About Ian Cairns

Ian Cairns willed pro surfing to new heights as the groundbreaking founder of the Association of Surfing Professionals in 1983. The head-strong power monger from Western Australia had already earned the respect of the world’s best by finishing No. 2 in the world in 1976, and being a fearless beast in Hawaii, where he dominated throughout the decade with wins at Sunset, Haleiwa and Waimea Bay. "He's a strong-minded son of a bitch," fellow Australian and 1978 world champion Wayne Bartholomew once said of Cairns, "a brilliant politician, and an absolute monster in big surf." Cairns was born (1952) in Kew, Victoria, the son of a mechanical engineer. He was raised in Melbourne and Sydney, and began surfing at age 12, a few months before moving with his family to Perth, where he soon earned a reputation for charging fearlessly into the powerful reef waves around Margaret River. Cairns won six Western Australia state titles, three in the juniors division (1967–69), three in men's (1970–72); in 1970 and 1972 he competed in the World Surfing Championships. He was cofounder of the Australian Professional Surfing Association (APSA) in 1975, which consolidated the nascent Australian pro events into a domestic circuit; the following year he won the APSA tour and finished runner-up to fellow Aussie Peter Townend in the International Professional Surfers (IPS) circuit—the newly formed world tour created by Hawaiians Fred Hemmings and Randy Rarick, with input from Cairns and Townend. Cairns was regarded, along with Hawaii's Barry Kanaiaupuni, as the era's premier power surfer. Riding from the tail of his board in a plain upright stance, the rangy and well-muscled Australian regularfooter (6' 2", 190 pounds) carved trenchlike turns at favorite breaks such as Sunset Beach and Haleiwa in Hawaii. He gained a reputation as an articulate and passionate supporter of professional surfing, contributing as much as anybody to the form's original structure, while sometimes alienating himself to rank-and-file surfers with quotes like "Competition is the essence of surfing." Cairns was also considered a turncoat by flag-waving Australians following his move to Huntington Beach, California, in 1979. Along with Peter Townend, who also moved to Huntington, Cairns further aligned himself with American surfing by signing on as the head coach for the National Scholastic Surfing Association, and helping the group's top surfers to victory in both the 1980 and 1984 World Amateur Surfing Championships. After launching the very successful Op Pro in 1982, Cairns led a successful takeover of Pro Surfing the following year with Op’s help by forming the Association of Surfing Professionals. He served as executive director until 1986. He fled back to Western Australian distraught after the Op Pro riot that summer. Cairns returned to Southern California in 1991 and again worked as a contest organizer, first as executive director of the Professional Surfing Association of America and of ASP North America, then as founder of the U.S. Open of Surfing in Huntington, and owner of U.S. Surfing. He also branched out into surf media (as executive producer of Surf the Planet, a 26-part Fox TV cable series), and as founding shareholder in Broadband Interactive Group (BIG) and sports promotions (as founder of Beach Games). Cairns became president of BIG in 2002, overseeing the Gotcha surfwear label, as well as the teen-oriented Bluetorch media company. Cairns was inducted into the Western Australian Sporting Hall of Fame in 1985, the Australian Surfing Hall of Fame in 1993, and the Huntington Beach Walk of Fame in 2010. He appeared in more than two dozen surf movies, including Splashdown (1969), Fluid Drive (1974), Free Ride(1977), Wizards of the Water (1982), and Bustin' Down the Door (2008); he also worked as a stunt surfer for Gary Busey in Warner Brothers' 1978 surf epic Big Wednesday. Today he lives in Laguna Beach with his second wife Alisa Schwarzstein, a former NSSA star and world amateur champion in 1980. Cairns has four children. - Special thanks to Encyclopedia of Surfing

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Ian Cairns


Ian Cairns

  • Stance
  • First season
    1976 Men's CT
World Surf League
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