The revolutionary short board of 1967 saw the demise of Malibu’s and Longboards. Most of them became memorabilia of the younger days or were thrown out all together. But the industry has somewhat returned to its roots and – so it seems – have the fathers of the surf themselves.
It’s more likely to encounter a surfing ‘elder’ crouched beneath the glare of a fluorescent light, immersed in the unmistakable fume of resin, than paddling out your local break.
Many surfing boomers cut the leg rope long ago and retired to the factory, where their knowledge and industry experience is regurgitated onto foam blanks. Here, the sole intent is to re-create the ‘ultimate’ board.
From wood to foam, long to short and fat to flat, the Australian surfboard industry has taken every turn, mastered every wave and cultivated some of the best surfers.
The unexpected boom in Mals and Longboards is warmly welcomed by older surfers, rather than moping in nostalgic memories, elders reef out old boards and get back into the water.
Longtime Wollongong local and board manufacturer, Carabine surfboards, has been a solid competitor in the industry for 42 years. Their shaper, Terry Richardson (Snake), has shaped the boards of world famous surfers for decades.
Over the low hum of the fan vent, owner Shane Hornby, unveils the techniques of shaping, glassing and board art; each fine detail as precious as the next.
Shane’s reasoning for the ‘resurgence’ of old designs back on the waves is because the ‘old guys’ are getting back into surfing.
‘They ‘re easier for the older guys, more leisurely and it’s what they grew up with so it’s what they like,’
‘Just yesterday a guy came in who hadn’t surfed for 20 years and wants to start up again,’ Shane said.
As Shane walks through the factory, he explains how Carabine is one of only 20 factories in Australia that still shape boards from scratch. Shifting around old foam heaps he slows, lifts his shoulders, grins and says, ‘the shaping happens here.’
The rooms are made for no more then one, each corner piled meters high with dust and cuttings. A dim low light hovers above, rocking back and forth, catching random numbers etched into the walls. At a glance it resembles the den of a mad inventor.
‘It’s a dying art,’ Shane says, ‘and although new technologies are amazing and have their merits, as Snake would say, a board made from scratch … has a soul.’
A few shops down in the modest factory of Skipp surfboards, another local surfing legend and shaper, John Skipp, is churning out new ideas.
The medium height silver fox emerges from the shed, the furrows in his face filled with pale dust shredded from the boards of decades. Gripping a shovel he asks, ‘wanna grab this and start diggin some dirt?’
‘Bank rose out the back… there’s shit everywhere.’
Skipp is often found ‘crusin’ around the factory and ‘pops in randomly,’ according to his employees. They say he loves chatting to chicks.
From as early as 1963 Skipp Surfboards has been ‘riding the crest of the surfing boom’ in Wollongong, says Skipp. At the face of the evolution, he has seen it all.
‘It all began with long boards, then they weren’t cool anymore, then alongside the longboards triumphant return, came the Mals,’
‘Because of all the advancements, the materials are better than ever, so the longboard was given a second life. ‘
‘Guys were getting older, we needed something easier, from that they regained popularity.’
Skipp Surfboards fostered world-renowned shapers, the Byrne Brothers and Nicol, who became icons in the town for surfing locals.
‘It started with me and Carabine,’ Skipp says. ‘There were always backyard shapers around but we were the first fair-dinkim manufacturers.’
Skipp’s industry knowledge is recognized worldwide and over this time he has returned to the longboard. Also having the occasional day on the paddleboard to keep his ‘A-grade six pack,’ up to scratch.
As surfing increasingly becomes more mainstream, surf schools have also largely contributed to the boom.
Denny Keogh – pioneer of Keyo longboards – says, ‘Longboards are used by a very wide range of surfers including professional longboarders, older surfers, recreational surfers and beginners.’
Keyo has been on the surfing scene for decades and introduced polytherne foam onto the Australian market. Which is now the prime material, used to manufacture 95% boards.
Denny said the revival of old school boards was only a matter of time.
‘Mini-mals and longboards are very much easier than high performance short boards and this why we have this latest boom in surfing,’
After the short board revolution older surfers turned to kite surfing and wave sailing. Denny says to keep the ‘competitive edge’ it required ‘a truckload of cash.’
‘Most of the wave sailors made an economic decision and returned to longboards.’
Denny began surfing in 1944 when he was just 7, a few years after he began shaping boards from Balsawood in his Manly garage.
Keyo manufactures some of the newest paddleboards. Denny recognizes their potential and increasing growth, claiming them to be a ‘virtual add on’ to surfing.
‘It is another activity to be involved when the surf is blown out or flat and it will always have its place in the sport.’
What remains and not to be ignored is the all-time short board. These boards have accompanied surfers on wave expeditions all over the world. They‘re the ‘trusty sidekick’ of any champion on the heroic road to stardom.
Dylan Longbottom is a south coast surf champion who has relentlessly pursued some of the worlds most largest and isolated waves. His experience with board design over the duration of his surfing career has evolved considerably and he now runs his own factory Dylan Surfboards in Wollongong.
‘Its gone from longer and more narrow boards, to boards with lots of curve and rocker. Now its gone full circle with shorter thicker and flatter boards.’
As a high performance professional surfer, Dylan doesn’t get much use from the Mals and Long boards, leaving them to the older crowd.
‘They are good for them to paddle and just cruise. I think young people trying turns on them look stupid.’
For Dylan, much of the praise goes to the innovators of board design and new age production technologies.
‘Surfing has grown so much over the last 20 years and its one of the most popular sports now in the world,’
‘New board innovation has helped surfers progress more, while also still shaping some outstanding pro-beginners in all parts of the world.’ Dylan said.
Both short boards and longboards have their merits in the industry. Neither one better than the other but rather emerging with their own objective.
As the grommets dominate the big waves and search worldwide for clean-cut conditions. The elders continue to cruise along at their own pace and as their days grow short ride on into the horizon.
Neither ever having to sacrifice that irreplaceable feeling of freedom and contentment, as they shoulder into that early morning wave.