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1960s North Narrabeen memoirs by Mick Marlin

Although a resident of WA for many years, Mick Marlin was originally North Narrabeen born & bred.

In 2004 Australian Long Boarding Magazine (July/Aug edition) featured a detailed article on Mick’s North Narrabeen memoirs from the halcyon ‘60s era. This is an abridged version of that article.

SHARK ALLEY MEMOIRS.

The early days and empty waves of North Narrabeen

Photo: 1963 North Narrabeen SLSC and surf line-up. Photo by Bob Weeks.

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Since the 1880s, the young males of Narrabeen have had three things on their mind: beer, sex & joining the Surf Club.

The last of these three ideas were pretty much knocked on the head in 1956, when a team of Californian lifeguards, Greg Noll & Tom Zahn amongst them, visited Australia. They came to for a surf carnival at Torquay, which was held in conjunction with the Melbourne Olympic Games. After the competition in Torquay the Yanks travelled to Sydney and competed in a surf carnival at Avalon, and then went for a surf and put on a demo. They had their small light weight Balsa ‘Okanui’ boards, 10ft long and weighing about 35 pounds. This contrasted heavily with the local boards of the day, which were 14-16ft hollow ply toothpicks, weighing a ton.

The old conservatives weren’t impressed, but the younger guys were stoked! When the Yanks left they sold their boards to some lucky locals. Until balsa became available a couple years later, hollow plywood replicas were made by the local ski and surfboards manufacturers.

This change in board design resulted in baby boomers born after WW2 giving up the idea of joining surf clubs, they just wanted to go surfing!

The first of younger Narrabeen boys to get new lightweight hollow ply boards were Owen Pilon and Jim Geddes. Balsa started appearing about ‘57-’58 so Owen & Jim had pig boards made by Bill Clymer, the Bronte surfboat builder.

At that time, I was learning to dog-paddle in the seawater pool on the point. Then I taught myself to body surf the foamies on the sand bank and later to crack the greenbacks out the back. I remember suffering the ultimate embarrassment one day, being swept out to sea in a rip, right between the flags and being hauled in by a heroic lifesaver, attached by rope to the rescue reel. I must have been 8 or 9 years old, and firmly resolved my ambition, when I grew up, of donning the Speedos and red & yellow beanie.

About 1957 our mob, who were a few years younger than Owen & Jim, started to get surfoplanes (these fore-runners of the surf mat were later made obsolete by the Esky lid). Quite a large gang of us used to paddle out in any size surf at Northy, in front of the old surf club. As the surfos got older and the rubber perished, they would deflate, so we’d have to catch a wave to the beach & blow the things up again.

Occasionally we’d kick our Turnbull flippers over to the dreaded Shark Alley, to join the old blokes on their 16ft hollow plywood toothpicks, surf skis, or the new Okanui boards – some of which were hollow ply and some were the new balsa wood variety.

My first wave on a board was on the front of Owen’s 9’6” balsa pig, hanging on for grim death!

Photo: 1958 Mick Marlin (age 10) on his first wave ever, hanging onto the nose of Owen Pilon’s board. Photo by Jim Geddes with a Kodak Brownie box camera.

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In late 1959, at the tender age of 11, mum gave me an early Xmas present, £15 ($30) to buy a surfboard with. I saw a board advertised in the Manly Daily at Dee Why. It was a 7ft balsa wood teardrop, with cedar nose, pointed at the front, with a wider tail, hence the name ‘teardrop’. The fin was a swept back arrangement made from waterproof marine ply. My dad, a very nautical chap, thought you laid on the bottom, upside down, back to front and steered it by holding onto the fin!

After catching the bus into DY and parting with my £15, I set out to carry the heavy little bastard back home.

Down I went to DY Beach, walked along to what we called ‘no man’s land’ and over to Long Reef, along Collaroy Beach and up to South Narrabeen. The board weighed a ton! It went under both arms and on me ‘ead, both shoulders and was dragged behind on the sand. Then over the sand hills to Ocean Street when luckily Marto’s mum came along. We put it on top of her Fiat 500 for the short distance home, and the poor little car nearly died!

Life was pretty lonely down at the beach those first couple of years. Sitting on the big steps of the surf club waiting for someone to come along. I was too scared to paddle out to Shark Alley on my own. Usually a FJ, a Beetle or a Customline would pull up with ‘Pikey’, ‘Batman’, Bernie Huddle or ‘Puppydog’ Paton on board. Or ‘Wagga’ in his single-spinner ’49 Ford with the boys from Barry Bennett’s surf factory. I was too young & shy to walk up & say gidday, so I’d just paddle out after them and get in the way.

