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1950s Balsa Surfboards

Balsa surfboards were introduced to WA in the late 50s to replace the heavy plywood toothpicks surfboards. The boards were light weight but the balsa sucked water in if the fibreglass coating was damaged.

Pioneer WA surfer Brian Cole: “Most of the balsa boards were imported from eastern states surfboard manufacturers Gordon Woods, Bill Wallace & Bill Clymer. Veteran NSW surfboard manufacturer Joe Larkin did his apprenticeship with boat builder Bill Clymer. Bill Clymer had a one man surf boat at Manly. He would row out into the waves and use the sweep oar to steer back to the beach.”

Photo: 1959 Team photo of WA surf pioneers with balsa surfboards at Mettams beach near Trigg. L-R Colin Taylor, Dave Williams, Graham ‘Cocko’ Killen, Bruce ‘Moonshine’ Hill & Artie Taylor. Photo credit John Budge.

1959 Mettams C Taylor, D Williams, C Killen, Moonshine & A Taylor - John Budge pic

Some of the balsa boards were home made in back yards from balsa blanks purchased from Boans Department store in Perth city.

Brian Cole recalls the balsa board making process: “The balsa was purchased in lengths 9ft x 4” square. Then the boards were glued & clamped together to meet required dimensions. A ‘spoke shave’ was used to take shave off rough edges of the timber prior to shaping with electric & hand planers. Resin & fibreglass cloth was purchased from Monsanto in Subiaco. The shaped balsa was glassed with a single coat of 10 ounce glass…it was difficult to wrap the glass around rails! A filler coat was added, but no gloss coat. Fins were made out of plywood & glassed with a bead on the edge. The wooden fin was glassed onto the board.”

Photo: 1958 Bob Keenan (on pogo stick) shaping a balsa board in his backyard surfboard studio at Subiaco. The balsa blank was purchased from Boans Department store. Photo credit Bob Keenan.

1958 Subiaco Bob Keenan on pogo stick shaping balsa blank from Boans - B KeenanA

Photos: Homemade Balsa Boards

Left: 1955 John Budge with Nirvana balsa board at Yalls. John Budge pic.
Middle: 1958 Don Bancroft with homemade balsa board at Yalls.
Right: 1959 Brian Cole with balsa pig board at Coolangatta Qld. Brian Cole pic

1950s Homemade balsa boards IMG_002

Pioneer surfer Bernie Huddle meticulously looked after his balsa board.

Brian Cole: “One weekend at Yallingup in 1958 Bernie put his balsa board in the shade under the melaleuca trees while he was sunbaking. A church group come along and set up a picnic and started singing hymns on the beach front. Surfer/musicians Don Bancroft & Colin Taylor started accompanying the hymns with their instruments (trumpet & trombone). The Rector got upset with Don & Colin and asked for “a bit of decorum”. Then some of the church kids started jumping on Bernie’s balsa board and were putting holes in it….when Bernie saw what was happening he let forth a blasphemous tirade. The church group quickly packed up & left the beach within 2 minutes. Afterwards Dave Wiiliams said “Everybody got a piece of watermelon at the picnic. Hellelujah.”

Photo: 1957 Bernie Huddle with balsa surfboard at Yalls. Photo credit John Budge.

1957 Yalls Bernie Huddle & board - JB pic img600

Image: 1960 Dave Williams riding his imported Bill Clymer (NSW) round tail balsa board at City Beach. Image courtesy of WA Newspapers.

1960 City Beach Dave Williams on Clymer Balsa Board - West Aust IMG_01