QUESTION: When you think of the ‘shortboard revolution’ (of the late 1960s) which shapers and surfers instantly spring to your mind?
Midget Farrelly (rip): As good as the vee bottom design was in small waves it was a disaster in overhead waves. The tail was meant to facilitate slide, which was great fun in small waves, but a nightmare in large waves. View any footage of the design (copies) being used in Hawaii and you will see the riders losing control as they attempt the turn. The design had a fairly short life as longer, streamlined shapes (Dick Brewer) proved more versatile in all waves. I only made one of these Vees and I rode it for five months or so before moving on to pintails. Whilst I may lay claim to an original, the 1967 vee bottom, a shorter board in a time of longboards, I deny any connection to the achievements of those who created the shortboard revolution of the 1980s. Time had yet to roll through all the outline, rocker and fin developments that led to where the multi-finned boards emerged.
My vee bottom design had nothing to do with the ‘shortboard’ or ‘vertical’ revolution. Simon’s (Anderson) 1980s ‘thruster’ and Col Smith’s vertical North Narrabeen surfing are what opened that door. The day that Simon won the Surfabout at North Narrabeen on his new ‘thruster’ was the day the wheel really turned. Mark Richard’s twin fin did not have the drive to take him up the face into the top of the wave for the re-entry, cut back, as did Simon’s ‘thruster’.
Mark Richards: I was born in 1957 so I was quite a young guy during the Shortboard Revolution. So I am influenced by what I have read and what I have been told. My thoughts are 2 of the greatest surfer/shaper/designers Dick Brewer and Bob McTavish came from this era and are both directly responsible for it. Dick was working with the best surfers in Hawaii creating, designing and evolving high-performance guns and mini-guns for big Hawaiian waves. Bob was working with Nat Young and the best Australian surfers of the time creating the innovative Plastic Machine and the V Bottom. I know they both made movies about who was responsible, but I honestly feel they both were ... working on completely different styles of surfboards. Without Dick Brewer and Bob McTavish surfboard design would not be where it is today.
Peter Drouyn: Peter didn’t start the surfboard revolution: that happened as a natural follow on to Peter’s own private surfing revolution, the ‘power surfing’ (genre) as it was called. And it’s Peter’s determined fervor within his rip, tear, blast brand – body against wave – an all-in ‘dare’ brand (with a matador style displaying mutual respect) of surfing, that gave him constant persuasion, to keep reducing the length and particularly the weight of his boards, to satisfy his thirst for closer, introspective up-close/escape action.
Had Peter Drouyn never surfed, ‘power surfing’ would never have evolved from that point in history, by an Australian, for the benefit of Australians or the world. But without his crushing will and Houdini balance, driven by his personality (and inner turmoil dampened by his addictive surf action) ‘power surfing’, and thus functional shorter, lighter boards, would never have evolved but for his exposing all in his historical 1965 competition entry point.
Geoff McCoy: From 8’–9’plus, Bob McTavish, 8’–4’6” Geoff McCoy. In the Modern Era 1960 onwards Narrabeen led the modern charge and I am still years ahead.
Paul Witzig: I have to think about Wayne, and I have to think about McTavish and George and I have to think about Ted and the guys I worked with. One of the things we did was make films about that era of change and about the people we saw as being at the cutting edge of that. That was great, and it’s still going on.
I see people riding ever shorter boards, it seems to me and that they are so manoeuvrable inside the tube. The riders have such fine control of their position in the barrel. That’s just great!
For me, I stopped because of problems with my knees and hips. I stopped standing up about 8 or 9 years ago. I have been riding a belly board ever since, which I shaped myself. It has deep concave and twin fins, and steering handles at the front. Riding those boards enabled me to go to the top of the pecking order because I could take the steepest drop and latest take-offs because I was lying down.
Maurice Cole: I have read heaps about it, but I don’t understand the ‘Brewer’ thing. I only understand it from the Australian point of view. In the 70s I came to watch the world titles. In a couple of heats I watched Rolf Aurness and Drew Harrison. Everybody was long lining, doing these big long lines and making waves. Next minute I saw this guy take off … instead of going along the bottom and across the top, he actually came off the bottom on his backhand and came straight back up and went back down then did the exact same thing again. It was Wayne (Lynch) and I remembered the board – I watched it closely. His surfing was so far ahead of everyone else in those world titles.
As I learnt my history the most impressionable movie (don’t know if it had anything to do with the mushrooms or acid or dope we had) was “The Inner Most Limits of Pure Fun” (by George Greenough). I still recommend the movie to people now! You talk about Go pro shit … here is a guy that is so far ahead of the times it isn’t funny.
