John “Garbo” Leivers was already a legend around Perth’s beach suburbs before he embarked on his spree of world championships.
As a City Beach youngster, the champion rugby player, dragon boat oarsman and ex-surf boat champion developed a reputation as a man who would eat anything. His voracious appetite earned him the nickname “Garbo” which he will have for the rest of his life.
At primary school, no insect was safe from him if the money was right. At 12 years of age he ate every snail in a half mile stretch of footpath for a $2 bet, a feat he has never been particularly boastful of.
As a teenager “Garbo” laid claim to the first of his feats when he held two Perth pizza eating records. He could put down a giant pizza in three minutes with his bare hands, or minutes with cutlery. “It was much harder with a knife and fork,” he recalls. “You have to cut up every piece – the other way was easy. Just roll it up and stuff it in.”
Todays pizzas don’t match the jumbos of the 60s. “They’re only half as big,” says Garbo. “Pizzas then were a good 15 inches wide (43cm) and an inch (2.5cm) thick.”
However, his extraordinary eating habits produced some benefits. As he consumed wider and more exotic substances he developed his physique. The muscle strength was refined by the City of Perth Surf Life Saving Club, where he formed one fifth of a dynamic junior surf boat crew. The crew quickly rose to the top in Perth surf boats and won the Australian junior carnival title when it was held at City Beach .
They progressed into senior ranks and formed one of the country’s best combinations in the surf. And in Bali for the world championship surf boat races  they won against 30 crews from Australia and New Zealand.
A crewmate of Leivers in those days, Dennis Trew, remembers a big march fly landing on team-mate Robert Somerford’s back. As quick as a flash Leviers reached forward, snatched the insect in his hand and ate it. It seemed the habits of his youth were not easy to forgo.
Nevertheless Leivers has compiled on of WA’s best surf life saving records. He has been in 10 State teams – four as captain – and has won 25 gold medals in WA titles for boats, taplin relay and march past. He has won seven A Grade titles, an Australian junior boat crew title and finished a close second in the seniors. He has been club captain of City of Perth four times.
His affinity for surf boats led him into dragon boat racing in South-East Asia in the late 70s. The event involves 14-metre boats weighing up to four tonnes which are difficult to control without a great deal of practice. “It took us for goes to win the Penang world title,” said Leivers. “The locals couldn’t believe we could just arrive and beat all the Chinese teams.”
His third world title came last month in Hawaii, at the world rugby union club tournament. Leivers has played with the Cottesloe Rugby Union Club for 13 years and was a key member in their A Grade premiership teams of 1979 and 82.
This year a nucleus of the Seagulls attended the world tournament as the “Pirates” and stormed through the social division, beating Wellington in the final 18-3.
The were three divisions at the tournament – championships, social and old boys. “The championship players were very serious,” says Leivers. “They spent the whole week drinking lemonade and wore collars and ties everywhere. They were good rugby players but they weren’t there for any fun.”
Leivers went surfing in Hawaii in between fronting up for the games. His drop kicking feats, which scored points for the Pirates from well inside his team’s own half, brought him a great deal of fame in the rugby community gathered there from half a dozen countries. One goal was 65m and another was a massive 70m. Daily News rugby writer Bob Messenger, who has seen the game played from Dublin to Suva, says he is the best long range drop-kicker he has seen.
Garbo’s sporting feats, ranging from dragon boats to pub crawls, have been meticulously recorded. He keeps comprehensive and detailed statistics, in pigeon holes above his bed, of surf lifesaving, rugby and drinking encounters. “After every Australian carnivalin life saving, the City boys go out on a pub crawl. I have a special whistle and a notebook where I write down all the details – I must have drunk in about 5000 pubs in the past 15 years,” he said.