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Ironman home again with the Thuys that bind

After 43 years on the east coast, former world and dual national ironman champion Dwayne Thuys is back home in South Australia. The latest inductee into the SA Sport Hall of Fame talks about his new appreciation for where he began his journey from nipper to world champ.

Feb 13, 2023, updated Feb 13, 2023
Dwayne Thuys (right) and Trevor Hendy off Wanda Beach, NSW, in 1988. Photo supplied.

Dwayne Thuys (right) and Trevor Hendy off Wanda Beach, NSW, in 1988. Photo supplied.

Dwayne Thuys is teaching kids the joys of surfing, kayaking, snorkelling and fishing at the Port Noarlunga Aquatic Centre and not one of them has a clue their tutor is Aussie beach royalty.

Thuys confirms as such but not before an embarrassed pause and chuckle.

“Umm, you’re 100 per cent on the money,” he says.

Thuys was a household name in his day, a monolith of the state’s surf lifesaving scene, and has been inducted this year into the SA Sport Hall of Fame.

He was drawn back to Adelaide by his marriage to second wife Lee last May, but that route was detoured and delayed by an offer to work in the Thredbo snowfields.

Now he finds the pull of home more of a calling – a chance to absorb what he overlooked in his youth as he tore through coastal waters, dethroning the likes of four-time winner Grant Kenny as national champion.

“I never really appreciated how beautiful this piece of coast is,” Thuys wonders, “from Christies, Port Willunga down to Moana, Yankalilla, it’s just stunning, a beautiful piece of coast and I never really appreciated when I was younger but I certainly do now.”

Thuys no longer spends much time in the ocean.

The wear and tear of years in the water triggered major shoulder surgery although, ironically, it was the seemingly innocuous act of sweeping his surf club that saw him shear tendons from the bone.

“That’s been a bit sad but I can still float,” he quips.

Now, he maintains fitness by riding the Coast to Vines Rail Trail that winds spectacularly along the Marino cliffs and deep into the heart of McLaren Vale.

It’s a journey that began more than half a century ago when his mother took him to nippers in the late ’60s.

Dwayne Thuys

Dwayne Thuys aged 10. Photo supplied.

“I wasn’t ever the fastest swimmer – I was just very competitive and had competitive people around me,” Thuys said.

“All my nipper photos from the ’60s, I’m the smallest nipper on the end of the line. And that played a big part in what you needed. I wasn’t as strong.”

It was then that Thuys was forced to search for something extra to overcome his delayed physical development – his trademark tenacity that would serve him so forcefully in the years to come.

“The coaching stuff I do with certain kids over the last 20 or 30 years, now I realise I was always fighting for everything to get the best possible place I could because I wasn’t naturally talented and I wasn’t tall and long and lean.

“I had to fight for every inch and that fight helps you later in life when you’re more on an equilibrium with everybody else because you’ve spent the last 10 years fighting your guts out to get fifth or sixth, so there’s something in that I reckon.”

Thuys says he “didn’t really win anything” until he was 18.

Within two years, he would be crowned World Ironman champion in Hawaii.

“I went over there as a teenager and came back a man – I had my 20th birthday over there,” Thuys says.

“I remember getting back to Adelaide Airport and Channel Ten and Nine and whatever were there to meet me and it was a bit of a big deal.”

It was a title he wouldn’t have the chance to defend for five years with follow-up events cancelled because of sanctions against the apartheid regime in South Africa.

But for Thuys, there was a much bigger fish to catch and that seems odd given he had just won a world title.

“At the time, the Australian Ironman title had more prestige but then when you weigh it up, in many other sports, the world champion is going to be the bigger accolade.

“My goals that I set a few years before were to become the World and Australian Ironman champion because nobody had held both those titles.

 “But at that stage, I hadn’t won the Australian Ironman title yet so there was no jumping up and down. There was more work to be done.

“Grant Kenny had owned that Australian Ironman title: he was near unbeatable for a number of years. He developed earlier than I did. From a competitor point of view, that was the race to win.”

The venue for the 1985 event was Point Leo on the southeast corner of the Mornington Peninsula.

Kenny worked himself into early traffic in the opening leg of the race, his favoured ski leg, while Thuys was second as they approached the beach for the first time, surging past leader Clayton McDonald as they hit the sand.

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And he was never headed.

Kenny worked his way up to third on the board leg but couldn’t sustain his run, eventually fading to tenth, as Thuys swam his way into the history books.

Winning that race and repeating the dose the following year at Moana are two of Thuys’ three most treasured achievements in his sport.

“There was a bit of pressure there for me to not choke in my home state defending my title.”

Dwayne Thuys

Dwayne Thuys defends his Australian Ironman title at Moana in 1986. Photo supplied.

The third is not Hawaii but, unexpectedly, Goolwa.

Thuys readily acknowledges he was fortunate to participate in the golden era of ironman.

They were days when the bronzed men and women of the surf were splashed across TV screens every summer weekend – days when the birth of the Uncle Toby’s Super Series in 1989 allowed many of them to turn pro.

“All the top guys were training nine months of the year. You wouldn’t have got there holding down a nine-to-five job. I was born in a very lucky era.”

By age 34 and in the twilight of his career, Thuys enjoyed one last moment in the sun near the Murray mouth, although other elements that day conspired to lift him to his lone triumph in an event of the series.

“It was blowing a gale sideways, a direct westerly, really horrible 40-knot winds and everyone was getting washed way down the beach on their boards and skis and I was coming in right on the mark because I knew the beach and knew how to handle those conditions better than anyone,” he remembered.

“I ended up winning on the day. It was a long time between drinks!”

Dwayne Thuys

Dwayne Thuys celebrates winning the Goolwa leg of the Uncle Toby’s Super Series in 1997. Photo supplied.

Thuys openly reflects he “might have been a bit selfish growing up”.

“I was all about me.

“You need to be selfish to achieve your goals. It was all about focus of achieving a goal.”

But that would be to sell short his reputation as an outstanding team man and relentless competitor in Australian sides that battled New Zealand for trans-Tasman honours in the mid ’80s. 

He is a life member of two Australian surf clubs, Seacliff and Surfers Paradise: a rare achievement.

“That’s something that I’m extremely proud of. It took 30 years in both clubs before I got it. There’s only a handful of people in the country I think that are life members of two clubs.”

His induction into the SA Sport Hall of Fame comes as an unexpected and early birthday present for Thuys who turns 60 in April.

“To be recognised alongside the likes of Don Bradman and the Chappell brothers and a host of Olympians, it’s pretty cool.”

The latest inductees to the 2023 South Australian Sport Hall of Fame will be celebrated at a gala event at Adelaide Oval on March 3. Go here for tickets and more information.

InDaily is the media partner of the South Australian Sport Hall of Fame and will be publishing profiles of all the new inductees throughout February.

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