To my understanding in regards to the whole ‘shortboard thing’ was that Greenough inspired McTavish, then McTavish commercialised it by Nat winning World titles, but Wayne blew fucking everyone away in the water surfing! It’s that simple! To me George was the ‘Godfather’ of the short board and that was everything that I saw.
Joe Larkin (rip): The kids that I knew and I saw. You think of Michael (Peterson) and Peter Townend. Their brains were whizzing around and every time I saw them, every day they were saying ‘we gotta try this’. It was like every day they had a different board. They just kept experimenting for themselves and eventually they got a good board for everyone. They would come in to the factory and go straight to the shaping bay with some new idea.
Michael Cundith: Myself … that is all I did, improve the surfboard design. George Greenough … and Ben Aipa.
Robert Conneeley: There’s no doubt in the matter that Hayden Kenny was host to a variety of brilliant designers and innovators. McTavish and Kevin Platt come to mind, but the one that influenced me was an old mate of mine, and we surfed in Hawaii together, Ken Adler. He brought the Mike Hynson Red fin era to Australia, and it’s a known design phenomenon, and had more controlled rocker – more control than we could imagine.
Hayden started shaping my boards again and it was basically the best Malibu I have ever had. We were fucking around with fin design and stuff like that and Hayden thought that the tail fin and the boeing airplane might be nice with a nice little square top on it. So it was all hand-laid panels and put into special resin blocks in the board … the craftsmanship was magnificent, but the thing was a dog – you could nose ride all day but it wouldn’t turn. Then the scaly fishing friend of Haydens from Santa Barbara (Greenough) was hanging around doing a bit of surfing, and he volunteered to foil my fin. I went to Alexandra Headland that afternoon and fell off the back – falling off the back is always a good sign with a board – it means it’s going fast. Suddenly the board would turn and I had trim … I had everything. I just couldn’t stand on the nose all day long, it was boring and it was George Greenough who changed that.
So my statement has always been it wasn’t a board revolution, it was a fin revolution. Riding a malibu is a formal dance and it has steps … that is the whole celebration of it.
Gordon Woods: Mark Richards. There were heaps of other surfers from California and Australia but Mark was our local bloke and he stood out in Australia. McTavish will claim that he was there and he started it all, but the point is there was a lot of other people there too, Glen Ritchie and a whole lot of others.
Baddy Treloar (rip): Ted (Spencer) to me was the first guy to make one out in the canefields out at Palmers Channel. Bob McTavish, whether he shaped the first or the last, Bob was there. It doesn’t matter which way it goes, whether it was Bob shaping at Cord Surfboards or Hayden Kenny surfboards in Queensland or Keyo Surfboards in Sydney, whatever it was you wanted – a vee bottom, anything – Bob would shape it with no template, just do it by eye, shape it freehand.
There was Brian Morris who was a Hayden Kenny representative in Sydney. John Otton was there, shaping for Bill Wallace. Kevin Platt at Keyo’s Surfboards was part of the hub of the shortboard; they had Bob McTavish, Kevin Platt and Neal Purchase shaping there. Barry Bennett had Bob McTavish shaping ‘Bluebirds’ and on the south side of Sydney you had Frank Latta.
In the 60s they were still olden day shapers, making boards with redwood stringers
Bill Wallace (rip): My first employee when I moved to Brookvale was Bob McTavish – now there is a colourful personality.
George Greenough also springs to mind.
It was a boom for business, a golden boom for surfboard manufacturing through the 1960s. All the manufacturers converged on Brookvale in Sydney and made thousands of boards. I reached a peak of making 120 surfboards a week at the end of the 60s. That was the peak of it. Everyone wanted a 7–8 foot Malibu with a fin on it – that was the busiest period for me. I moved away from Sydney, to Noosa Heads, in 1971 so that next period with even shorter boards was a bit after my time, I guess.
Bob McTavish: Kevin Platt. George Greenough, of course. Ted Spencer. Regardless of all the mistakes I made, I had the dream for the shortboard and pursued it to the best of my ability. Kevin Platt was always sitting and jiving and jumping in the shaping bay together, going surfing together, we were buddies. The first vee bottom I cut, I had vee in the tail and concave in the nose with a hard edge on it and Kevin Platt asked me why I didn’t just blend it through and the boards became more fluid because of that. Sadly Kevin got into heroin and when he gave up smack he got into alcohol and became a drinker. I kept talking to him right up to his death, went to his funeral and there was only two of us at his funeral ... me and ‘Ugg’ (local builder in Byron Bay, Australia).
