Auld Lang Syne MacGregor

February 29, 2024
SHAKA BRAH: Dave MacGregor built a tree house in the ancient dune and milkwoods behind East Pier, Kowie. Pic Spike
February 28, 2024

A tremor has been rumbling through the surfing world as news of the death of Dave 'Shaka' MacGregor, 55, ripples out from his beloved Port Alfred. Words by Mike Loewe, with a few by Spike.

Under a blue blanket on Kelly's Beach in his beloved Port Alfred, surrounded by rescuers, surfers and lifeguards, lay a man who helped hundreds enter the ocean and relish in its euphoria.

David “Shaka” Macgregor, who lived for surfing, died while surfing, possibly from a heart attack. Dave was a friend and journalist colleague at East Cape News and the Daily Dispatch. Once a story grabbed him, he would not stop until it was done. Authority of any kind did not sit well with him and while at ECN, he rewrote the office dress code: baggies. Just baggies.

His articles were published as page leads in many mainstream publications. He understood the barriers journalists faced in reaching down to reveal the depths of a human drama, and a more recent frustration was the rise of an inconceivably dumb adherence to poor "news" sources that people used to spew proof of ill-conceived opinion.

When he cracked a story, Dave was a shining beacon of post-1994 SA rock and roll journalism. But when it came to the drudgery and boredom — the bilge of our craft — he was ungovernable, bouncing off the walls with frustration.

Finally, after years of writing and photographing, these strictures completely stifled his creative soul. His Irish-Scottish blood turned him into a raging mountain storm of discontent, and he left. However, even recently, he was quietly acting the conduit for other journalists to break stories on surf industry politics, especially actions that threatened the underdog.

By the time he left news, he had built a majestic three-storey home for his family from a log cabin or two bought for a few thousand rand near Grabow. He had hustled rides for all the bits and pieces that became the foundation for the incredible, repurposed, recycled, reimagined Shaka Lodge, Surf Camp and Surf School in Port Alfred. Ever-changing as new found objects - from flotsam to jetsam - appeared, this was a magical place, steeped in surfboard history, sculpture, art, road signs, a skateboard pit — each part expressing his boundless enthusiasm and creativity.

BOARD HOARD: A rack of surfboards sits in the steamy confines of another forested nook at the Shaka Shack. Pic Spike

From this heart spot, he influenced the lives of hundreds of people who came to stay or who took his surf lessons, and the huge outpouring on his Facebook page, from Sweden to Swaziland, is testimony to this.

He told MilliersLocal: “I have spent 15 years building the treehouse home, 8m up on stilts, on the edge of an ancient dune forest, one dune from the beach, — using mainly upcycled and reclaimed materials. It is amazing what you can do if you have a little vision and creativity.”

David was raised in a surfing family. His father, Stuart Macgregor, joined David and his sons Cuan, 26, and Kye, 20, on wave riding trips. His Irish mum, Anne Collinge, speaking from Trim, Ireland, said David was a “sweet, really clever boy” who fell in love with horses and the ocean as a five-year-old.

At 10, he would take plates of food made by his mom to homeless people living in the bush nearby. By 11, he had saved enough money working at stables to buy a horse. His essay application won him a scholarship to the nonracial independent Natal Midlands school Treverton, where he refused to ride first class on the apartheid SA Railways and travelled third class with his two coloured schoolmates.

At Pinetown Boys High, he refused to wear the uniform or take part in the militarised cadet programme and was caned every Friday for this act of resistance. He studied journalism at Natal Technikon, finishing off at Rhodes University, and was socialised as a Durban surfer, getting onto a board at 10 months in, and that culture never left. It was in his gestures, words and groovy drawl which emerged from that rakish chisel-jaw.

Auld Lang Syne MacGregor

But all roads -- and he took many, sometimes on a dirt bike with a Kei rescue animal on the tank -- led to Kowie. His ex-wife and mother of their boys, Jill, said David had such a passion for the underdog he would listen to anyone's story, and bring any stray home.

“He could talk to kings and paupers, it didn’t matter -- as long as you had a story to tell he would listen.”

He was a great supporter of young black surfers in Kowie, and former WSL surf champion Greg Emslie said he trained a number of surfers who had come through David's coaching. David felt nothing about taking on the rich, including a property developer who he accused of encroaching on the dune forest in the neighbourhood.

He was an avid reader, and would churn through books in the bath, turning it into steaming hothouse of intellectual endeavour. I once saw him pin down the greatest surfer in the world (Goat) Kelly Slater on a Port Alfred pier and the two had such a natter that Slater's official photographer started bleating that it was time to go as they were getting late. Slater looked really interested and involved.

When life served him lemons — when money was tight — he turned to lemons, once proudly proclaiming how he had turned to vegetarianism to get him through the pinch, and how wholesome and light he felt. Macgregor's travels, actions, words, and encounters with people have left a large impact and the social media posts are many and moving.

It speaks to their resilience, determination, and unwavering pride in their lineage
SURF SYMBOL: The former Billabong statue had a story as to why it ended up there, but I can't remember the story. Photo Spike

SA surf forecaster and journalist Steve “Spike” Pike said: “Dave was one of those wonderfully enigmatic souls. A pure bred surfer, he was a deep thinker and intellectual, constantly questioning and debating right from wrong in a world driven mad by fake news and a lack of accountability, as any skilled journalist would. A champion of the upcycled, he was constantly on the hunt for sustainably sourced building and other materials.

“He would, over a few glasses of Scotland's finest, proudly reflect on the history and genealogy of his clan name Macgregor. It's interesting to note that the MacGregor clan motto "Royal is my race" reflects the clan's proud heritage and sense of nobility. I read this on a Scottish tourism website that says it 'encapsulates the spirit and values held dear by the MacGregor clan throughout their history. It speaks to their resilience, determination, and unwavering pride in their lineage'.

“He spoke proudly of his dad, Stuart, and tried to emulate him by being a role model to his own multitalented kids. He was many things to many people, but always a trusted friend. He was rather good at surfing too. RIP Dave.”

Roving Reporter director and journalist Fred Kockott said: “Dave was one of those rare journalists who got out into the field to write real-stuff-of-life stories. Had the media industry enabled Dave to make a decent living as a journalist, he would have become as legendary a writer as he was a surfer.”

NSRI's spokesperson Craig Lambinon said Macgregor had experienced a problem in the surf, was recovered to the beach and had received extensive cardiopulmonary resuscitation to no avail. Even Lambinon, known for his formal and non-emotional press releases for the NSRI, called Macgregor “a surfing and maritime legend and former journalist who had a close relationship with the NSRI for years”.

In the end though, David was about his sons and their epic adventures. They often brought back surfing medals, especially in the longboard divisions. It is unconfirmed how Macgregor died but Jill said a health setback a month ago had been diagnosed by a doctor as a panic attack.

This writer's last encounter, a festive season story about how Shaka surf school was assisting in saving lives at Kowie Beaches. It is rare that one writes an obituary for a friend, and I say farewell to man with whom I worked, surfed, fought and communed. Your help, when my mother lay on her deathbed in Kowie, wiped away all frothy sturm und drang and revealed the inner core: a wave of love and kindness.

Aloha bra.

No details were available for a memorial.