The second year didn’t get any better, with most days having no one to surf with. It’s a wonder I didn’t piles, sitting on those cold concrete steps waiting for someone to come along.

Photo: Early 1960s Mick’s mates hangin’ on the concrete steps in front of the old North Narrabeen SLSC. Photo courtesy of Mick Marlin.

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The next summer, 1961-62 more of the local kids got boards. The boys had been borrowing a 16ft hollow plywood from under someone’s house (until it split down the middle and they stuck it back under the house without him knowing about it!).

After another year we’d all saved up £23 for a new Gordon Woods, Barry Bennett or Scotty Dillion board. Marto saved his lunch money at school for a year to buy his first board.

Most of us lived a few streets south of the Narrabeen headland and surfed a spot at the end of Octavia Street we called the ‘The Pines’ (because of a stand of Norfolk Pines that are still there today). There was always a defined channel running out, with a left & right running into it. It seems like it was always good, when you think back. We’d surf there in the morning and when the nor’easter blew up we’d drag our planks up to Northy.

There would still be hardly anyone out at North Narrabeen Alley.

One winter we built a shack out of packing crates, driftwood and fence palings. A large fire was necessary on cold days, as wet suits were unheard of, and you nearly drowned if you fell off wearing a footy jumper. Most of the firewood came from neighbourhood fences! One day Lance ‘Lulu’ Cullen came hot-footing over the sand hills, an irate fence owner in angry pursuit. ‘Lulu’ was accused of stealing firewood, a fact he couldn’t deny as both arms were laden with fence palings! A few days later. While we were at school, the shack mysteriously burnt down.

Photo: 1959-60 beach shack on North Narrabeen beach. Photo by Jim Geddes with a Kodak Brownie box camera.

L-R Mick Marlin with his first tear drop surfboard, unidentified & Owen Pilon waving, later to become Captain at the Narrabeen Fire Station.

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In southerlies we’d go on a big surfin’ safari and walk a couple of miles up to Collaroy. The boards were so heavy somebody would walk up front, with a nose under each arm while his mate walked three paces behind, with a tail under each arm. Towels were rolled up like an Arabic head-dress and stuck on our heads. Later on board trailers became available to tow boards behind push bikes.

Photo: 1962 Narrabeen boys heading to Collaroy with boards loaded on bike trailers. L-R John Martin, Dennis Kennard, Rick Taber, unidentified, Mick Marlin, Frank Hetherington & John Courtney. Photo by surfing legend Bob Evans.

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In May 1961 Narrabeen gained its first water photographer when I borrowed my sister’s Kodak Brownie box camera, wrapped it in a plastic bag and paddled out at The Pines. I managed to get a few shots in before a closeout set sent me back to the beach. Luckily with the Box Brownie safe inside the placcy bag. Although primitive, I still have the photos in my collection.

Photos: 1961 Narrabeen Mick Marlin’s water shots at The Pines. Peter Courtney on the right. Photo by Mick Marlin with a Kodak Brownie box camera.

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Narrabeen High School opened its doors in 1960, and the following year our age group started. This opened the door to another world as we met other surfers our age from faraway places with exotic names like Avalon, Palm Beach & Mona Vale. A friendly rivalry developed at school over who had the best surfers and the best waves. I’d say in hindsight that Collaroy had the best surfers (including Nat Young) and Narrabeen the best surf.

We would have a wave before school and if it was any good we’d leave our boards down the beach and then meet in the car park to walk to school together. Sometimes we omitted the walk to school and went surfing all day.

A good eye was kept on the windsock above Grahams Ford car yard, opposite the high school. If the wind sock turned off shore during the day you would duck out the front gate, bold as brass, past the headmaster’s office and no one would say a word.

Some of the best surfs I’ve ever had were on those days and there would be hardly anyone out.

Photo: 1962 North Narrabeen Mick Marlin surfing in woollen vest before rubber came along. Photo courtesy of Mick Marlin.