After the ‘cuttle fish’ experiments I got onto Vinnie Bryant’s super tucked-down edges. He was another under-rated shaper from Hawaii. He just liberated the surfboard with those tucked-down edges, made the board plane so quickly, as soon as you were up standing you were flying! Totally opposite to the Greenough hull thing of having to work through the gears, what Vinnie was doing was the total opposite to the rolled bottom we pursued all through the 60s. All that disappeared out the window (for me) with Vinnie’s flat bottoms and that tucked-under edge on a kneeboard. Bunker Spreckels was riding it at Pipeline. Straight away Dick Brewer, Mike Hynson and myself saw it on the same day and we, straight away, split to our various countries to try it out and instantly we were going like bullets across the wave! Instantly any fool could go fast. It was the end of that Ted Spencer-style rolled bottom – we were onto modifying the down rail into something more friendly by the end of 1968.
Chris Brock: I would have to say Ted Spencer. He stayed with roll bottoms when heaps of people jumped onto those clunky ‘V’ bottoms. In that transition era when you look back over the surfing photos, it is the only time when full rail turns were common – like no other era. Also Midget Farrelly; he has ridden and shaped so many different designs over the decades.
Bob Cooper (rip): Col Smith riding a 4 foot 6 icy in a contest at Woolgoolga in 69.
George Greenough: I’d say Ted, Wayne Lynch, Bob McTavish and Nat Young. These were the crew I hung out with. We all used to tune our fins. We would set the board up initially; make the fin a little too stiff. Take the board to the beach, go out, ride a few waves then maybe come in and grind a bit off and keep doing that until it felt right.
Jack McCoy: Neil Purchase Snr.
Jim Banks: Bob McTavish and Mark Wilson!
John Peck: Tiger Aspera, Bunker Spreckels, Mike Hynson, Lesley Potts, Buckwheat, a bunch of Aussies, Dick Brewer, Reno Abellira, and the list goes on.
Ken Adler: During that period obviously that’s what the ‘Going Vertical’ movie is between Bob McTavish and Dick Brewer – getting their boxing gloves on claiming that it’s the short board revolution. There’s a funny story that McTavish was cutting lots of lengths off the boards and in that time we were just discovering and really getting into Lennox Point. McTavish thought he was just miles ahead of the rest of the world with what he was doing. We turned up one day and this guy was walking out over the rocks (at Lennox Head) with this really short board, radical fantastic looking and McTavish was shocked and he walked up to this guy and said ‘Wow! Where do you come from?’. He said, ‘I have just flown in from California,’ and his father was obviously this multi-millionaire and this guy could just fly around the world and go surfing, and he said ‘I just made this in California and I heard about Lennox and this area.’ So everyone claims that they are the originators but there is always somebody that has been there before you!
I always laugh and tell the story that Rabbit tells in his book, the story of this island in the Pacific where these monkeys discover that they can break open an oyster with a rock and this was the revolution of intelligence of working things out and then somehow the monkeys go to another island and found out that all the other monkeys on the other island are doing the same thing.
Gerry Lopez: Dick Brewer, Mike Diffenderfer and Bob McTavish were guys from the longboard era that were instrumental in making that transition from the mals to the shorter boards. But then it was a lot of younger surfers that became shapers that really started to take it to the next level. Chris Green came to Hawaii (from America) when he was young and surfing just came easy to him – he became a really good surfer in a short period of time and started building surfboards right at that point in time when the shortboard was just starting to happen. In Hawaii he was probably the most progressive shaper there for a couple of years, then he took a hit of acid and left it all behind and went somewhere else with his life. There are a lot of surfers from that era who did just that.
Mike Doyle (rip): Greenough. In my mind he got all those Aussies to try and make a stand-up board that rode like his knee board. It wasn’t that he designed and started the short board revolution by his shaping, it’s just that his influence carried over to the shapers. Kind of funny because knee boarding and surfing are like apples and bananas. You can never get your centre of gravity as low as George’s. They played hell trying to figure it out, it didn’t always work, but something good came out of it ... they all saw the light when Rolf Aurness won the Bells on a modern Brewer-type gun. They were going in the wrong direction.
Nat Young: For me Ted Spencer was the most committed, innovative shaper and surfer in that era.
Neal Purchase Snr: Bob McTavish was a key figure. I saw what McTavish was doing here in Sydney, but I also saw that Dick Brewer was doing his thing in Hawaii. That all interchanged. I saw it change every week, every few weeks … it was changing so quickly.
