A 21-year-old Gold Coast big wave champion Paul Neilsen in Hawaii, 1972. Picture: Neilsen family collection.
A 21-year-old Gold Coast big wave champion Paul Neilsen in Hawaii, 1972. Picture: Neilsen family collection.

FAMILY AFFAIR: Neilsen set sights on big waves

BORN in Southport Hospital in 1951, Paul Neilsen is one of Queensland's greatest surfing champions in the caliber of Peter Drouyn, Michael Peterson, Peter Townend, Rabbit Bartholomew, Joel Parkinson and Mick Fanning.

Paul's dad affectionately known as 'Ganger' bought him his first board, a 9'6 solid balsa board in 1963 for 18 pounds.

His first win was the Queensland State Cadet title in 1965 on a Lawrie Hohensee Malibu.

He started as apprentice carpenter for three years after leaving Miami High school and worked with his dad on many GC houses and high rises in 1966.

In 1969, he won the Queensland State Junior title at Snapper.

 

A 21-year-old Gold Coast big wave champion Paul Neilsen in Hawaii, 1972. Picture: Neilsen family collection.
A 21-year-old Gold Coast big wave champion Paul Neilsen in Hawaii, 1972. Picture: Neilsen family collection.

Together with older brother Rick, they created the iconic Brothers Neilsen Surf Brand after Paul won the Australian Open mens title from Rick in 1971 at Bells Beach, Victoria.

Their dad lent them some money to begin building surfboards where Rick shaped, Paul glassed, and Ganga and mum Betty did the books plus Betty made some boardshorts.

From those humble beginnings, the family business bloomed into a retail empire that became a huge household name.

Their first sale was a block of wax sold for 25 cents in the first shop at the Centre Arcade, Surfers Paradise.

The family-managed business included Paul's wife Karen, Ricky's wife Lani, older brother Lennie and Kim Lomas covering more than 20 retail shops from 1971 until 2008.

Paul dominated the 1972 North Shore Big Wave Winter season taking out the prestigious Smirnoff Pro at Haleiwa and making the finals of the Duke Kahanamoku Classic and the Hang Ten Invitational both held at Sunset Beach.

 

Taking the drop at Sunset beach Picture: Tracks Mag.
Taking the drop at Sunset beach Picture: Tracks Mag.

He excelled in the big waves of Hawaii with fearless air drop take-offs at Sunset, Haleiwa, and Pipeline that paved the way for future Aussie chargers on the North Shore of Oahu.

His uncanny tube riding ability and carving cutbacks were groomed on the Gold Coast point breaks of Burleigh and Kirra.

Paul retired from the tour in 1978, finishing third in the Subbies Surf Classic at Burleigh and finished at The World Cup in Hawaii that year.

In 1982, Paul was appointed Australia's first National Coach and would steer Australia to World Teams victories throughout the 1980s and 1990s.

One of his favourite coaching tips was, 'position is possession' and was used to great winning effect by the Aussies.

Paul and Karen's three sons Chris, Danny, and Matt have followed in their own successful careers. Such is the impact of the Neilsen name, a beachfront park opposite Britannia Ave at Broadbeach where Rick and Paul learnt to surf has been named after the family.

In 2004 Paul Neilsen was inducted into the Surfing Australia Hall of Fame for his surfing achievements and contributions to the sport.

Nowadays Paul enjoys pushing his grandsons onto waves and still manages to catch a morning surf each day at Burleigh, Flatrock, Kirra or D'bah.