14 May, 2014 14 May, 2014

Who is Kevin Barry? – by Calvin Thompson

Check out another rad entry in our Write to Surf competition, which has some great prizes up for grabs (see below for details).


Who Is Kevin Barry?by Calvin Thompson

It was your average Durban morning. With the Easter weekend’s festivities now nothing more than a chocolate-induced hangover, everyone once again made their way to their various responsibilities – myself not included. It was 9:00am on a Tuesday morning and there was a light westerly blowing, so I did what any self-respecting surfer with a day-off on his hands would do, I grabbed my board and headed for the beach. My car was up to its usual tricks again. It must have looked like I had a spastic, trigger-happy brake foot to disturbed onlookers as I jerked along the road in my old faithful golf.


On arrival the waves were exactly as predicted, clean and small. It must have been the glassy clean, baggie-temperature, crowd-lacking conditions of the day that lured me in because unfortunately, it definitely wasn’t the size of the waves. I hugged the pier as I paddled out behind an enthusiastic couple of hardcore beginners, armed with submarine-size longboards and a very loud, energetic old coach who kept yelling for them to paddle into every scrap of a wave that came my way. I tried to fend the wave-guzzling creatures off as best I could, but I was out-gunned and out-numbered. The one dude got quite an uneventful long ride, which upon completion led to him thrusting both fists into the air claiming it as the best wave of his life. I managed to tactfully sneak my way onto a few fun lines of my own before heading back to the parking lot. After grabbing my keys from the trusty car guard I headed home, which is where this story begins.

Upon arriving at one of the intersections about a kilometre from home, an old down-and-out man approached my car asking me for some change. I told him I had nothing, but he insisted that even 20c would help. I gave him 40c and with a weathered grin he spotted my surfboard in the car before springing to life with stories of how he had once surfed: “Ja, I would drop in and do a bottom turn” (hand gestures included) “then carve up, down, do a couple hotdogs, cut back, smash the lip! Then do another massive bottom turn… Ja, I could surf. I was good! I’m not lying to you. But that was back in the day. I knew all the guys.”

I was intrigued, so I asked him whether he knew of or surfed with Shaun Tomson – one of my favourites from back in the day. His response was “Ja, I knew Shaun, not well though, but I played that lightie at a game of pool once down in Jeffreys Bay when he was only twelve years old and he took me for R50!” I found this hilarious and as the robot turned green I swung round with a hasty U-turn, parked my car in front of a group of bewildered homeless folk, then signalled for him to jump in so I could chat a bit more about his past as a surfer.

Wayne Shaw at North Beach circa 1979. – © Paul Naude.

The first thing he says to me is “I was a big time surfer, all the top guys knew me.” His name is Kevin Barry. Born in 1951, he’d spent half his adult life in a prison cell, had his last wave at Muizenberg in his early twenties whilst travelling the coast with his girlfriend, and is now 63 years-old, living day-to-day on the streets of Durban. All his family has passed away and his single goal is to make R30 a day so that he has a place to sleep at night and a plate of food to eat.

Born in Zambia, he moved to Durban with his mom who had recently married a wealthy Jewish man – Kevin’s step father at the time. Reluctant to talk about him, he moves on to telling me about how he got into surfing. “I was 11 years old at the time” remembered Kevin. “When we first got to Durban I was staying on Ridge Road… Ja, there by the larnies.” By age 12 he was up-and-riding every single morning before sunrise. He told me how he used to have to break the latch of his bedroom window and carefully sneak out every morning before sunrise to go have a dawnie surf during the week without his parents knowing. It was like something out of the opening scene of Lords of Dog Town, when Stacey Peralta sneaks out of his bedroom window before cruising down to Venice pier on his vintage blue bicycle, surfboard balancing on the handlebars.

His step father bought him his first board, which apparently had a cork in it! It sounded like a bit of a controversial set-up but hey, it was 1963 after all and at that time surfing wasn’t even really considered a legitimate sport in South Africa. Kevin goes on to tell me how he got quite good, knew and was known by all the top guys at the time. He starts to throw out names of the guys who used to dominate the lineup back in the late sixties and early seventies. “Ja, back then it was all the guys; Errol Hickman, Ant Van Der Heuwel, Mike Esposito, he was my favourite, Woody Sills, Duncan Cermichael… did I say Robert McWade?”

One of Kevin’s favourites, Mike Esposito, laying back at Wedge. – © Pat Flanagan

According to Kevin these were the top South Africans in his eyes at the time. I knew absolutely none of them. I ask him if he ever competed. He goes quiet, his thin lips tensed as he stares forward with his blood shot eyes. “I entered one or two competitions…” his seriousness sparks the thought that it was more than one or two… “but I never managed to get very far because there were champions coming in from overseas and I was good, but I wasn’t as good as them.” Instead Kevin went on to work in one of the local surf shops, Safari, followed by Wetteland – which was owned by Max Wetteland at the time.

As you can expect my next question was the inevitable – how did you land up on the streets? This question has always fascinated me, in a grim kind of way. I guess being brought up the way I have, the way most of us have – with the support network of our friends and family – I find it difficult to see how a guy like Kevin could end up living on the street at 63 years of age. As I get older the question as to how this sort of thing happens becomes more and more realistic, rather than my once naive “How could that happen to somebody?”

His next answer makes things all the more clearer. “I stole my dad’s gun…” he said, before stumbling along with what sounded like “not because I didn’t like him, but just because I wanted to have it for fun. So I stole a taxi and spent nine years in prison. Then after I was out for five months, I stole another taxi and spent another nine years in prison.” He goes on to show me all his gang tattoos, pulling up the long sleeves of his blue checked button-up. “I’m not a bad guy,” says Kevin. “To me it was all just fun, life was a joke to me back then.” I thanked him for his time and gave him R30, hopefully making the means of his daily goal a little more interesting, like he had done for me.

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Send your stories to calvin@zigzag.co.za. One submission will be selected every six weeks to appear in Zigzag magazine. The selected submission will also receive a hamper from Billabong. Zigzag retains the right to use any work submitted for the Zag Surf Journo competition on www.zigzag.co.za as outlined in the rules and terms of the competition. Zigzag reserves the right not to award a published winner in the magazine every six weeks, depending on the quality of entries. Zigzag is not obligated to run any and all entries submitted, either online or in print. Zigzag retains the right to edit all work submitted for brevity and / or clarity.

For the next three issues the Billabong prize hamper includes: 1 x Billabong Wetsuit; 1 x Billabong Boardies; 1 x Billabong Cap; 1 x Von Zipper Sunnies; 1 x Set of Kinetic Racing (KR) fins. After which the hamper will get a shake-up with new product of equal value for the following three issues.


1 Comment

  1. Patflan
    14 May, 2014 at 9:50 am · Reply

    Nice one Calvin 2.

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