In 1968–1969 we got down to surfing 5 foot 8 inch boards … I think we went too short, too quickly. There was not enough knowledge of what worked well, it was all innovative … trial and error. You did have those top guys surfing like Nat, Ted, Wayne Lynch and Baddy Treloar and there were a lot of changes in those times. McTavish was influential enough to change it and so was Dick Brewer, to change it again in his path. The whole change influenced people in the United States to jump on board. They were full on with their nose riding.
I think a lot of people gave surfing away in those times, because all people wanted to do was nose ride. I have heard a lot of people did give surfing away because they couldn’t make that transition onto a shorter board from a Mal.
In America, Dewey Weber – he used to do so many boards in a mass scale because he lost so many boards in the short board revolution because he had all his longboards stocked up in his factory.
Peter Harris: Everyone from that era. The Hundredth Monkey theory. Apart from: Brewer/Lopez/Abellira; McTavish/Greenough/Young; there was Bill Fury (US/Hawaii), Laurie Hohensee, Peter Drouyn, Tony Dempsey, Dick Van Straalen, Ted Spencer, John Mantle and I am sure a lot of others from around the world. I still think early knee boarders had a lot to do with it.
Phyllis O’Donnell: The only shapers I have really dealt with were Gordon Woods, Joe Larkin and Barry Bennett. I think that Gordon Woods has a lot to do with it. Around 1966, there were a lot of changes with board design during this time.
Rusty Miller: Bunker Spreckels and Ted Spencer.
Tom Morey: Same as everyone. Except for the facts. The first really short surfboard anyone in California had – and this was before Australia’s McTavish was out of grammar school – was Greg Noll when he was a skinny string bean ... hot surfer ... showed up at Malibu in like 1957 with a board that was maybe 6’ long and 5” thick.
But there were no examples of how to surf something that small so he surfed it like he could figure being a very fine longboarder and being used to using the momentum of the board as we all did. But this short light fat thing had no momentum to speak of so the performance was not all that impressive. Especially to Greg. He just sorta laughed at how it rode. You should ask him for the full story on it.
Inspired by this and how shitty was my most recent 10’2” board from the brand I was riding for at the time, I cut 18” off its tail and re-fashioned the rear rails into 24” of curved totally hard-down rails and abrupt pin tail. The tail came out looking exactly like a toilet seat. Toilet Seat Edges, should anyone ask.
Down rear rails had been created, to my limited knowledge, by George Downing in the islands years before. But were only used on ‘big guns’. I thought it kinda nuts that no one ever shortened a board AND used hard down rear rails. Especially really sharply edged as described above. Well, wow! Did they ever work! Incredible! My cut backs instantly became remarkable! For the first time I was able to advance far into the flat, then crank really around back onto the soup and back again. Without the rounder rear rail drag common at the time ... these turns were like none I’d ever seen.
Wayne Lynch: It was just me, there was no one else. (Laughs) They stole everything off me and I am bitter and twisted. The Hawaiians were making short boards in the 1800s. In Australia, I suppose we have to talk about that part of it, but I think there was a lot going on everywhere that people don’t realise. For example, when I got to Puerto Rico for the World Titles in 1968, now I know magazines and people had been talking about shorter boards and there was a certain momentum and inspiration about going shorter and changing design. In the ‘Evolution’ movie by Paul Witzig there is a shot, very quick shot of a guy not surfing very well, wide stance and a bit uncoordinated, and I reckon his board is about five foot six. There was a lot going on that we don’t talk about or acknowledge because it is difficult and it doesn’t suit many agendas.
There is no question that Bob McTavish was inspirational and at a point around the ‘Plastic Machine’ really did do something that made us all think. After that moment there was quite a few people who picked up and evolved design and surfing beyond Bob McTavish.
Midget Farrelly in his own right was heading off in a direction. I was doing the same, working with Wayne Dale in South Australia, who ... probably no one even knows about Wayne Dale. He was a great surfer, I think a State Champion a few times – there is a whole history about South Australia that isn’t really known. John Arnold too. Wayne Dale was a very thoughtful and dedicated shaper. Ted Spencer was obsessive about it. Deep down I have enormous respect for Ted Spencer. His surfing was unbelievable. We all suffered days when we didn’t surf that great and other days we were just on. I don’t think there is footage in those early years that really show how good Ted was as a surfer, which is a shame because I think people would be surprised at just how good he was when he was on.
The late 1960s were just part of a bigger picture and really we didn’t know what we were doing at the time – a lot of the boards were junk. We weren’t recording what we were doing in a way that we could build off the components that worked. Sometimes you would completely lose what you had already established that was right, but you didn’t know it. We might not have been sure what component it was that was making the board work. There was a lot of mistakes and oppressive periods where things weren’t working for a few months. The amount of effort and dedication it took, people wouldn’t realise.
