Sunday, March 05, 2006

Baron Stander, R.I.P.

One of the greats of South African surfing passed on February 19, 2006.

Craig Sims spoke the following eulogy for Baron's memorial: 

The last time I faced a crowd like this was three and a half years ago. I was a speaker at baron’s benefit held at the ocean sports centre. And I’d like to start off by reading the opening paragraph of my speech then. This is what I said that night 3 years ago: “Welcome to baron’s benefit. It’s great to see so many people here, in what is a special occasion for the surfing tribe. We tend to let our heroes and legends just fade away, and little is done to acknowledge or recognise the contribution they make. We tend to remember and mourn the loss to the sport, only once they’ve gone, and we’re forced to reflect on the passing of a great legend. Here we have a living legend, a pioneer, a person who has played a role in the shaping of the sport and the industry, a leader whose passion, dedication and commitment brings us here tonite. We are here, not just because we want to honour and thank Baron for a lifetime’s contribution to surfing, but rather because we’re able to. And that’s good and it’s something we should do more often.” 

Baron had the time of his life that night. Flanked as always, by his wife Dawn, and his kids, and surrounded by the whose who of surfing, he was honoured as a living legend. That night the organisers also raised enough money to send him to Hawaii, and realise a lifelong dream. This was one occasion where the surfing tribe came together – without hesitation – to pay tribute to one of its most respected and revered members. It takes someone very special to make this happen. And clearly baron was very special.

Dawn, the Stander family, fellow surfers, ladies and gentlemen… It is an honour and a privilege to be standing here representing the surfing community once again - this time as we pay our last respects, and demonstrate our sympathy and support for the Stander family. This was a great surfer and I’ll never be able to do justice to the task I have been entrusted with today. Baron was one of the pioneer surfers in South Africa. Along with the likes of Jimmy Whittle, Jack Wilson, Shortie Bronkhorst, Max Wetteland, Harry Bold (and others), he was part of the original generation of surfers in Durban. Baron told me that in those early days when he first dragged his crocker ski down to Addington beach, that he was one of only 22 surfers in this town. He was a fantastic story teller and many of us clocked up plenty of hours listening at his bar, or one of the many functions held at the Time Warp Museum, listening to accounts of his travels along our coastline, especially the early days of Jeffrey’s Bay and st Francis.

He knew everyone, and painted graphic character sketches as he recounted the people and the great times he had. But his favorite story was how South Africa selected its first springbok surfer back in 1964 - when he, Max Wetteland and Harry Bold drew straws to become the one to travel to Australia for the world championships. Max drew the long straw and got the trip and so, we were told, began our long, proud international reputation as friendly people, but fierce competitors. I only discovered yesterday that this was in fact an urban legend. Dawn assures me that no straws were drawn. Max was rightfully chosen, and Baron used to tell this story just to piss him off! 

Baron was a featherweight boxer who in 1958 held the natal amateur featherweight tile and at that time fought an international Irish boxer who had never lost a fight in over 300 bouts. Spyker tells me he dropped him in the first round and although the fight was later stopped, the Irishman conceded he’d never been hit that hard before. Baron was a feisty guy and throughout his life, felt nothing to take on opponents much more powerful than himself. But as much as he relished a challenge, he dedicated his life to surfing. He opened Baron surf shop in the mid sixties and then later along with Maxie started Safari surfboards, and soon after joined his great friend Graham Hynes at Safari surf shop. Both the surfboards and the surf shop are thriving institutions in the surf industry. These were the pioneers of a billion rand industry that thrives today and Baron was right there in the thick of it.

Barry Wolins told me that as a lighty growing up in Durban his red baron tee shirt, bought at the surf shop in hospital road, was his favourite item of clothing. He used to wear it everywhere and drew that baron logo on everything, believing it was the coolest thing. He also said that this influenced his career path which today sees him at the helm of Quiksilver’s south African division. There are many others who took the path beaten by those early pioneers, Mike Larmont, Mike Tomson and Paul Naude, to name a few.

