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Fitzgerald, Terry


Frizzy-haired Australian surfer and entrepreneur from Narrabeen, Sydney, New South Wales; one of the sport's premier stylists; winner of the 1975 Australian National Titles and founder of Hot Buttered Surfboards. Fitzgerald was born (1950) in Sydney, the son of a Royal Australian Navy diver, and raised in the suburbs of Helensburgh, Maroubra, and Collaroy. At age 10 he contracted osteomyelitis, a degenerative bone disease, and nearly had his left leg amputated below the knee; a series of bone grafts saved the limb. 

Fitzgerald began surfing in 1964 at 14; six years later, at the 1970 World Surfing Championships, held in Victoria, Australia, the flamboyant and well-muscled Fitzgerald made the semifinals, and was the buzz surfer of the event. "Electroshock on a surfboard," surf journalist Drew Kampion wrote. "He seemed to defy or ignore all previous surfing styles, traditions and mannerisms, and took the still-new short surfboard to its limit."

The 5' 9", 165-pound Fitzgerald rode in a bowlegged stance, arms extended symmetrically from the shoulders and hands cupped; he initiated turns through his hips and pelvis, with shoulders, knees, and head following in perfect synchronization. He was nicknamed the Sultan of Speed, and at any given moment his board seemed to be a divining rod in search of the fastest section of the wave. Whether he was in fact going faster than the rest of the world's best surfers is debatable. But the streamlined poses he went through suggested speed, and few surfers have ever drawn the viewer's eye the way Fitzgerald did—particularly at expansive breaks like Jeffreys Bay and Sunset Beach.

Fitzgerald visited Hawaii for the first time in 1971, and was an instant surf media sensation. Master board shaper Dick Brewer invited him to his home in Kauai, and gave the cocksure Australian informal shaping lessons; at the end of the year Fitzgerald opened his own surfboard factory/retail store in the Sydney town of Brookvale, lifting the Hot Buttered Surfboards name from the title of Isaac Hayes's 1969 album Hot Buttered Soul. Fitzgerald specialized in narrow, racy, semi-experimental surfboards that were often airbrushed nose to tail in bright swirling colors. He served as the company's model and pitchman; for a magazine ad shoot he once laid out an array of vibrant Hot Buttered boards across the lawn, then put himself in the center of the frame, seated in full lotus position, wearing aviator sunglasses and a blue work shirt unbuttoned to the waist, with a cigar wedged between the fingers of his right hand.

His business up and running, Fitzgerald turned his attention to national and international surf contests. In 1971 he'd been a finalist in the Australian Titles, the Duke Kahanamoku Classic, and the Bells Beach contest. In 1972 he won Bells; in 1974 he was a finalist in the Duke, Bells, and at the Coca-Cola Surfabout, held at his home break of Narrabeen; in 1975 he became the Australian national champ, placed third in the Coke, and won the $5,000 Lightning Bolt Pro contest at Velzyland, Hawaii. He finished #9 on the 1977 world tour final ratings; in 1980 he won the OM Bali Pro in Indonesia. Hot Buttered, meanwhile, adding a popular clothes and accessories line in the early '80s, grew steadily through the years, and by 2001 had retail outlets in New Zealand, Brazil, Bali, and Italy. From 1980 to the mid 2000s Hot Buttered cosponsored the Pro Junior contest, an international showcase for teenage surfers, with Fitzgerald serving as competition director.

One of the most photogenic surfers of his era, Fitzgerald appeared in more than two dozen surf movies, including Tracks (1970), Morning of the Earth (1972), Five Summer Stories (1972), A Winter's Tale (1974), Fantasea (1978), and Adventures in Paradise (1982). He was also cofounder in 1975 of the Australian Professional Surfing Association, which put together the first domestic pro tour.

Fitzgerald was inducted into the Australian Surfing Hall of Fame in 1995. Hot Buttered Soul, a one-hour documentary on Fitzgerald and his boardmaking company, was released in 2008.

Kye and Joel Fitzgerald, Terry's two oldest sons, are both well-known surfers in Australia.