Things get broken down and certain people get the attention and credit, but it is just not true. A person like Midget (Farrelly) might not have taken on George Greenough’s designs at all, Midget might have been off doing what he was doing in his direction. It all turned out to be very important in the mix and the balance of the bigger picture.
I am not trying to deny anyone’s credibility or contribution, I am just trying to expand it a little bit. One thing that lacks in some of our history is inclusiveness … Peter Drouyn and what he was doing with his surfing in those mid 1960s – you never hear about it. You just don’t hear people say anything, but the person we all looked at and talked about was Peter Drouyn. It was Peter Drouyn that got that low squatting powerful cutback going before I saw anyone else doing it. I watched others learning it, surfing with Drouyn and learning up at Currumbin, Queensland. Drouyn had a power to his surfing that I had never seen. A friend of mine (Keith) who now lives in Samoa, he stayed with us at Christmas and out of the blue he said, ‘Remember that 1966 Australian Titles at Coolangatta when we were on the beach watching Peter Drouyn?’ We just couldn’t believe what we were seeing. There was a whole new thing going on that we had never seen in surfing before ... the way he went through the whitewater, the way he went into that powerful cutback … I said ‘Geez, Keith, I didn’t even know you were there at Coolangatta.’ I said to Keith, ‘No one really talks about that, it is odd.’ He replied, ‘Yeah! I never hear anyone mention it.’ It was that low centre of gravity cutback and you will see some photos of Nat and myself doing those cutbacks, learning them. For me, when I learned to do the cutback, particularly on my backhand, it really just opened up my surfing. As soon as I started to get that technique down … and really that was inspired by Peter Drouyn.
If you are a junior in a contest you are discounted from the main event and Drouyn was a junior at those 1966 Australian Titles, but he was the best surfer in the water by a mile.
Dick Van Straalen: Definitely Ted Spencer ... also Kevin Brennan and Russell Hughes … Midget is always there – Midget was great. He is travelling in a different time dimension to everyone else. I don’t know about McTavish – there is a lot of promotion and he is a really good mouthpiece. He has lived off the vee bottom all of his life so far – that is amazing. That was a breakthrough at the time, but I have heard Greenough had one in Santa Barbara and he knocked off the idea.
Paul Gross: Obviously, Greenough and the Australians come to mind, because they gave shortboards the initial launch. They were so smoking hot when they surfed those early shortboards, the rest of the world had to sit up and take notice. But … the people who did the most meaningful work during the late 60s were in the Islands. Shapers like Dick Brewer and Chris Green sorted out what worked and didn’t work in short order. The Hawaiian mini-gun was fully functional by ’68/’69. The shortboard concept was only a year or two old at the time, but surfers were dropping out of the sky on 15 foot peaks at Sunset, then laying out full-on bottom turns. It was remarkable what those guys accomplished in a short amount of time.
To me, the most interesting figures of the transition era were the surfers who were able to transition from longboards to shortboards without any loss of relevance (David Nuuhiwa, Nat Young, Bill Hamilton, Joey Cabell, et al). Those ‘longboard-era’ guys had an element of trim and sensitivity that really set them apart from the younger guys. Even Barry Kanaiaupuni, as radical as he was on shortboards, had that same quality … flowing with the grain of the wave instead of fighting it.
Albert Falzon: Terry Fitzgerald comes to mind straight away. He was pretty dynamic in his surfing and I think that carried over, not necessarily in the board that he shaped, but in his mental approach to shaping. All the Martin Worthington art designs were just so expressive of the individual creativity as well as surfboard design. I actually appreciate that more now than I did then, because sometimes when you are in the middle of a situation you don’t see things so clearly, but now that I look at it from a distance I realise the contribution that he made, on many levels, to surfboard design.
I think that period at Angourie when Gary Keys, Chris Brock, Ted Spencer and George were all living together – it was really an interesting time creatively. They really got into shorter boards, making and shaping boards for Angourie. They went right off on a tangent. I don’t think they were even considering the thought of developing up these shapes for the future of the surfing industry, they were just making boards that would work right there and then, for the wave they were riding.
Talking the photo of Baddy Trelor above;
George Greenough: That’s what you don’t see anymore – a cutback where the rail is buried nose to tail.
Baddy: That photo was taken May 1969 and the board was 7’4” and shaped by Mark Moore at Nipper Williams. Nipper was paying me $20 a week to go surfing and I think I was one of about six surfers in Australia getting paid to surf. I used to go up to the Gold Coast and hang with the Neilsen Brothers. I think Ted was getting paid by Shane, Nat by Keyo, Wayne by John Arnold and Midget by someone. This photo is still current forty years later.