Elkerton, Gary


Blunt, brawny, hot-headed Australian power surfer from Queensland's Sunshine Coast; world title runner-up in 1987, 1990, and 1993; Triple Crown winner in 1987 and 1989; self-described as a "half-mad ball of pure aggresion."

Elkerton was born in 1964, and spent much of his childhood at sea on his father's Queensland-based shrimp trawler, gaining a measure of formal education through correspondence courses. He began surfing at age 13, after his family settled in the resort town of Mooloolaba, an hour's drive north of Brisbane.

The Australian surf press began raving about Elkerton after the stocky 17-year- old (5' 9", 180 pounds) won the Pro Junior competition in Sydney in 1982. But when surfwear company Quiksilver signed Elkerton and began an all-out marketing campaign for "Kong"—his new nickname—it was based less on contest performance and more on Elkerton's explosive free-surfing, as well as a growling and intimidating public image built in part on gross alcohol consumption, public nudity, and smashed rental cars. "If You Can't Rock and Roll, Don't Fuckin Come," read a tag line from one of Elkerton's early Quiksilver ads. Surfer described him as the "Lord of Mayhem," and asked if he'd really once done a handstand on an eighth-floor balcony rail to psych up for a competition. "Nah," Elkerton said. "It was the 15th floor."

By the time Elkerton moved into the pro ranks, in late 1984, he was one of the world's most exciting surfers, using a wide no-nonsense stance and pushing his board into one chunky turn after another. His hands worked independently of the rest of his body, sometimes chopping the air and other times moving in little circles—a trait he picked up from fellow Queenslander Michael Peterson. Elkerton's style often looked clumsy in small waves, but in surf ranging from six to 20 feet, he was a wonder—and he knew it. "I'm gifted with something," he once said. "When I get the speed, no one can touch me."

Elkerton married a French woman in 1986, moved to the French resort town of Lacanau, and issued a press release disavowing the name of Kong, saying that he was now, at age 24, remodeling himself as a dedicated professional sportsman. He lost the world title by the narrowest of margins in the final event of the 1987 season to fellow Aussie Damien Hardman, and his two subsequent runner-up finishes (to Tom Curren and Derek Ho) were nearly as close.

While Elkerton carried on for the most part as a responsible and sober-minded pro, he remained outspoken (calling American surfers "a bunch of softcocks" for not charging big waves with enough vigor), and by the mid-'90s he was in a near-constant state of anger about the pro tour and what he saw as a conspiracy to keep him from the championship. "In my mind I've won the world title; last year was my world title," he told Surfing in early 1994. "They put a knife in my chest and opened it up," he said a few months later, after a close loss in France. "I should quit the whole thing right now; they've broken my balls." Elkerton went on to compete full-time for two more seasons, but in 1998 allowed that he'd overplayed his competitive career. "I went on five years too long," he told Deep magazine.

Elkerton starred in Kong's Island, a 16-minute surf movie short made in 1983, and The Performers, released the following year, but his big-wave animal essence is best viewed in Filthy Habits (1988), showing Elkerton riding to victory at Sunset in the 1987 Billabong Pro. Elkerton won the Quiksilver Silver Edition World Masters Championship, for surfers over 35 in 2000, 2001, and 2003. He was voted "Best at Sunset Beach" by his peers in a 1992 Australia's Surfing Life poll; in 2009 he was inducted into the Australian Surfing Hall of Fame.

In a not-especially-shocking revelation from his 2012 memoir Kong: the Life and Times of a Surfing Legend, Elkerton said that he was hospitalized in 1985 after a drug overdose.