by Mel Farthing
1982 Australian Titles, Phillip Island VIC – Open
1983 Australian Titles, Margaret River WA – Open
1984 World Titles, Cape Town South Africa – Open
1986 Australian Titles, Phillip Island VIC – Open
1986 World Titles, Diamond Head Hawaii – Open
1987 Australian Titles, Margaret River WA – Open
1988 Australian Titles, Curl Curl NSW – Open
1988 World Cup, Yamba Australia – Open
1989 Australian Titles, Gold Coast QLD – Open
1990 Australian Titles, Bells Beach VIC – Open
1993 World Titles, Nahoon Reef South Africa – Open
1994 Australian Titles, Gold Coast QLD – Open
1997 World Titles, Gold Coast Australia – Open
Contribution to Waveski Surfing
Co-authored “All About Waveski’s”
Co-produced videos “Beyond the Limits” & “Goat Mania” Co-produced “Surf Ski Quarterly” 1986 – 1993
Shaped “Christo” waveski’s from 1990 – 2003
John Christensen, known as “Christo”, started waveski surfing in 1979 whilst looking for other ways to train for the white water canoeing World Championships. His first waveski was a 6 ft 10 inch twin fin Raider and was as thick as a thick surfboard. Raider must have seen his potential because shortly after they sponsored John to compete in the first Australian titles at Dee Why where he came third. This first competition was the start of a legendary record 17 years in competition waveski surfing where he went on to win 8 Australian and 5 World Open Titles.
In 1980, Christo started working for Roger Shackleton in the Raider factory. Then in 1984, he stayed on in South Africa for 10 months after the World Titles and Roger tracked him down and gave him an offer he couldn’t refuse. John returned home to a semi-professional role in Waveski surfing for Raider where he earned money to surf, go to comps and trade shows – at 23 years of age he describes that time as “pretty amazing”. In those days there was an incredible amount of media coverage for the sport and John appeared on TV several times. Mike Petrie and Phil Avalon were media hounds and John believes they were key to the sport’s popularity in the 80′s, “You really need keen people to drive a sport”. He recalls the first Australian Titles at Dee Why having a first prize of $5000 which was a huge amount of money in 1980.
John’s greatest personal achievement was winning the 93 World Titles in South Africa against a strong local contigency including Nicki Carsten, his favourite rider. The lowest time in the sport for him was in 1989 when he tore a rib cartilage running up the World Titles in Cornwall and then due to some competitive hassling ended up 5th due to a drop in.
What John enjoyed most about the sport was at that time anyone riding a waveski at a high level was at the cutting edge; aerials were nonexistent in 83 and all of sudden in 85 they were a major manoeuvre in competitions; the equipment progressed incredibly from 80 to 88 and by the 90′s he was wearing a quad belt only. Not much annoyed John in the sport, however the politics that you see in any sport could be frustrating at times.
He believes his strengths in his surfing were mental determination in the important competitive heats and his style is based on top to bottom surfing from his board riding at a young age and using the whole wave like surfboard riders do. In terms of weaknesses, he didn’t like the small surf that much.
With such a legendary track record, why did he stop competing – After achieving everything John wanted to achieve competitively, at 36 he felt wasn’t going to improve any further, he decided it was time to call it quits to avoid any long term injuries. “Waveski surfing is a sport that at the extreme level can be harsh on the body, more so than board riding”. Despite these concerns, John suffered few injuries except the torn rib cartilage, a few broken ribs after being crushed on the bottom and a two inch gash in his arm after being speared by a surfboard at Newcastle and was carted off to hospital. However when compared to his current sport of Mountain Bike riding, he believes Waveski surfing is much safer. After one year he has already broken his wrist and had some pins inserted.
Christo has a lengthy record of achievements in sport in addition to waveski surfing. He also held the Australian C1 canoe title 4-5 years in a row and went in the World Ttitles for this class of canoeing. He was 14th at the 1981 World Titles for C2 canoeing. Holds a Commonwealth title for kayaking and held the 1983 Australian Title for kayaking at the same time he held the 1983 Australian Waveski title. Since retiring from waveski surfing, he has also been riding a surfboard competitively and won the regionals for his age group in 2002 and was 10th in the state title that same year. In 2003 he was 2nd in regionals and 9th in the state titles. Most recently he has been competing in mountain bike enduro races ranging from 67-100 kms but he claims this is for fun. From a family perspective it doesn’t stop there. His oldest 3 kids ride surfboards competitively and do numerous other sports and his wife recently completed a marathon. On occasion his kids will paddle around on small waveski’s in flat water and if they ever wanted to learn to ride a waveski in the surf Christo would be more than happy to teach them. He notes that one of the biggest challenges with juniors is the amount of equipment that needs to be carted around and there’s more risk of being hassled in the surf.
Of all the stories Christo is renowned for, his surf at Pipe in Hawaii in 85 is probably the one most talked about. They were lucky on the last day of their trip when it started to break nicely with just a few body surfers out. His photographer made the call to go out even though he was a tad hesitant. He managed to get a few waves before it got crowded with about 100 guys. He felt it was amazing experience to surf pipe on a waveski with all the big names including Tom Carroll. It was also pretty intimidating and was dropped in on couple of times like anyone on any board does. He said he was most lucky to not hit the bottom or go over the falls and would love to go back some day.
After shaping waveski’s for so many years and developing the quad belt, when asked what other idea’s for development he had that he left untouched his only comment was riding ski’s kneeling – “Being a C1 paddler, you get more leverage from kneeling, if you could apply that to surfing a waveski perhaps you get something more out of it”. Despite a number of attempts he gave up on this idea, but has heard of the South African’s trying this with the core board.
From mid 80′s to 97, his life was completely focused on design, technique and training in waveski surfing. If the opportunity came along, Christo would be keen to catch up with the old crew. He has achieved everything he aimed for and more and says that at 36 he reached his peak and has now retired from competitive waveski surfing. Although if he was offered a shaping bay nearby and a someone keen to glass, he would happily shape waveski’s again.