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Those three years 1961-63 flew by with amazing speed. More than just pubic hair was appearing, not just at the centre of our universe Narrabeen, but throughout the rest of the world as well. Surfing had mushroomed, with more & more kids our age turning up at the beach. The dreaded weekend warrior was hitting the coast in his duffel coat & ripple shoes. Peroxide was the chemical of choice. Balsa had given way to foam. Surf music was blaring out of every transistor on the beach – instrumental stuff like ‘Pipeline’, ‘Bombora’ & ‘Wipeout’ was ok, but the bandwagon crap like, ‘Cause he’s my blonde headed stompy wompy real gone surfer boy yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah’ by Little Patti and ‘My little rocker’s turned surfie’ by Digger Revell made us cringe with horror!

Surf movies were hitting the silver screen to the sound of a thousand hoots from stoked gremmies. The first I remember was at Avalon Surf Club. Owen took us there in his Dads’ ’53 Customline. I’d say at a hazy guess it would have to be Bud Browne’s The Big Surf, as Bob Evans was showing Bud’s movies before making his own.

When they started showing at movie theatres, trouble began. A riot broke out at Anzac House, with the theatre trashed and surf movies banned from there. At Collaroy the theatre would be packed with to the max, with stoked gremmies screaming at the top of their lungs at Pat Curren or Greg Noll charging down the face of a Waimea monster. The movies only seemed to feature huge Waimea or Sunset. Bottle tops would be flicked, Jaffas and fruit would be hurled. The fact that you couldn’t hear the narration didn’t matter, as you’d be trying to scream louder than the kid next to you!

Bob Evans lived at Elanora and was a salesman before filming his own movies. His first shorts were shown at surf clubs, a 16mm projector in the middle rows of plastic chairs. Evo’s first feature length movies shown in the theatres were Surfing the Southern Cross and Midget Goes Hawaiian. Bob filmed a good day at Narrabeen in April ’62, and a wave of mine appeared in the first of these. I was stoked. The footage was used later in Ride a White Horse and Nat’s History of Surfing, but unfortunately the original prints of those movies have been lost. Photos of the same day appeared in the first copy of Surfing World Magazine, with a very daggy shot of me opposite Dave O’Donnell.

Image: 1962 First edition Surfing World magazine. North Narrabeen surfers Mick Marlin on the left and Dave O’Donnell on the right. Image courtesy of Mick Marlin.

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Because of Narrabeen’s consistent surf, especially in the big nor’east swells, it attracted a big crowd of visiting surfers. ‘Midget’ was by far the best, with Mick Dooley, Nipper Williams, Bob Pike, ‘Love Dog’, Scotty Dillion and others inspiring us gremmies. The Collaroy mob used to visit often in Ian ‘Wally’ Wallace & Bob ‘Keno’s Kennerson old bread van, covered with Denis Anderson’s Murphy drawings (Denis became a well-known Sunshine Coast shaper). McTavish would sometimes roll up in his FJ. On classic days I remember ‘Magoo’ from Bondi coming over in his VW Beetle, bringing a stylish Warren Cornish with him, and sometimes a little hottie Kevin ‘The Head’ Brennan – surfing’s first famous drug casually.

Our group had grown with an influx of Warriewood surfers walking over the hill. Among them was a little freckled faced kid called Bruce Channon, who carried upon his head something resembling his mum’s ironing board. Bruce later went on to run Surfing World magazine. A few older blokes were around; well they seemed old back then. Freddy Lister from Harbord, John Payne from Collaroy and ‘Doc’ Spence, who missed his early days because of medical studies. Doc, although blind as a bat with glasses, would go out in anything. Quite often his wife would pull up in the carpark, if Doc was wanted for an emergency at the hospital. We’d all paddle out and chase Doc in. He became the first President of the Australian Surfriders Association and when Warringah Shire Council wanted to ban surfboard riding from all the beaches, Doc took them on and had the bans lifted.

A few girls were surfing – Sue Jorgenson, Patty Malcolm, Lyn Klein (now Lyn Scammel of Kirra) and not many more, as the boards of the time were 9’6” and weighed 30lbs. Then there was Midget’s sister Jane and Collaroy girls ‘Dotty’ De Roy and Marilyn Bennett (Beau Young’s mum) would come to the beach for a surf. Carla Dunbar & Pearl Turton surfed up Avalon & Palmie way. Although we roasted the hell out of the wahines, they were treated with the utmost respect and we’d lay down our lives (well almost) to protest their honour, virtue and dignity.

