Rob Lyons
Mon, March 19, 2012 at 11:05
Stephanie Hunt

A very small bear named Mr. Scribbles says the most interesting person he has met in Coffs Harbour is Rob Lyons, the captain of the Sawtell Surf Club. Being a very highflying bear himself, what Mr. Scribbles finds fascinating about Rob is his laid back nature.  “He’s a surfer dude,” says Mr. Scribbles “Just goes with the flow of life.”


The Laid-Back Surfer Dude

I am worried as I head off to meet Rob Lyons at Split Café in Sawtell.  Can a laid-back surfer dude recommended by a stuffed bear really be interesting?  As he slides into a chair beside me, Rob echoes my concerns.  “Mr Scribbles needs to find new friends if I’m the most interesting person he knows,” he says, as my heart sinks. 

But I am somewhat buoyed as I surreptitiously give this surfer dude the once over.  Tanned, lithe and muscular.  Rob’s sparkly blue eyes and tight curls suggest his Irish heritage.  Not bad for an old surfer!

At 50 years of age Rob is not really that old – after all 50 is the new 30.  And he seems to think of himself as younger still.  “I’m always 15, that’s the trouble,” he exclaims. His wife Jenni tells me that he is a modern age Peter Pan, flitting through life without ever getting old. His life seems to float past without much attention to the detail or marking of occasion. 

The direction of his life was cast growing up in Avoca on the Central Coast.   “We used to surf on Saturday morning, sail on Saturday afternoons and surf club on Sundays,” he says.  In many ways this rhythm has continued throughout Rob’s life with surfing, sailing and surf club rising and falling, but seemingly ever present.


Sailing started at age 5, when his mother first dragged him kicking and screaming out to sea, and has been a strong wind propelling Rob’s life since. 

Sailing kept Rob from going mad when he signed up for six years in the army.  His sailing skills landed him his first civilian job when the CEO of Ashton Scholastics (now Scholastics, the children’s book publisher) gave him a traineeship as a designer in return for crewing on his yacht.  For four years Rob worked on books like The Terrible Wild Grey Hairy Thing during the week, and sailed with the boss on the weekend. 

Later, when he landed a job with a window office at an ad agency in North Sydney, the view of the boats on the Harbour was too much for Rob.  In 1989 he quit and got a job sailing for Sid Fisher in the lead up to the America’s Cup, picking up some extra dollars building skiffs with Bobby Trehan.

Sailing had become an all-encompassing passion.  “You focus on what you’re doing and everything else cuts out,” Rob says.  When his then girlfriend (now wife) Jenni suggested some overseas travel for a change of pace the trip led right back to sailing.

While in London, Jenni and Rob met Barry Nelson who owned a holiday sailing business.  “He offers me a job on the spot as a flotilla skipper in the Greek Islands,” Rob recalls.  As the European winter drew to a close Rob hauled equipment to Greece and Jenni flew in to play hostess.

“We’d pick (holiday makers) up at the airport, put them on the boats and lead them around the Greek Islands for 2 weeks.”  Rob gives me the job description.  There were the tribulations of navigating without adequate maps, sciroccos that would blow in from nowhere, and the stresses of directing novice sailors.  But the biggest hazard of the job seemed to be the drink.  “If you were there to tie up the boats in the afternoon, every boat would hand you a beer.  After about 6 boats….”  Rob’s voice drifts off leaving me to imagine the drunken stupor at the end of each day. 

So I am not surprised when Rob tells me that it is common for skippers to burn out, and after two years he and Jenni headed back to Australia.


Rob can’t remember exactly when he first came to the mid-north coast, but he does remember that surfing was the lure.  “We looked on Google Maps and thought ‘that’s gotta have good surf’,” he tells me. 

When they first returned from Europe they headed home to the Central Coast.  Jenni returned to university.  Rob drifted into working for Gosford Council and did his carpentry and joinery certificate while continuing to sail. Their daughter Belle was born, something Rob declares the best time ever.  But surfing seems to have come a close second.

“I love surfing.” Rob smiles.  “You’re in the moment.  There are such few times in our lives when we are in the moment.”  Rob was out looking for waves every day.  But the surf was getting too crowded on the Central Coast.  Five years ago they discovered that Sawtell had a great point for surfing, and the bags were packed.  Rob, Jenni and Belle have lived here ever since.


Rob says he is surprised to find himself in his third year as captain of the Sawtell Surf Club.  “I used to be in the surf club for my own shallow competitive reasons, to keep fit and compete, and keep an eye on Belle going to nippers,” Rob says.   Now he is more community minded, having joined the NSW Fire and Rescue as well.  “It’s easier to be part of the community here than in Terrigal or Avoca,” he says.  “People have time.”

Juggling time is a bit of a problem for Rob.  He has thrown his competitive side into Adventure Races, tackling the 48+ hour GeoQuest endurance races and Tough Mudders, which proclaims itself to be ‘the toughest event on the planet’.  He has just started carving sculptures into surfboard blanks.  “You start jamming all this stuff into your life.”  Rob shrugs.

 “What about work”, I ask.  Rob tells me he has a construction company that does shop fitouts.  I suggest that we put the business name in this article to give him a bit of a plug.  “Oh no,” he says.  “It will only get me work.”

The interview is drawing to a close and I feel I’ve confirmed the description of Rob as laid-back surfer dude. And then he says something that surprises me.  “I am quite laid back to look at, but when the shit hits the fan I come up to everyone’s normal pace which is handy because I’m looking at it in real time and they’re looking at it in super speed time making no sense.”

There it is, Rob’s secret.  This ability to operate at “normal speed” in a crisis is what enabled this easygoing Peter Pan to sail at the highest competitive levels, keep from coming unstuck in grueling endurance races and hold his board to the waves.  Now THAT is interesting!


Rob tells me that Dennis Mayer, one of the “old guys” at the surf club is the most interesting person he knows on the Coffs Coast.  Dennis just celebrated his 50th wedding anniversary and he’s still doing his bronze training.  Rob says he’s had glimpses of Dennis’s story over the years.  Well I’m off to get the full picture.

Article originally appeared on The Most Interesting Person I Know (
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