From his coastal home in southeast Victoria, Glyndon Ringrose has maintained a relatively low profile since retiring from professional surfing. Today, Ringrose devotes time to his family and shaping worthy sea crafts for which he is well-known. Mark Robinson gives us a glimpse into his fascinating upbringing, religion and the highs and lows of his surfing career.
Words by Mark Robinson // Photography by Eli Curry & Mark Robinson // Design by Gary Parker
I’m more than a little bit behind schedule—courtesy of my trusty GPS—when I cross the short bridge which separates Phillip Island from Victoria’s mainland. It’s a faultless autumn day and as the sun glistens and winks on the ocean bellow, my mind begins to unwind and wander. Questions mill around without answers. Who is this guy I’ve read and heard about? What goes on underneath that shock of blonde hair? Is this going to be the interview I anticipate? Where the hell is Cowes?
A quick chat on the phone the week previous and I am set to meet with renowned Victorian surfer and shaper, Glyndyn Ringrose. A quick Google search reinforces what I had previously been told, the man they call ‘Ringa’ has lived one intriguing life.
I briskly stroll through the doorway of Island Surfboards—a family owned and run surf shop since 1969—and I’m soon guided through the store and out to the shaping sheds. I find Glyndyn where I had expected, he has his hat pulled down and his dust mask is working overtime as the finishing touches are being put on a replica fish for a local surfer. He mumbles through his mask “I’ll just be a minute”, flashes me a smile, then fires up the air hose and dusts himself off before we make our way to the tea room for a chat.
“All the locals had canoes, we were in a lagoon and when the wind blew really hard you would get a fair bit of wind chop created. You would catch the wind chop, shoot down it and then paddle again and catch the next lump.”
If Glyndyn had his own Wikipedia page it would read something like this. Glyndyn Ringrose is a former ASP World Championship Tour (WCT) surfer, esteemed shaper, husband, father and Christian. He was voted number three in Surfing Victoria’s Top Ten Surfers of the modern 50 year era and was named ‘Best Newcomer’ in his maiden year on the WCT. I hit the record button on my dictaphone and Glyndyn proceeds to detail his unique story of a life devoted to surfing, family and faith.
Born in Vanuatu to New Zealander missionaries, Glyndyn spent his formative years island hopping from Vanuatu to Fiji and then on to the Solomon Islands. His father—originally from a dairy farming background—established and managed farms, a coconut plantation and sawmill during this period. These infrastructures provided income and support to impoverished communities. Immersed in culture on some of the world’s most stunning islands, it was in the Solomon Islands that Glyndyn has his first wave riding encounter.
“I had my first initial experience of catching waves in dugout canoes catching wind chop,” he explains.
“All the locals had canoes, we were in a lagoon and when the wind blew really hard, you would get a fair bit of wind chop created. You would catch the wind chop, shoot down it and then paddle again and catch the next lump.”
“I saw a picture of this big wave…I was like, WOW, that looks interesting.”
While the surf movement continued to expand back in Australia, Glyndyn and his bother, Tony, were oblivious to the commotion. Surfing remained a mystery that wouldn’t be explained until he began life down under.
“I had seen pictures of surfing when we lived out in the islands,” he says.
“I saw a picture of this big wave—it might have been a picture of Pipe years ago—and some guy straightening out and the lip looks like it’s just about to take him out. I was like, wow, that looks interesting. When I came to Australia and I saw waves and surfboards I was just like, yeah, this is it. I was addicted and caught by surfing.”
Initially relocating to Port Macquarie with his family as an 11-year-old—on the advice of his older brother and with the blessing of his parents—Glyndyn packed his car and headed for the cold waters of Phillip Island. “My brother had already moved down to Victoria and had explored Bells, the peninsula and Phillip Island,” he says. “He was just raving about this Phillip Island place, man there’s sick waves all around it and there’s always somewhere to surf.” A piece of NSW plastic gave him the freedom to hit the road and explore the wave rich island. The 17-year-old soon began to develop as a surfer.
