The Father of Australian water skiing, Fred Williams reminisces about his adventure packed life as a surf lifesaver, water ski champion, sailor and entrepreneur. His remarkable life has been recorded in the tribute ‘An Australian Story: Fred Williams’. After travelling the world competing, Fred rates Forster as one of the best and most beautiful places to be. Emily Dowswell meets this local legend.
What is your favourite memory of growing up in the area?
I’m sitting here down at the beach just looking out over the water now where I just about spent all my days, surfing and swimming. I think the water here and the area is pretty hard to beat.
What are the biggest changes that you have seen in the area?
Right now where I am was sand in the old days, and now you have the high rise behind me. The things that are still the same are the ocean baths. I remember the ferry and all the trouble we had going across with the cars. We would go in to Taree and come home late. The ferry people would knock off at 12 o’clock, and we’d have to get home somehow. So we pinched a boat and all that sort of thing (laughs).
You’ve travelled competing internationally. Where was your most memorable destination?
America was the main place we competed, mainly on the west coast. I have made a lot of good friends in America through water skiing. Ski racing took us to England and Belgium, which was good. We even ended up in Buckingham Palace! I’ve had a pretty wild life, I suppose.
Trial and error was a contributing factor in the design of your skis and other equipment. What was the greatest failure that you had that led to a great design?
The best design that we ended up with is what they call the concave. Chuck Stearns, the American Champion at the time, who is a good friend of mine, designed it with me. It is a big seller. In the old days, we were selling it for 35 pounds. They said, “You’ll never sell a ski for that!” And we sold thousands. They were very popular.
Are there any plans for your family to continue the business in the future?
My son still has the business here where we sell and manufacture. We are the only people left in the world who are manufacturing wood composite skis. The rest are plastic and fibreglass, and most of them are made in China now.
The beauty of us, we can make whatever you want. Our skis still hold the world record of 158 miles an hour, that no one has beaten in around 15 years.
As a sailor, what do you think about Jessica Watson’s solo voyage that she recently completed?
Well, I did a lot of sailing in my day. When she first started, I thought like most, “She’s going to be a bit young”. I’ve been in some seas that were 40 foot dropping down in the ocean with the world falling in around you. And our boat’s 70 foot long and you have a mast that’s 90 foot and you’re falling about 40 foot off a wave, and you think the mast is going to go straight through the boat. And I’m thinking of that poor Jessica.
But the beauty of it, she had a little boat that rocked whatever was going on. But I didn’t think she’d do it, to be quite honest. It’s a big ask for a little girl, and it is a credit to her really. She rolled over about six or seven times and still came through, so have to take your hat off to her.
How has it made you feel receiving all the tributes from your friends and family in the book?
We had friends from all over the world write those little stories. Some are wild. I couldn’t complain at the life that I’ve had. I had a friend say to me once it wouldn’t matter if you died tomorrow, you’ve had a good life and an exciting one, and I said, “Yeah, I suppose I have”. The things we did in the surf club as kids, speedboat racing, the Rage won every race in Australia, speedway and the sailing, of course.
We had a go at pretty near everything, didn’t we? It was pretty exciting. I could have written a book twice as big.
What do you hope the readers will get out of your book?
Well, they will just get to know what an old fella can do in his life and the enjoyment that you can have with all your friends. I’ve got friends from all over the world, and they come out here to Forster and visit us.
They look at this place and they think, “Good God, isn’t it lovely? Why would you want to be away from here?” And it’s true, when you do go away and you go all over the world – where I’ve been – you come home and you go over that bridge, you think, “Jeez … isn’t this a wonderful place?”
Thank you Fred.
The Fred Williams Story was written by Des Tinson of Forster NSW (revised and compiled by Michelle Cole).