Richie “Vas” Vaculik is kind of “family removed.” I have met him once, but have travelled to Darwin and occasionally hang out with his mum who I lovingly call “Granny,” she is one of the loveliest people I know who happens to be one of my mum’s closest friends. Richie and his wife got married on my family property on the South Coast of NSW and you will see my parent’s beautiful “Dragon’s Lair” in the photo section of the book. It was with excitement and trepidation when we were asked to review Richie’s BRA BOY: SURFER, FIGHTER, LARRIKIN by the lovely people at Allen and Unwin Book Publishers. I made the decision to remove myself from the reviewing and will now read it now that I have posted Kernel Deb’s independent review of the book.
You will find this one in bookstores this week and you can also obtain it HERE. Enjoy Deb’s review and have a great day………….JK.
BRA BOY: SURFER, FIGHTER, LARRIKIN is Richie “Vas” Vaculik’s memoir of growing up in Maroubra. The book traces his transition from surf grommet to big wave surfer, and then professional fighter in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). Along the way Vas becomes firmly enmeshed with the Maroubra Beach surfer group known as the Bra Boys. Pipe triumphs, wave misadventures, fights, the carpet laying mafia, road trips, nude antics, beheaded budgies and a crazed dugong with a human vendetta make BRA BOY an enjoyably entertaining yarn. It is a yarn best enjoyed with the surf in view and a beer or two.
Richie “Vas” Vaculik’s Czech father and English mother migrated to Australia in 1970’s. Vas describes his extended family with affection, recounting his early years in Little Bay ranging over the headland, constructing home-made flying foxes and getting geared up like an armadillo to collect golf balls. The annual “Griswold” family trips including the memorable visit to the Lupin Naturalist holiday park are especially amusing.
Taught to surf at Avalon by his surf-mad pommy Uncle Michael, Vas is hooked on surfing from a young age. Aged 10, he joins the Maroubra board riders to find some mates close to home. His love of surfing and his “have-a-go attitude” is a natural fit with the group. Subsequently hanging with the older boys including Koby Abberton, Vas’s “surfing [gets] real good real quick…. because if it didn’t you weren’t hanging with Koby.”
Vas is a short bloke at 5’ 6, the same height as his surf idol Tom Carroll who he meets at Eastgardens shopping centre one day. The irony of this highlight is not lost on him as he quips “I’ve looked up to short people all my life.” Other surfers of the era that play a role in Vas’s teenage years include Kelly Slater, Mark Matthews and the Abberton brothers Jai, Sunny and Dakota.
BRA BOY is full of surf locations as Vas and his mates face up and take on the ocean. Sydney surf locals will recognise and appreciate the references to Voodoo, The Pebble, Wedding Cake Island, Lurline, Spot X, Suck Rock, Shark Island, South Malabar, Honeycombs, Our’s (AKA Piker’s Hole or Cape Fear), and Mahon Pool lefts. Further afield surf fans will also recognise multiple other notable sites including Tombstones (WA), Shipstern (Tassie), Luna Park (Vic) and Teahupoo (Tahiti).
Egg wars, pub crawls and brawls were also part of the action. For Vas, “Maroubra was all about the brotherhood, surfing, getting in trouble and causing chaos.” There were “guys that surfed and guys there for fun and mayhem.” “You had to surf when it got big, and you had to step in if there was a fight. “
Surprisingly Vas does discuss some of the darker aspects of the Maroubra scene such as the 2003 murder of Tony Hines that involved the Abberton’s and the 2005 Cronulla Riots. These events are also covered in the documentary BRA BOYS: BLOOD IS THICKER THAN WATER (2007) narrated by actor Russel Crowe.
As Vas points out sometimes there was “shady shit going down …. guys didn’t end up in gaol for no reason.” Many a BRA BOY had a “Long Bay holiday.” Visiting Jai Abberton in gaol was especially sobering for Vas as he came to realise that when you are in gaol your “life outside just stops. Gaol takes you away from everything you love.” This realisation coupled with his own arrest in 2007 catalysed his move away from the shadier activities of the group, a subject dissected in a 2011 episode of AUSTRALIAN STORY titled “SCARED STRAIGHT” which aired on ABC TV.
TRANSITION TO PROFESSIONAL FIGHTER:
The latter part of BRA BOY describes Vas’s adoption of jujitsu and his transition from street fighter to professional flyweight fighter for UFC. This part of his life is also covered in the Garage Entertainment documentary FIGHTING FEAR (2011) and the Fox network TV series THE CREW (2013).
Vas’s love of adrenaline, honed by years of catching challenging waves, stands him in good stead in the stadium fights. Vas is generous with his praise of his often colourful opponents, contrasting them with the Groundhog Day tedium of the fighting camps. From Vas’s point of view solidarity, front, and swagger are defining components of being a BRA BOY. He loves “scrappy entertaining fights,” and likes “to get in there, throw punches and look for a finish any way it might come,” predilections that persist in his fighting career.
Vas, now a veteran on the fight scene, is co-host of Fox Sport’s weekly UFC FIGHT WEEK show along side Tara Rushton and Elvis Sinosic.
BRA BOY could have been written better but it is easy to read thanks to Vas’s light comedic tone. Vas perfectly captures the challenge, freedom and fun of surfing along with the “feeding frenzy” surf mentality when a new wave is discovered.
The chronology is disjointed but always remains understandable, because the digressions mirror those common in conversation. The nicknames given to various friends – Chunk, Gonad-man, Frog, Porns, Hair Bear and Chalky are affectionately explained, and Vas’s amusing turn of phrase is often hilariously apt.
The language in BRA BOY is a blast from the past. Gnarly, sluggoes, chunder, wogs, waxheads, grommet, pissbolt, gearsticking, bottlo, root and wasted all feature in the narrative along with many other Australian terms. For those not in the know an urban dictionary may be in order, but for me the language was a nostalgic goldmine.
Maroubra is now gentrifying. McKeon Street is no longer a seedy dive. The Seals, the Surf Club and the Maroubra Bay Hotel are still there, but with Marine Parade real estate booming, it is anyone’s guess for how long. The larrikinism and the rough youth culture is fading and many will miss it. Others will welcome it passing.
Vas is certainly no angel but there is no doubting he has had many memorable experiences. BRA BOY makes it clear that the Maroubra of Vas’s formative years was one where the code of friendship included unconditional support, respect and love. And in the surf it was a matter of “go hard or go home.” BRA BOY is an affectionate look at the ways in which Maroubra became Vas’s universe, and how being a BRA BOY shaped his life trajectory.
If you are familiar with Maroubra in this era, Vas’s account of mayhem, mischief and mateship is definitely worth a look.
Deborah is a lifelong lover of books, food, TV and film with a penchant for schlock horror, superheroes, science fiction, black comedy and Asian martial arts stars. She would prefer to skydive than couch surf and is a fan of zombie walks. She can be found plugged into podcasts on long walks with her dog.
** All images courtesy of various sources on Google or direct from the distributor/publisher – credit has been given to photographers where known – images will be removed on request.