Progressing rapidly from local boardrider competitions through to state rounds, Australian titles and on to the ACC (Australian Championship Circuit), Glyndyn was soon boarding planes and pursuing a career as a professional surfer on the WQS (World Qualifying Series). This rapid rise doesn’t surprise me. He is an unquestionably nice bloke, but I sense that behind those blue eyes a steely self determination is housed. His qualifying campaign was no cinch, but it wasn’t the struggle that many surfers experience slogging it out year after year to qualify for the top-tier competition. Glyndyn dropped from a seeding of 150th to 16th in just three years. He qualified for the following year’s WCT in 1998 with Taylor Knox the casualty of his rise into the top competition. The boy who grew up knowing little about surfing but riding dugout canoes for the shear pleasure—as only children can—was now a professional surfer on ‘The Tour’. Publicity followed as Glyndyn burst into the picture, defeating Hawaiian Word Champion, Sunny Garcia, in the first heat of his first event at the Gold Coast. It was an outstanding maiden year, breaking out from obscurity and being heralded as one of the most promising youngsters on the tour. “The first year I got on the WCT I was just so confident, everything just flowed super smoothly,” Glyndyn recalls. “I was confident with who I was, where I was travelling and everything was on the up.”
His second year on tour wasn’t successful. Results didn’t flow and as a consequence, his confidence plummeted. Riddled with the flu, Glyndyn’s slide began in the last WCT event of 1999 at Pipeline. “I paddled out in my first heat and I just got smashed, absolutely smashed,” he explains.
“I was ranked about 20th all year and that heat dropped me down really quickly. I was right on the cusp of dropping out or requalifying but I requalified. That sort of led onto the following year. In my heats I started coming up against guys like Rob Machado—who was on fire at the time—or Kalani Robb, and I just had a lot of heats that were really close but I never quite got the nod.”
He was unable to requalify for the WCT in 2001 and that year was to be his last as a full-time professional surfer on the tour. “My confidence slowly slumped and things started to drift,” he recalls.
“It’s amazing when you compete how confidence can make it or not. When you watch (surfing), between the winners and the losers there’s not much in it, it’s so close, but it’s the guy that just has that tiny bit more confidence and can portray that confidence.”
It’s during this period in the chat that we get on to the topic of religion. I’m musing over whether to ask Glyndyn about his religious beliefs but the conversion naturally takes that path. He has had faith his entire life and I’m interested to find out how Christianity and the ‘Hollywood’ tour interrelated. He says the tour had a strong party element during that period but he found it easy to control himself when others didn’t, or couldn’t. “It was still very party orientated but (Kelly) Slater was just coming back in and it was getting a little bit cleaner, a bit more professional,” he tells me. “On tour anywhere, there’s always the party. I didn’t get caught in that party scene. I associated with all the guys and hung out with them, but I didn’t have that urge to go out and get smashed after an event.” Married to his wife, Kate, early on in his career and holding a strong religious moral compass, Glyndyn was removed from the distractions that have brought down many a promising surf career. “I got married early. I got married at 21, so I didn’t have an urge to go out and party like everyone else,” he says. “I had also committed my life as a Christian to try and better myself as a person. I had gone a bit astray (earlier on). Obviously mum and dad were missionaries and I had been brought up in a full Christian lifestyle, but I had done my own thing for a little bit when I was younger, gone a bit astray, partied and all the rest of it.”
As my dictaphone ticks over the one hour mark back in the Island Surfboards’ tearoom, Glyndyn begins to fidget and I can see he is keen to get back into the shaping bay where I found him. For him, shaping surfboards has been a constant throughout his life. It began pre-professional career, continued during his career and he now logs about 30 hours in the bay each week creating custom boards. I ask him how long he has been making boards for Island, with a laugh comes, “Well, I began when I was 20 and I’m 40 now.” Glyndyn leads a busy life but he says “variety” keeps him fresh. He is a father of two boys, a shaper, a builder and renovator, a coach and a mentor to many of the island’s young surfers. Ability and faith took Glyndyn ‘Ringa’ Ringrose from surfing dugout canoes to matching it with the world’s best surfers on the biggest stage; the two have not deserted him.