animo-city is not a place in Disneyland, it lives and breathes in the lungs of spoilt antagonists in towns just like J-Bay. Doc lived the way he wanted, which was not without confrontation. Negativity as a result of his actions, habits and attitude came and went like the tide, like the two sides of Doc; one unequivocally cool, the other on edge, disillusioned and angry at the way things had become with the scene, crowds and the reckless over-development of J-Bay.

Early winter two or so years ago a bunch of us who had been hanging in town surfing a few swells ended up carting Doc's stuff back out to the dunes. Armed with spades and some good pieces of wood, we re-established his camp. The thing was, well, is that not just anyone could have done something like that! Think about it, to be able to stake your claim to a piece of dune overlooking one of the worlds most hallowed surf spots and get away with it, you'd have to have lived a life like Doc’s! None could argue his right to be there. He'd been one of the first hanging on those dunes and flying down-the-line on those waves since '66. Nobody will ever be able to lay claim to a legacy of fast living and barrel riding like Doc's surfing career in J-Bay! Nobody. 

Physically, at 59 ripe years of age it was a challenge to camp in those dunes. For a while, he had his dog Faith and then Socks and all the crew in the 'office' under the boardwalk and things were rocking. Tight people, good times and bad. I'm sure a heap of us have spent many a day watching the show between sessions; Christine knitting Bippo beanies on one side, Bruce doctoring the Doc's back on the other while he grooved to his radio, crafting leather boots and sandals and dogs and pups ran around your feet like crazy! Doc's work was renowned the world over, check the old Art Brewer photo of his thigh-high Ugg boots, custom built for the infamous Bunker Spreckles, not to mention Mickey Dora's politically incorrect sealskin boots! (Still in the possession of one B. Gold) You just had to have patience and order your boots long before you left J-Bay. And so he eked out a few bucks from the leatherwork, did some interviews for surf mags and generally survived in a style one could only survive on in a place like J-Bay, with its history as a surf-travel mecca and international meeting place for all forms of tube riding. 

“Doc's presence on the boardwalk was like a part of the whole J-Bay package. After a day hussling or being hussled by locals in the sometimes ridiculously intense Supertubes line-up, foreigners could always talk to the real old local who'd been there forever." 

  – Jeffreys Bay resident 

"Aren't we all just a bunch of escape artists on the prowl for fun anyway!?!"

  –  Anonymous surfer 

The years ticked by and the inimitable Doc carried on with his tidal ways as the mood swings. Ill health and wild times reached a peak, literally, with one wild Christmas binge. The Doc started coming down. I'm sure i can say on behalf of a lot of people who knew him that the Doc that we knew in the time before he died was the most humble and reverant person around. You could almost see he knew how lucky he was to still be there and was gonna milk it for as long as he was still around! 

The Last Swell – full moon, Wednesday 10th September 2003 

Four daze of waves, two swells – the first peaking at almost twelve feet by late evening with only the usual suspects left out: Mickey Duffus, Asho, Brickez, Mikey Meyer, Stuey Shelver and Dave Weare. After the best day of surfing in ages, the boys were feeling festive, having a few Labels in the carpark, watching the show, when out the bush from the Point comes the infamous artist and resident head case Pierre de Villiers Fourie.

"Where the surfers now?" he shouts "I see lots of people watching but not too may out. I used to surf here by myself when it was about 15 foot! But now I'm dying, what do you care!" he rants and waves his big stick. Everyone shakes their head and we blame it on the moon shining full and silver like a coin as moonlight jumps and fades on the swell-filled bay. He rants some more and disappears in the direction of Doc's camp. About a half a Black Label later Doc shows up and we tell him the story. He sympathizes with Pierre's scenario, typical brilliant artist gone crazy and decrepid from time and circumstance, but still does not want to bump into him at all costs! The carpark starts emptying and we all filter outa there, hungry like hunters for the morning session... 

Next morning it's dropped to five, maybe six feet solid. Everyone's out already getting pitted – light northwest opening the barrels even more than usual. I watch Simon and Peter Nicholson get stand-up barrels, one brother after the other. 'The Foot' Greg Emslie is charging the bottom section while AC and Elsie carve deep in and out of barrels backhand, no rail-grabbing. It's epic to watch and I cruise down the boardwalk over to the Doc and Shorty. Doc's a mess and I ask what happened? "Pierre came into my camp last night and beat the shit outa me with his stick!" His elbow's swollen like a tennis ball, his breathing laboured from a shot across the back and he's limping from another shot on the hip.

Two or so days later the story continues as Christine cruises down the boardwalk to find Doc whose been sitting there in the sun all day because he's inable physically to climb the last little stretch into his camp. She takes him home for the night and over to Bruce in the morning for a massage. Doc confides in Bruce saying how he never really felt homeless until now, with Pierre on the loose.

Now, Doc never really was in the best physical condition in the first place and a knock across the back could be like a whack on the kidneys; you could just be walking around a week later and drop dead! As I write this, an autopsy declares that Doc died of natural causes: a heart attack. We don't know what really happened, but what we do know is that we lost a legend. We may or may not have been able to prevent it from happening, but some good must come from this all – it's Doc's message. 

"You can spend your whole life trying to figure out how to make a million or you can spend your time doing what you love and what you're good at!"

  – Doc quoted in South African Surfer magazine, 1970's

Ant in his prime. Photo courtesy of Ian Barron

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