Remembering Terry McDermott, a surfer, lifeguard, surf reporter and top bloke
“The doctor has told me that I’ve only got a few months to live…maybe 6 months, max”.
That’s how Terry McDermott broke the devastating news to my wife and I that he was battling cancer.
It was July 2020 when we bumped into Terry at the Watsons Bay Hotel. At the time, Tez was packing up his life in Sydney, and moving to the Central Coast. “I’m shifting into semi-retirement Brenden. I need to focus on my health. My cancer is in its advanced stages.”
We had a good chat that day. We grabbed a photo. Afterwards, my wife and I jumped on the ferry back to Circular Quay, and I remember thinking, ‘that may have been the last time that I’ve seen Terry.’
And, it was.
Terry McDermott died this week. According to media reports, he died on 1st September. Tez managed to squeeze an extra two years out of life.
He was a practical guy. And his reaction to his cancer diagnosis was also practical. A week after we chatted, he wound-down his Watssup paddle board business and moved back home to Hargraves Beach.
Terry was a popular surf reporter on Central Coast radio — and that was how I first met him, at Coast Rock FM in March 1993. During his 21 years of surf reports for radio stations Coast Rock FM, SEA FM and 2GO, he was sometimes referred to as ‘Moondog’ and was well known for his support for local surfing talent and beach events.
The day that surfing champ Kelly Slater visited Avoca Beach for the Mark Sainsbury Invitational in 1993, Terry was there to welcome him — and this was despite the event being hosted by a rival radio station.
I was taught to stand on a surfboard by Terry at his local beach — Soldiers Beach — this is where he operated his successful learn-to-surf school for 20 years. On the same day, he threw me into a rip, and taught me how to navigate my way safely back to shore.
Terry spent most of his life at beaches, starting out as a semi-pro surfer and winning many comps. His professional lifeguard work for the Wyong Shire Council and Waverley Council saw him save the lives of many people. And his proactive safety-first mantra most likely saved many more lives.
In 2006, his employer, Waverley Council, signed a deal with Cordell Jigsaw Productions which saw cameras follow the activities of the professional lifeguards who were working at Sydney’s eastern suburbs. Bondi Rescue was a hit in Australia and overseas. The show won several Australian TV Logie Awards for Most Popular Factual Program. The success of this TV show made Terry and his lifeguard colleagues famous overseas. And, just like Steve Irwin, Terry found himself more famous overseas than he was in his own country!
At one stage, the battle to win the TV ratings became so fierce that the boss of the rival TV network, David Gyngell, went down to the lifeguard tower at Bondi beach to ask Terry and his colleagues about the deal that they had signed for the TV show.
“We’ve got no deal. We’re simply employees of the local council who want cameras to follow us around the beach”, Terry told Gyngell. The Bondi Rescue arrangement was good for the TV network and the council, but it wasn’t necessarily a good deal for the lifeguards.
Before Terry retired to the Central Coast, my wife and I always enjoyed bumping-into Terry when we visited Bondi or Watsons Bay.
My phone is full of pics that I’d take each time I’d see Terry. He was a legend. And he was always happy to see us. He once invited me into the lifeguard tower at Bondi, and I was blown away that he had allowed me inside!
Jet lag from a New York trip in 2014 saw me visit Bondi beach at 6am on a Sunday. I arrived to find Tez preparing the beach for the day ahead. “Jump in the buggy mate. You can help me set up the flags and boards.”
So, there I was helping Terry on Bondi beach!
Although, I must admit he did most of the work.
You’ll most likely read a lot of commentary about Terry this week — it will be all positive, but sad. The one thing that will be missed is Terry’s energy and enthusiasm for his family, mates, colleagues and the beach.
Terry will be sadly missed. He’s gone way too early. And, today, we’re thinking about his son Matty and ‘The Mermaid.’