Cheers To Margo!
Aussie icon Brenden Margieson talks beers, boards, birds and signing with John John.
Brenden Margieson was every Australian’s favourite underground surfer in the 90s.
The Byron Bay High School graduate was blazing hot in the water and disarmingly humble on land, with a knock-kneed style that seamlessly balanced the era’s opposing forces: raw power, and new school airs and slides. Margo claims he couldn’t surf a heat to save his life, despite beating an all-star field in flawless waves en route to winning the legendary 1996 Nias Pro, and it was this lack of competitive belief that saw him become a freesurfer long before the term existed.
Margo’s timing, while never intentional, is always impeccable, and he fell into a starring role in Jack McCoy’s iconic trilogy of Billabong movies – Green Iguana, Bunyip Dreaming and Sik Joy – alongside Mark Occhilupo, Munga Barry, Sunny Garcia and Luke Egan.
The latest chapter in Margo’s career is possibly the happiest. A dozen years ago he walked away from professional surfing, not wanting to be the old guy who hangs on too long, and it damn near killed him. Depressed and steering clear of the ocean it took five long years, the love of his nearest and dearest, and a burning passion to surf again with his insanely talented son Micah to eventually get Margo back in the water. Since then it’s been a beautiful reinvention, with Margo finally and thankfully accepting the love and adoration of the surfing world.
“Every time I’ve seen Margo lately he seems happy,” says Mick Fanning, “which is beautiful. He’s such a lovely bloke and I’m super stoked he’s enjoying his surfing again. He had a few years that were tough after living the life for so long, but I’m so happy he’s doing so well now. People absolutely love watching him surf, so to have brands picking him up and putting boards under his feet, it’s incredible. Everyone is rooting for him.”
These days Margo is doing his beautiful dance atop Album’s line of resin-tinted crafts, with his latest quiver flying the Florence burgee, after his three-decade relationship with Billabong ran its natural course. Margo is also one of a handful of high-profile recruits to the Gage Roads Brew Co surf team, who last year convoyed north out of the Fremantle brewery’s car park to produce the highly entertaining short made by Jacob Wooden/Woodrow Media embedded above. With Jack Robinson injured at the time of filming, and recent signings Jacob Willcox and Bronte Macaulay yet to join the team, the imagination runs wild at the thought of a desert sequel, or even a series, in the years to come. “I’d be so stoked to share some sessions in the desert and let that style run wild,” says Jack Robinson, “let’s do it!”
Thanks to Gage Roads, we thought the time was right to get Margo on the phone for a chat.
Stab: Margo! Tell us about this new edit, it looked like a classic road trip.
Brenden Margieson: Well, it was two trips really. On the first one we went down to Margaret River for a couple of days, then up north to the desert. We didn’t really get the waves we wanted, so we thought we’d better try again, and we flew back and scored the second time around. The whole experience was awesome — it’s so beautiful up there, and to get on the road and be travelling again felt absolutely epic.
Was that your first time up north since the Jack McCoy days?
It’s probably about 25 years since I was last there with Jack, but I’ve been up there once with Maurice Cole after that — with Taj Burrow and Ross Clarke-Jones doing some crazy tow-in stuff.
You seem to really connect with Western Australia.
Oh yeah, definitely. I was riding Maurice’s boards when he was living in WA, so I got to spend some time with him over there, and obviously while shooting all those early McCoy movies too. There was a long period of time where I didn’t get to go back, and I thought maybe I’d never get another chance, so when the opportunity to be involved with Gage Roads came along it seemed too good to be true. I’d tried the beer and obviously didn’t mind it (laughs), and then there’s something about West Aussies — they’re laidback, no-bullshit sort of folk, and I get on really well with all of you, so signing on was a given!
The Gage Roads team is a pretty eclectic one, run us through the crew.
Mckenzie Bowden is obviously a bloody good surfer, and he’s a genuine, gentle soul too. Very spiritual, very easy to connect with and talk to. I really like Mckenzie, he’s a good kid, very entertaining and just a great guy to have on a road trip. He’s always doing something unusual, there’s always conversations and laughs to be had.
Ellie Brooks rips!
Ellie’s amazing, nothing but smiles and happiness! She’s another genuinely nice human being, always makes sure you’ve got a coffee or a beer in your hand, makes sure you’ve eaten, will put a little bit of peppermint oil on your head if you’ve got a headache. On top of all that it blows my mind how well she surfs. She’s got a crazy backhand, great style, so top-to-bottom. On land it doesn’t seem like she’d be that powerful, then she gets in the surf and just goes bang, bang, bang! Ellie’s gold.
He wasn’t on this trip, but it must be cool to be on the same team as Jack Robinson again?
