All images courtesy of Keven Harman
Australian and World Masters Surf Ski Champion, Keven Harman’s first surf ski was made by his great uncle, Tom Humphreys in 1946.
Ski paddling started in the 1920’s with home-made timber craft to ride the waves and have fun. They made it possible for riders to catch waves further out and became popular around 1947. The average ski was 12’ long and 33” wide – not so much built for speed but to be a better platform for tricks such as standing upright; or on your head with a girl holding your feet – a certain female attractor.
Keven says they were made with 4 sheets of plywood, making them cost effective. With only an electric drill (often borrowed) and an inspection light on the end of a long lead running from the house (often lying on wet grass), 9 skis were built on cold nights in garages around Swansea in 1947, aided by a few long neck bottles of home brew. Fun paddling was soon surpassed by serious competition; training; and lightweight, professionally made skis, such as the one Keven’s great uncle made for him.
Always passionate about sport. He was an outstanding athlete as a young man, holding several records and representing many sporting codes at District, State, and Australian levels. As a teenager in the late 40’s his running ability was noticed, and with some coaching, he blitzed the NSW Country Championships in 3 events; setting a 100m record. Invited to Sydney, another 400m record fell in the presence of Olympian, Lloyd La Beach, who commented that he was the most promising runner he had seen in Australia.
But Sydney was too far away, so Keven turned to rugby league and wore the blue and gold of Lakes United as a winger. At a Lakes reunion, Keven was named in a dream team created from every player who had competed for Lakes.
For Keven, footy was fine in winter, but the beaches called in summer. A youthful Keven Harman joined Caves Beach Surf Life Saving Club, beginning a 70 year association and earning him a life membership. Successes in paddling led to selection for the Australian Titles in Western Australia in 1952. The marathon flight, coupled with the damaged ski, meant that despite a valiant effort, Keven came fifth.
On returning home, it was time for marriage and buying a home. Lured by living opposite the Bowling Club, friendly conversation and the odd beer, Keven joined the bowling fraternity as a young man in his 20’s, unheard of in those times. He became club champion in his first year. Many titles followed, including district and Australian representation.
With money a scarce commodity, it was more beneficial to give up his boiler maker job at John Darling Colliery in Belmont, and put sporting loves on hold, to take on interstate truck driving. Then a job closer to home with Rutile & Zircon mines operating out of a tin shed in Caves Beach, enabled Keven to spend more time with his growing family. As production supervisor his responsibilities stretched from the South Coast to the Queensland border.
This was a time to renew his love for the water. After a brief interlude with windsurfing, in the mid-sixties Keven joined the surfboard brigade; being selected to compete at State level; and was the voice behind 2KO’s beach report with Ronny White. Several generations of young surfers learned to love and respect the ocean thanks to the ‘Blacksmiths’ Guru’s, knowledge and patience.
Time to move on to sailing – successfully piloting an “A” class catamaran, the largest solo craft and using his surfboard building skills to create more craft including an 18’ timber cat in 3 months. 1986 saw ”Joan Two” take Keven to Australian Champion status.
Following his true passion, Keven rejoined Caves Beach Surf Life Saving Club in 1994. Despite never having built surf boats, this budding Noah answered the club’s call for help, gathering a band of novice volunteers to build 2 boats – the “Gordon Richardson” and the “Tommy York”.
Rekindling a love for surf ski competition at 64, Keven dug the paddle deep to be Australian Champion numerous times, then reaching the pinnacle of that sport – World Masters Champion in 2000 at Manly; Sports Medal of Australia 2000, aged 70; World Champion, Masters Games, 2002 and Lake Macquarie. Master Sports Person, 2002.
This boilermaker come fibreglasser volunteered to maintain the club’s boats, skis and boards, so a training boat was named “Keven Harman” in his honour.
Sadly, a leg amputation in 2008, ended Keven’s competitive life. Even then Keven turned adversity into proaction, supporting other amputees and presiding over their Association.
In 2018 twenty-five deserving Novocastrians carried the Queen’s baton in a relay through Newcastle before the start of the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games. What better way to say thank you to the modest champion who has brought honour to many sporting arena and to close the curtain on a passionate sporting career.
Many thanks to Keven for sharing his life story and experiences.
To listen to Keven’s story in his own voice please click here.