**Updated 6 March 2016** by Ashley Jones.
Ashley Jones – In my original draft on Coolites, I stated that Chris Dermer and I started on Coolites in the early 60s, then much later it was with Chris Reynolds that I started modifying Coolites with the aluminium stringers and ply twins as knee boards. This then progressed pretty quickly into stand up modified Foamies.
Coolite is a generic Australian term for any one of a number of small, inexpensive polystyrene beaded-foam surfboards. It was the introductory board for thousands of pre-teen surfers in the 1960 & 70s.
Young surfers (or their parents) could buy a coolite for a fraction of the price of a conventional urethane foam/glass/resin board. The average coolite was five feet long and 20 inches wide, with one or two long, narrow finlike runners along the bottom. And they were allowed inside the surf club patrolled “no surfboard” zones.
Many grommets were broken-hearted after an amateur attempt to reshape and glass their coolite. The styrene foam reacted badly to polyester surfboard resin and would dissolve into a horrid white paste.
In the late 1950s WA surf pioneers Barry ‘Joe’ King and Brian Cole rode homemade 9ft triple stringer polystyrene (Coolite) surfboards glassed with epoxy resin.
Photo: 1958 Yallingup Barry ‘Joe’ King with his homemade epoxy surfboard.
Young Cottesloe surfer Ashley Jones first started his obsession surfing coolites as a kid with his mate Chris Dermer in the early 60s.
Ashley Jones – We started with modified coolites or as they were originally called ‘Senior Board’. The first coolites we rode as kids had little marine ply twin fins and an aluminum stringer rebated into the bottom of the board. These we used as knee boards. ** see update 6 March 2016**
Photos: 2012 Ashley Jones surfing Smiths Beach on a Coolite slab during cyclone Iggy. Photos courtesy of Jim King.
In the late 60s & early 70s Craig Bettenay was one of WA’s greatest exponents of the Coolite foam surfboard.
Craig Bettenay – I was lucky enough to learn on a foamie because it was so much shorter and more manoeuvrable than a malibu. We shaved off the runners and put in wooden fins. They surfed much better than mals and I had my first surf at Yalls on a coolite in ‘68. I was 11 and I got caught out the back by what seemed like a monster wave. I threw my coolite away and started to panic before one of my brothers grabbed me and took me in on his coolite. (Source 1993 Mark Thornley Wet Side News).
Photo: 1967 Craig Bettenay (age 10) with a modified coolite at his City Beach home. Photo courtesy of the Bettenay family.
Loz Smith – I remember seeing young Craig ripping City Beach groyne waves on the remains of a broken coolite in the late 60s.
Stewart Bettenay – City Beach brothers Craig & Allan Howe and my brother Greg made the fibreglass fins for our modified coolites.
Craig Howe – The Coolite days were so much fun, I’m sure my brother Alan got one of the first coolites in W.A. When they arrived in Sydney, my aunt who lived in Manly, send one over to my brother for this birthday, I remember that I wanted one!
Ross Lawrence – Great times surfing City Beach groyne with Greg, Stew, Craig, Craig Howe and Craig Blume on coolites before daybreak until 6am when beach inspector Wonk Somerford would move us out of the swimming area. If we didn’t comply he would wait till you paddled in and then confiscate your Coolite.
Mal Leckie – My brother and I lived in Perth, right near the City so we had to take our coolites to City Beach on the bus. We had plywood single fins glued in. At first it was free, but then MTT decided that surfboards had to pay a second fare and their definition of a surfboard was whether it had a fin or not. So we made T shaped plywood fins that went right through from the deck and we could take them out and hide them in our bags for the bus trip to save the extra fare. That worked OK unless you were lying down on the board and hit the sand – some lower pain resulted haha. About that time we discovered the split pin.
Here is how I remember them. Measurements could be way off – you know how things you remember change size as you get older, like how big your house was etc.
Image: Drawing of 1965-66 coolite by Mal Leckie….thanks Mal!
Jeffrey ‘RE’ Marshall – Circa 1966 I put a sail on a Coolite. I used a piece of dowelling for a mast, secured with string from the top of the mast to nails pushed into the sides,back and front of coolite. My Mum made up two sails, a main sail and foresail. I laid down under the sails and sailed it from down the front of my place at City Beach about 2km south of the groyne to the north side of the groyne. I did it because I was bored. I made skegs from 5 ply marine grade for a few crew, used a red hot butter knife to cut a slot in the coolite, then fixed them in with Bees wax. We used to shape the bottoms of the coolites, take the two rungs off and shape a concave near the nose.
Bill Gibson – In late 60s I was known as ‘Backwash Bill’ at Scarborough. I used to ride the back wash way out to sea on my coolite. I remember my first coolite. Everyone was painting their coolites, so I decided to paint mine. I found some red ‘Kill Rust’ paint (turps based) in the shed. I didn’t know anything about coolite foam and got out the paint brush and was ¾ way through the paint job when I noticed it smoking up. I got out the water hose & sprayed the coolite. It finally dried with ‘critter holes’ all over it. It dried like a rock and the deck looked like hunks of ironstone. I got my first sea ulcers from that coolite. It took the skin off my knee & middle of my foot on both legs…my first sea ulcers. Coolites were so much fun!
Little Big Eyes
In the late 60s young Frank ‘Little Big Eyes’ McVeigh (dec’d) started surfing on coolites at City Beach before progressing to fibreglass surfboards.
Images: 1967 Frank with his coolite at City Beach. Still frame image from CBSR Super 8 Movie Film.
Ron ‘Pixie’ Moss
In the ’60’Ron ‘Pixie’ Moss of Floreat was a talented body surfer and board rider on Malibu & coolite surfboards. In 1977-78 Ron joined the City of Perth Surf Life Saving Club and rode a coolite to victory in a SLSC surfboard competition held at Trigg.
Image: 1972 Newspaper cutting ‘Coolites at Trigg Point’ article by surf journalist Doug White (dec’d). Image courtesy of the Sunday Times.
** see related material**
1960-70s Surfing Coolites at City Beach by Craig Blume – Wednesday 2 March 2016
1970-80s Foamie surfboards – Saturday 5 March 2016