It’s awesome! I’ve known Jack since he was a nine-year-old prodigy, then got to know him better when Billabong picked him up. All these years later I can’t really believe that I’m still sponsored, and to be alongside a phenomenal surfer like Jack is awesome.
Gage Roads just announced partnerships with Bronte Macaulay and Jacob Willcox too; they’re really looking after the West Aussie tube pigs.
As they bloody should! Bronte and Jacob and Jack are full blown desert lords, and I’m so honoured to be part of such an amazing team. Jacob’s surfing is phenomenal, he’s a great power surfer and I’m really looking forward to seeing how he does on tour this year. Bronte’s not far off the CT either, second reserve I think.
Seeing as you just brought it up, let’s talk about sponsorship. You’re everyone’s favourite surfer, you’re all over Instagram, you’ve just picked up a new sponsor in Florence, and you’re even riding Albums. What’s this midlife Margo renaissance we’re witnessing?
It’s pretty bizarre, I don’t really even know what to say. I had a pretty big break from it all a while ago, but the last couple of years I’ve been back in the water, and if you’re living on the Gold Coast and surfing a lot there are always filmers and photographers around, and that’s where all the hype comes from. I was fortunate enough during Covid that one of the local filmers, Dan Scott, was living in the same unit block as me, so we got to shoot a lot together. Then I was invited to surf a heritage heat at the Boost Mobile Pro and it felt like everything just snowballed from there.
How old are you if you don’t mind me asking?
I’m 51. It’s a trip because it feels like Album and Florence are really engaged. I think there’s a market for 45 to 55-year-olds and I fit right in the middle of that, catering for the older gentleman who’s pretty committed but can’t really relate to aerial surfing or whatever. It seems to be working for me at the moment, but whether it lasts another week, or a year, or more, who knows? I’ll take it!
Someone who’s still in love with surfing at 50 is clearly committed, highly engaged, and they’ve probably got the most money to spend out of any demographic, so it makes sense.
It does make sense. Surfing’s such a big sport now, with so many different facets from your big wave surfers to aerialists to longboarders, you name it. I guess there’s a market for the older surfer now too, so I can see why there’s maybe that little push for me. It looks like at the moment I’m in the right place at the right time, a bit like I was in the early days when I first became a free surfer.
How does it work at 51? Are you still sending Sponsor Me tapes out to crew, or do things just flow on from your network and conversations?
No, no Sponsor Me tapes (laughs). I guess I’ve got a network of connections that I’ve built over the last 30 years of surfing, and one sponsor can help and lead to others, that kind of thing. Gage Roads was a bit random, I think the boss Aaron (Heary, executive director at Gage Roads and athletic goofy, seen laying rail in the edit) was a fan of my surfing and it all kinda fell into place from there. I didn’t go chasing it, it came to me, which I find bizarre, but happy days!
How did Florence happen? Did John John call you?
Yeah, me and John go a long way back. No, we don’t (laughs), I don’t even know him. That was through another sponsorship connection, the Billabong thing had hit its use by date, I was basically a free agent, and it all came together.
You had an incredible run at Billabong.
Oh yeah, and it wasn’t an easy decision to leave, but with the transition they’re going through at the moment it was time for a change. I don’t have one bad word to say about Billabong, they supported me through thick and thin and I had some of the best days of my life with them. That being said, I’m not getting billion-dollar contracts or anything like that, I’m still working a day job.
What do you do?
I’m an ecologist! Well, I just assist them. I work with everything from legless lizards to micro bats to birds. It’s pretty flexible so I might work a week a month or I might work three weeks straight, then not have anything for two months. I get to work with a bit of flora and fauna, setting up a lot of pitfall traps and cameras to record and see what species are around in certain areas. It’s pretty cool.
Didn’t you do a chef’s apprenticeship once upon a time?
I did! Well, I only got halfway through. I was 17-18, pretty young, and then started surfing for a living at 19 onwards.
Sounds like you were just making yourself an essential guy to take on trips. You can cook, you can point out nature. Are these all skills that young free surfers should be working on?
I think they should be for sure! I guess the older you get, the more life experiences you have, and the more things you can take on board and learn from. Happy days.
Speaking of happy days, is there a better way to end the day than kicking back with a fresh tin by a campfire, looking out over the ocean?
That is something that I thoroughly enjoy! But I also feel I’m at this stage in life now where I’ve got to earn my beers. So it’s gotta be at least a minimum three-hour session before I can really enjoy that cold frothy. I try not to drink every day, but there’s nothing better than a few hours of yard work on a hot summer’s day, or surfing your brains out all arvo, then cracking a fresh tinny.
Margo’s rules for better living! You’re a gentleman and a scholar.
Thanks mate, I hope you got something out of that. I get a bit tongue tied sometimes, sorry, that’s just me.
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