Creative and eccentric Australian pro surfer from Sydney's Bondi Beach; runner-up to the world championship in 1978, 1979, 1981, and 1982. Horan was born (1960) in Sydney, the son of a former national speed-skating champion, and grew up in the beachside suburb of Bronte. He began surfing at 10, and three years later was the juniors division state champion and one of the country's top skateboarders.
In 1977, the 16-year-old Horan turned pro, placed seventh in his first world tour event, and finished the year ranked 29th. The following season he won the Waimea 5000 in Brazil, and astounded the surf world by finishing runner-up in the final standings to fellow Australian Wayne Bartholomew.
Horan was by then a full-blown teenage surfing sensation. He rode in a low, open-kneed squat, weight distributed evenly over a pair of enormous thighs (his surf trunks had to be custom-tailored to fit his legs) in what was sometimes called the "horse stance." Instantly recognizable by his white-blond hair and flamboyantly colored boards and wetsuits, Horan maneuvered almost exclusively in and around the wave pocket, turning constantly and often folding himself into a muscle-flexed tube stance. He's often credited as the inventor of the floater maneuver, where the surfer rides laterally across the the whitewater, and was an early proponent of the aerial.
Photogenic and quotable ("I'm not into doing the same thing that's always been done," he told Tracks magazine, "I'm into evolution"), the young Horan was a surf media darling, turning up often on magazine covers and in surf movies. World tour peers were less enamored, often referring to him as the Bondi Brat or Cheyne the Pain. Horan became a member of the high-profile Bronzed Aussies surf team in 1977, then quit acrimoniously the following year, saying he "wanted to make it as an individual."
Horan again finished runner-up to the world title in 1979, this time to eventual four-time world champion and avowed Horan nemesis Mark Richards. In 1980 he dropped to fifth, then returned to finish second to Richards in 1981. Surf pundits had long been saying it was simply a matter of time before Horan won the championship, and in 1982 he shot to an early ratings lead by winning the first two events of the season. But Richards fought back and once again beat Horan for the title.
By that time Horan was being both celebrated and dismissed as a surf world crank. He rode experimental and frequently bizarre surfboards, including the wide-backed Lazer Zap (outfitted with a split-tipped "winged keel" fin) and a cigar-shaped double-ender. He rode huge waves at Waimea Bay on a 5'8" single-fin. Horan also became a macrobiotic vegetarian, a devotee of yoga, astrology, and the I-Ching, and lived in an all-male commune. He was by far the most political surfer of his generation, advocating for solar energy and for the release of jailed South African leader Nelson Mandela. More conspicuously, he was a dedicated pot smoker and habitual user of nonsynthetic psychedelics ("mind food" as he called it), and went on record as supporting drug legalization.
Horan's world tour ranking slipped over the next five years, from third in 1983 to 24th in 1987. The 29-year-old then came back to win the season-ending 1989 Billabong Pro in Hawaii, earning $50,000—the sport's richest cash prize up to that point. His year-end rating went back to 14th, and he remained on the world tour for another four mostly undistinguished seasons. He retired at the end of 1993 with 12 world tour career victories, including a popular win in the 1982 Op Pro in Huntington Beach.
In the mid-'90s Horan reinvented himself as a big-wave surfer. He was a regular invitee to the Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau contest at Waimea Bay, and finished fifth in the 2002 Tow-In World Cup, held in 35-foot- plus surf at Jaws in Maui. In 2003 he finished secondin the "biggest wave" category at the Billabong XXL Awards for a 60-footer he rode at Jaws.
Horan won the 1983 Surfer Magazine Readers Poll Award. He appeared in more than 50 surf movies and videos, including Free Ride: Take 2 (1978), We Got Surf (1981), Follow the Sun (1983), Waterborn (1987), Surfers: The Movie (1990), and Biggest Wednesday (1998). Scream in Blue, a compelling and unvarnished documentary on Horan's rocky 1985 world tour campaign, was released in 1986.
In the finals of the 1999 Quiksilver Masters World Championships, a pro event held for surfers 36 and older, Horan defeated Tom Carroll to take the title. In 2007, Horan was elected to the Australian Surfing Hall of Fame.
Since 1999, he has run the Cheyne Horan School of Surf in Queensland, Australia.