Soulful but hard-charging Australian surfer and boardmaker from the Sydney suburb of Cronulla; world-ranked #14 in 1980, and regarded for years afterward as one of the sport's premier tuberiders, as well as a comprehensive master of the surfing life. "Nearly everything he does suggests an easy flow and serene focus," surf journalist Tim Baker wrote of Banks in 1996. "You just don't see him fumbling with his boardbag, or getting tangled in his legrope, or hollering out for wax or sunscreen."
Banks was born (1959) in Sydney, and began surfing at age 11, after his family moved to Cronulla. He turned pro in 1978, won that year's Pro Class Trials, and finished the season world-ranked #18. He spent the next four years on the pro circuit, finishing 18th in 1979, 14th in 1980, 16th in 1981, and 16th in 1982. His first and only world tour win came at the 1981 OM Bali Pro in Indonesia; later that year, while competing in the Pipeline Masters contest, Banks was hit by his board and needed 150 stitches to close the gash in his forehead. In late 1978, the straw-haired Banks somewhat improbably became a member of the hard-sell Bronzed Aussies promotional group, led by 1976 world champion Peter Townend and 1976 runner-up Ian Cairns; two years later he resigned, saying he was tired "of always being considered a Bronzed Aussie rather than Jim Banks."
From 1981 to 1988 Banks owned and operated his own Cronulla surfboard shop. He'd taught himself how to shape at age 12, and by his early 20s had a reputation for producing sleek, fast boards designed for tuberiding. He meanwhile made long forays to the South Pacific, Indonesia, and Western Australia in search of empty waves. By the mid-'90s, when Banks was in his mid-30s, he was a better tuberider than he'd been as a touring pro, able to casually disappear behind the curtain for seconds at a time.
Banks quit making surfboards in 1996, worried that his health was being affected by the toxicity of the board-building process. In the late '90s he helped develop a hemp-laminate surfboard, but was unable to turn the innovation into a business. In 1999 he began designing boards by computer, and shaping with the help of a computer-driven machine, and thus reentered commercial board manufacturing.
Banks appeared in several surf movies, including Bali High (1981), Wizards of the Water (1982), and Totally Committed (1984), and was the featured surfer in the 1992 surf video Can't Step Twice on the Same Piece of Water. He's also written more than two dozen articles for surf magazines, mostly on travel. By the early 2000s he was living in the New South Wales town of Byron Bay where, aside from building surfboards, he was conducting 10-day surf retreats involving yoga and meditation, as well as wave forecasting, board design, and surfing technique. In 2010, Banks ran six-month Indonesian surf charters on board the Bulan Purnama, a beautiful wooden sailing vessel; he chronicled the experience on his blog "The Indo Odyssey."