Baron was a diligent, hard working, but fun-loving administrator. He was a long-serving president of the KZN surfing association. He was also the manager of the KZN surfing team for 12 years in a row and along with coach Graham Hynes, they formed a formidable combination that resulted in the most powerful era in KZN surfing. In 1983 he was the manager of SA Team and again in 93 – of the SA junior team that travelled to Indonesia. He was a judge at the 1980 world surfing champs in France – the only South African at the event. In all portfolios he worked hard and kept it fun, but he was uncompromising on discipline, respect and good sportsmanship. 

There’s one of baron’s sayings that I think will remain with kzn surfing forever and that is (let’s see who can answer this!) “ winner’s never whine and …whiner’s never win!” he always taught us to accept defeat and victory graciously. When baron was in charge, you knew about it. At one SA champs Greg Swart, a naughty little 14 year old, discovered what that meant. at the shark infested Nahoon Reef, Border issued cut up pieces of broom sticks wrapped in an instruction on how to insert it into the sharks mouth when being attacked. Baron was holding what he thought was a scroll of rolled up paper – heat sheets or something – and as greg came screaming past him he swiped him over the head with this roll of paper which was actually a piece of broom stick and knocked the kid out! After that discipline was not a problem with baron.

You also didn’t want to disrespect the colours you’d earned. Baron used to have us march into opening functions dressed in our natal ties and blazers while the rest of the provinces sluiped in in tracksuits teeshirts and baggies in drips and drabs. Of course there was a time and a place for cutting loose and Baron wasn’t one to back down in that department, but only when the formalities were over and the mission accomplished.

For me he was there for every milestone in my surfing career, handing me my natal schools colours, my natal colours and my springbok colours. And he did the same for many people here and hundreds of surfers in this province. He handed Jordy Smith his first natal badge when he was 6 years old. Today he’s South Africa’s very own world junior champion. He was there to hand Shaun Tomson his first natal colours. He was always there. There for all of us; on the beach, at the functions, doing his bit for charities, as a councillor fighting for our cause, at his museum collecting and preserving our heritage and culture.

He was even in our homes. And in some ways the best testimony to his unwavering commitment and dedication to leading and serving the sport he loved, was his world-record-breaking surf report. 34 years of delivering surf reports on east coast radio every morning at 7:15. And I’ve got to say his April fools jokes were legendary! My personal favourite was when he sent KZN dashing off to town to watch two whales flapping along west street after a tidal wave had swept them inland. But there were others: if listeners headed for the beach right now they could witness a ship towing an ice berg off the coast of Durban. Then there was the incredible offer from safari who are for this day only, replacing second hand bodyboards and surfboards for a brand new ones. Poor old Hynsie rocked up at 8am to face a queue of eager moms sporting their sons dodgy old boards.

And it’s on this upbeat thought that i’d like to end. Baron Stander lived life to the full, he touched the lives of so many people and he leaves this world as a respected and revered elder of our tribe… but importantly, even though it was three years ago, he leaves us having been thanked celebrated and duly honoured by all those he served.


  1. pops you were and forever more will be the biggest ledgend on the face of the are missed like you cant believe

    love maxine

  2. I remember those surf reports vividly:

    I particulary enjoyed my favourite birthday present on April Fool's from old Baron - I'd laugh my head off everytime a ice-berg came floating past our shore! Or a visit from the Ozzies dropping off 7000 kangaroos for immigration!

    In the morning, we would be getting ready for work instead of surf: It would leave you weeping. But nothing could beat that Friday afternoon charge .... solid Amperage! Those hot, sunny weekend mornings...

    In winter, surfing off north pier with our Energade bottles charged with sherry to keep warm! Crazy bloody Rooinek! Anyway...

    Baron still lives within all of us - I think that's the ultimate goal any man would want to achieve out of his life. He was a legend, and we should all follow in his "surf-wake". Its thanks to men like him that we should all remember to stay FOREVER STOKED.


    Dave Enslin

  3. pops>>> my anchor is yours, miss you an love you forever wezo

  4. Baron will always be a legend.

    Keep Surfing
    John Padmore
    Natal Surfer (1984)


Mahalo for your comment!