But this respect certainly didn’t apply to the travelling bicycles who travelled the length and breadth of the northern beaches in search of multiple sexual partners. Names like the ‘Collaroy Grunter’ have their place in surfing folklore (Grunter sightings today are like Elvis sightings to the old boys residing on the peninsula).

On Saturday nights the floor of the old surf club used to bounce like mad to the sound of the Sundowners playing ‘Bombora’ or ‘Apache’. A thousand pairs of things or ripple soles would be stomping up & down like fiddlers’ elbows.

Owen Pilon, Jim Geddes & Collaroy’s ‘Wally’ Wallace went on the first surf trek to Hawaii in Christmas ’61 and came back with mesmerising tales of huge waves. Owen returned with a beautiful 10ft Pat Curren gun. They went again the following year when Midget won at Makaha.

Doc Spence went to Hawaii in ’64 and charged anything and everything. Doc had a special flip-up lens made that attached to his wrist like a watch, which enabled him to see approaching sets. However, an over-the-falls wipe out at Pipeline sent it to the bottom, and Doc was back to being blind-as-a-bat. One time after a wipe out at Sunset, folklore has it that Doc went out and around the rip three times because he couldn’t see the beach.

Owen, Doc & Ross Jorgo surfed Haleiwa and Sunset and returned with many tall-tales-and-true to excite us gremmies. I bought a 10ft three stringer Hobie Phil Edwards model off Ross Jorgo. (unfortunately I sold the board for a boat ticket back from NZ a couple of years later… wouldn’t I  love to have it now!).

Photo: 1962 young Mick Marlin grabbing the rail & backhand surfing at North Narrabeen. Photo courtesy of Mick Marlin.

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Sometime in late ’62 early ’63, long before the term ‘Westie’ was coined, we were invaded by a bunch of kooks from Gladesville in the Western Suburbs. None of us had even heard of the joint before an FC Holden with two Norm Casey boards on top (back to front, fins down) rolled into the car park. Out rolled ‘Wincote’ & ‘Macka’.

Not long afterwards an FX Ute with a canopy putted into the car park and out hopped Clive Handley, the oldest fart we’d ever seen, and his side kick ‘Spud’. These two were even worse, they had ironing boards in the back of the Ute! We used to give them heaps of abuse. Call then kooks, run over them in the surf and rub soap on their boards. “Paddle!!” we would yell as Clive (or Phil Edwards as we’d call him) would get tossed head first over the falls on a 6ft close-out. The poor bugger would pop up in the white water a minute or two later, with a big shit-eatin’ grin on his dial. “Ah geez fella’s, wod I do wrong? Was that a wipe out?” We hadn’t had as much fun since we ran out of dogs to take out on our boards!

In return they’d tie one of us up to the light pole in the car park on a crowded Sunday arvo, and dack the poor little buggers. Sometimes dog excrement would be rubbed into the poor unfortunate’s hair. That boys & girls is how the grommet pole came into being!

One day a dead fish washed up on the beach, so we put it in Macka’s FC, way up under the seat where he’d never find it. Macka wondered what the rotten smell was for two weeks. Eventually everyone became good mates, especially with Clive bribing us. Clive had a bread round, every day after work he’d drive down to the beach for a surf and dish out the leftover cakes. That won over the starving gremmies, Clive & his mates were in! Cream buns weren’t the only sweet things in the back of the van, as a certain young Karen the Grunter used to climb in with the bread crumbs.

These older and worldlier blokes were to have a considerable influence over us young gremmies in years to come. They took a number of us up to the Royal Antler pub, put a glass of amber fluid into our hands and commanded DRINK!!! Well it was all downhill after that!

But least we were mobile. A few more cars showed up, so on long weekends we’d load up and head off in a convoy, the more the merrier. Destinations would be Seal Rocks, Green Island, Terrigal, or anywhere with a chance of a wave. A weekend trip to Avoca then was considered like a trip to Bali nowadays.

Terry and Col Smith moved down from Port Macquarie. Everyone used to bag Col for his outrageous behaviour at first. Little were we to know that he would become one of Narrabeen’s greatest ever surfers. One weekend ‘Pricey’, Chris Diemont, Col Smith and I went to Green Island. The swell was huge from the south and we finished up inside Jervis Bay, at Huskisson, where the locals came out of the shops and houses to watch Smithy and me skateboard down the street. They’d never seen a skateboard before! It was like a scene out of an old Western movie, where they all come out of the saloon and barber shop to watch the gunfight. Later the town’s surfers, four boys, two girls and a dog all sat on the point and cheered as we caught waves. On the Sunday morning we surfed huge Golf Course Reef and saved a few guys who were swept out to sea.

