Vintage Surfboards of Australia
Australian surfboard design and history has developed its own, independent uniqueness, emerging and growing from a myriad of intriguing geographic, social and cultural circumstances often involving creative thinking, innovative surfboard shapers and colorful, flamboyant, talented surfboard riders.
Solid Wood 1900s -1930s
Driftwood, ironing boards, house doors and a brace of slabs were all surfed in various attempts by youthful, enterprising beachgoers, keen to shoot the surf around the Sydney surf beaches in the early 1900s. A recently discovered photo depicts Tommy Walker riding his solid redwood board at Yamba, northern NSW, in the summer of 1912-13. Another photo shows Tommy on the beach at Manly, holding his Hawaiian-purchased, solid wood board in 1909.
Toothpicks and Racing Skis 1930s – 1956
Surf Life Saving carnivals were an integral part of the Australian beach scene. Swimming, beach sprints, single and double ski races, reel and line, boardriding and some novelty events were eagerly anticipated each summer season. Competition between clubs was fierce and intense. Winter training consisted of indoor pool lap work and strenuous gym sessions. Many of Australia’s finest swimmers/watermen competed for their local club. ‘First across the finish line’ events meant the need for speed. Cumbersome Hawaiian type redwood boards didn’t figure when it came to racing.
Out of this intense, competitive arena, the ply racing ski developed. Sydney physician, Saxon Crackenthorpe, is credited with patenting Australia’s first ski and Maroubra’s Frank Adler paddled to many victories on his long, hollow board before many others caught on.
Longboard Era Surfboards 1956 -1967
The 1956 Torquay International Surf Carnival, planned to coincide with the Melbourne Olympic Games, literally turned Australian surfboard riding on its head. The Californian and Hawaiian lifeguards spent time in Sydney before and after the Torquay event. Several team members, including Greg Noll, Tom Zahn, Bob Burnside, Mike Bright and Tom Moore, brought balsa chip surfboards with them. The Duke also returned as an Olympic goodwill ambassador. Australian surfboard riders were mesmerized as they witnessed surfers riding boards that turned easily, cornered, cut back, and allowed the rider to perch on the nose. The scramble was on to buy their boards. Gordon Woods, Bob Evans, Peter Clare and Bob Pike were the lucky ones. Or were there others? Everyone wanted one. The established board makers were happy to oblige. Major problem? Supplies of balsa wood! Arthur Milner held the license to import South American balsa but shipping time and distance was the enemy. The immediate answer was improvisation, and so the hollow ply okinuee evolved out of necessity, until appropriate balsa lengths arrived almost a year later.
In Australia, length quickly decreased about 4ft in 3 years. Ongoing experimentation to go shorter and lighter, particularly by progressive shaper/theorists like Farrelly and McTavish, seemed to produce new models monthly. Standard nine ft plus Malibus soon evolved into 8ft stringerless, vee bottom, stubby, plastic machines. Nose riding was out and more vertical surfing was in. Much to the general surfing public’s annoyance and hip pocket, vee bottoms quickly morphed into trackers, double ender round tails, pocket rockets, Wayne Lynch Involvment Models, Ted Spencer White Kites, side slippers, very short full area, egg railed beachbreak models and various other, localized hybrids. Narrabeen’s Col Smith and Lorne’s Wayne Lynch, both goofy footers, took vertical surfing to radical, new heights.
Anything Goes 1970 -1977
The 1970 World Titles held at Bells Beach and Johanna showcased a variety of differing, surfboard shapes. Short, under 6′ boards were favored by many of the Australians. The Hawaiians and Californians preferred boards of longer length featuring flat bottoms, down rails and kicked-up noses. This was another defining moment in Australian surfboard history where ideas and theories from many countries fused. The early days of professional surfing also meant more frequent gatherings of surfers from all over the globe. New theories and designs continually evolved. Farrelly side slippers, McCoy wide tailed twin fins, longer, flat bottomed, down railed swallow tails for the Bells/Winkipop reefs, Terry Fitzgerald’s Hot Buttered sleek winged pins, pintail guns, Pat Morgan keel fins, tri-fins, fishes, Shane standards, popouts, backyarders, Michael Peterson fangtails, Outer Island flex tails, Maurice Cole tinkler tails, bonzers, Aipa stingers…an era of anything and everything goes.
Twin Fins 1977 – 1981
First era Australian twin fins appeared in the later months of 1970. Many surfers from the highly competitive arena of North Narrabeen briefly embraced Geoff McCoy shaped twin fins. They didn’t last. Mark Richards (MR), a young, talented surfer/shaper from Newcastle, continued a fine Australian tradition of excellent surfer/shapers. The lineage was impressive. Glynn Ritchie, Midget Farrelly, Mick Dooley, Bob McTavish, Nat Young, Wayne Lynch, Michael Peterson, Terry Fitzgerald, Simon Anderson. MR travelled to Hawaii regularly and gained invaluable shaping experience from master shaper Dick Brewer. He also embraced Ben Aipa’s stinger design concepts and astutely observed how Reno Abellira’s tiny, flat bottomed, twin fin fish performed in small waves at Narrabeen. His unique body shape and surfing style earned him the moniker ‘Wounded Seagull’.
Thrusters 1981 – Forever?
Not everyone was turned on by twin fins. Simon Anderson, another superb Australian surfer/shaper struggled with them. A big, powerful, Narrabeen based regular foot surfer, Simon personified the lovable, laconic, beer drinking Aussie surf rat. Simon’s 3 finned thruster concept evolved in late 1980, and by the beginning of the 1981 professional contest season, it was ready. Thruster design elements included a narrow nose, relatively wide tail and 3 small fins all the same size with the back fin a mere one inch from the tail. Traditionally, surfing competition judging criteria specified speed, power and control. The thruster had all of these elements.