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STILL THE CHAMP: Grant Kenny continues to claim stunning ironman wins, now competing in the masters division.
STILL THE CHAMP: Grant Kenny continues to claim stunning ironman wins, now competing in the masters division. Harvpix

FLASHBACK 1970s: Coast's culture carves Kenny's career

SURFING down the main street of Alexandra Headland, riding the wake of a passing bus, is not something Grant Kenny is likely to forget.  

As Cyclone Wanda battered Queensland in January 1974, she dished the Sunshine Coast a hefty serve of monster surf causing water to crash over the sand dunes and smother the nearby streets.   

Living directly across from the beach, an 11-year-old Grant watched as some of his surfboards got washed from his yard down the street.  

Unlikely to sit back and watch his prized toys float away, the bright-eyed surfy kid mounted his homemade boogie board and headed into the chaos, paddling down the Alex Heads esplanade as if it were the ocean.   

It turned out to be one of the most memorable, yet unlikely, catches of his life.   

"I remember paddling about 1km down the street and there was a bus coming down the road and it made a big wave so I caught the wave down the main street!" Grant said.   

"It was very cool," he said, even for the wild 70s.   

As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the naming of the Sunshine Coast, we look back at the decades through the eyes of locals who can tell our story best. This is part two, a snapshot of life on the coast during the 1970s according to champion ironman Grant Kenny.   

Grant Kenny in action in the 1980s.
LEFT: Growing up on the Sunshine Coast meant Grant Kenny had unlimited access to the beach all year round. Alexandra Headland SLSC

In an era of supergroup domination and double-denim, it was the surf culture that defined the Coast.   

"My life revolved around the beach. Every morning I'd only have to lift my head off the pillow to check the surf," Grant said.   

"It was very much a beach culture on the Coast, but also a different culture back then.   

"You could go for a surf and leave your board up against a tree, then go back the next day and know it would still be there."  

He remembers a time when Alex Heads was not much more than a couple of streets of houses.   

"There was almost nothing there and behind the first row of houses was all bushland which as kids we used to love exploring," he said.   

Grant Kenny in action in the 1980s.
Grant Kenny was destined for a career in the surf. Alexandra Headland SLSC

Spare time was spent hooning about on his pushbike at all hours, free to roam as kids did.   

"I'd often go spearfishing after school and I'd ride down to The Spit at Mooloolaba and fish at Point Cartwright until it was dark. Then I'd ride home in my wetsuit with flippers hanging off the handlebars and my catch on the spear.   

"I used to paddle from Alex to Noosa on a ski for training, about a three-hour paddle, and I'd take 20c in my wetsuit in case I needed to use a pay phone.  

"My parents wouldn't see me for hours - nowadays you'd be panicking if you didn't see your child before it got dark."

It's no surprise the Sunshine Coast and its surf culture helped shape Grant's successful career.   

"I moved here from Maryborough when I was six months old and up until 1984 lived directly across from the beach at Alex, so that teamed with Dad's involvement with the surf club and swimming, I was destined to grow up in the water - which I did," he said.   

"Mum and Dad would tell me stories that they used to get called irresponsible for letting me get beat up by the shore break when I was so small and people would panic when I'd get washed around - it was just making me drown-proof.

"But as I started to get older, being able to be in the water all year round because it never got cold was a real part of shaping my career."   

STILL THE CHAMP: Grant Kenny claimed a stunning ironman win in the masters division at the Australian Surf Life Saving Championship.
Grant Kenny still lives on the Sunshine Coast and regularly competes today. Harvpix

Grant still lives on the Coast at Minyama, about 2km from where he grew up.   

"It's crazy to see this island used to be all mangroves that I'd play in as a kid; now I get to live here," he said. 

"That's really special."  

This Flashback series is brought to you by Yaroomba Beach, a world-class destination for all.     

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Flashback Through the Decades as we celebrate the Sunshine Coast's 50th.