Noble Surfer with a Heart of Gold by Leigh Robshaw

HE’S A RECOGNISABLE CHARACTER around the hinterland, the tanned lawnmower man who wears knee-high socks and a faded blue singlet. He’s been mowing our lawns for 25 years, but most people are unaware that Geoff Podger leads a double life.

Geoff is a lifelong surfer who owns his own surfboard company, Free Fluid, and he sponsors local kids by giving them top quality Australian- made boards worth $600 to $1400. He also sponsors a Sydney surfer now living on the coast, David Wilkinson, who receives a new board each year.

“I’ve probably given 30 kids their first board,” says Geoff. “If they ever talk to me and say they want to start surfing, I’ve usually got something in the shed that’s just sitting there doing nothing. Most people remember their first surfboard, like their first car.”

Geoff gets a kick out of knowing his boards are being ridden by a new generation of surfers, but there’s another reason for his philanthropy.

“Maybe some kids weren’t born as lucky as what I was,” he says. “I had a really generous father who looked after me, especially with surfboards, and it’s something that carries on. Not everybody has $600 to throw towards a board for their kid, especially in these times. A lot of them are single parent kids. If the kid needs a board and is keen, I throw him a board.”

Year 9 Maleny High student, Tully McLaughlin- McLeish, 14, started surfing lessons through the River School when he was in Year 7, and now surfs regularly.

“Geoff found out about us doing surfing and he called and asked if I wanted a board,” says Tully. “I probably wouldn’t have kept surfing if it wasn’t for Geoff. It’s a great rush when you go down a wave and you turn for the first time, or you wipe out for the first time.”

While Geoff isn’t a licensed surfing instructor, he’ll give his time freely to help a new surfer get on their feet.

“I’ve taken some out and shown them a few things,” says Geoff. “I show them basic things about paddling out, how to cuff your hands, that sort of stuff.”

Year 10 Maleny High student, Josh Campbell, 14 began surfing in August last year, when Geoff gave him a board.

“Geoff took me, Bradley and Tully one time when we first started,” says Josh. “He got a long board for us. We were surfing little waves and then we just went by ourselves and did it. He was really good, he just explained it really well and every time I didn’t get it, he told me what I did wrong, and next time I did it.

“I like that surfing is a sport where no one tells you how to do it, you just do it however you want. It’s fun, you’re at the beach and it’s awesome, and you learn a lot of things, like how the sea works and how you have to know what waves to catch without falling off.”

The parents of Geoff’s protégés also speak highly of him.

“He has a really big heart,” says Jenny Bernasconi Donoghoe, mother of Maleny High student Ruby Donoghoe who has also received a board from Geoff. “The way he mentors those kids, it’s just beautiful.”

The youngest recipient of a Free Fluid board is six-year-old Maleny boy Jasper McLeish, who was keen to hit the waves on his bright red board within days of receiving it. Geoff has already promised to take Jasper out for a surf to get him started.

Originally from Sydney, Geoff began surfing in 1958 at the age of seven, and has been a mad surfer and collector of surfing paraphernalia ever since. He has 400 surfing films dating back to the 1960s, and a collection of around 100 vintage surfboards. Some are on show at surf shops on the coast, some at his Caloundra beach shack, and the rest stored at his Reeseville home.

Geoff registered Free Fluid in 2005, and decided to make retro-style boards with twin and single fins and Malibus, which are manufactured at Black Widow Surfboards in Warana.

“In the 60s and 70s you were judged by what type of board you rode,” says Geoff. I rode for Brian Jackson of Cronulla. In those days you had some pride in what you had under your arm. I’m disappointed in the quality of boards these days, and I’m of the opinion that 90 percent of people are on the wrong equipment. Not everyone has the ability of Kelly Slater, and they tend to ride those types of boards.

“Everybody has a different opinion on surfboards, but my advice would be to just go out and enjoy yourself. The main thingis to ride the wave and not the board.”

Geoff mows more lawns than he catches waves these days, but he’s never bored and seems content with his lot.

“Surfing has taught me to be patient, because you’re always waiting for the perfect wave or the perfect day. ”

For more information on Free Fluid Surfboards, call Geoff on (07) 5494 3154.

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