One time we pulled into Blue Bay Caravan Park in Dougie McGoo’s 1950 single-spinner Ford with about 10 boards on top, all yahooing and screaming, looking for a surf. The proprietor came out armed with a shovel and threatened to smash the windscreen, if we didn’t piss off quick. Surfing sure didn’t had a good name in those days!

My first trip to Queensland came about in 1963 when ‘Bucky’ McManus & Spud took Peter Courtney & me (both age 15) up to Currumbin in Bucky’s FJ. We surfed Currumbin Alley on our own for most of the time.

Photo: 1963 Mick Marlin’s first trip to Queensland. L-R Mick Marlin, Russell Slater, Bruce McManus & Peter Courtney. Photo by surfing legend Bob Evans.

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In April ’63 a huge cyclone travelled down the East Coast and swept past Sydney. On our way to school for first term exams we saw the biggest Narrabeen ever, with huge spitting tubes coming from way outside the point. Totally unrideable. Scotty Dillion and Bob Pike surfed the Queenscliff Bombora that morning, and after lunch a few hardy souls ventured out at Narrabeen. On our way home from school we could see the tops of waves from the camping ground, something we had never seen before. The big names were out! I got out once and caught one wave that finished down at The Pines.

Next morning the swell had dropped and cleaned up for what was to become the greatest day in Narrabeen’s early history. I caught a couple and came in for the school exams. There was a study period and lunch between exams, so I ducked out of school and had a couple of hours out in the most perfect surf I’d ever seen. The word was out by now and surfers from all over Sydney had arrived. Bob Weekes and John Pennings were filming from the top of the surf club. Midget, Pikey and dozens more were sharing waves. Back at school I did a quick exam and was back out there for the late arvo glass-off, ‘til darkness forced us all in. Photos of that day appeared in Surfabout, Surfing World and American Surfer and even rates a mention in The Encyclopaedia of Surfing book.

Photo: 1963 North Narrabeen Mick Marlin take-off at the Alley. Photo by Bob Weeks.

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Photo: 1963 North Narrabeen Mick Marlin surfing under the lip at the Alley. Photo by Bob Weeks.

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John Pennings photo of Jim Foreham was the classic of the day – a huge blow up of it was used by the Sundowners as a back-drop at the stomp. The poster mysteriously disappeared one day, but the band knew exactly where to find it – they simply drove around to Jim’s place and took it down off Jim’s bedroom wall.

There may have been better days since, but the era, the crowd, the camaraderie all combined to make it the greatest day in Narrabeen’s history.

A board riders club seemed the right idea. Bob Evans put a notice in Surfing World advising one & all of the inaugural meeting at the home of Owen ‘Pilarus’ (Owen had apparently turned into a missile) on 26 July 1964. There was a huge turnout of locals & non-locals alike. Doc Spencer was named President & Fred Lister Vice-President. The club started with 103 members paying 15 shillings ($1.50) each. I was on the committee, but all I remember doing was eating the sponge cakes put on by Mrs Pilon or Sonja Lister (things haven’t changed today either!)

We had a friendly rivalry with Collaroy and had inter-club contests against them at Narrabeen. They had Nat Young & used to beat us. However, the keg afterwards was a hoot – it was held in Owen’s backyard, with drunken, debaucherous behaviour all round. The keg helped the two clubs become even better mates.

Like many clubs, we had teething problems. The club grew too quickly, as every yahoo in sight joined up, then raped & pillaged around town, giving the club a bad name. In the second year a culling program began to cull out the pretenders, only keeping the keen members wearing the NN baggies.

Having a club at the beach helped us a great deal in our relations with the surf club. We’d been at odds with the clubbies since day one – they couldn’t understand how any red-blooded male would rather ride a surfboard than spend the weekends on patrol, wearing Speedos and a silly red & yellow beanie with a strap on it, to hold it on your big boofhead. Not to mention surf carnivals with musical flags, the march past, swimming races, and the most challenging of all, the pillow fight on greasy pole. Punch-ups, abuse and confiscated boards were the order of the day early on. It wasn’t until we rescued a few swimmers, helped the clubbies in a big rescue in huge surf and attended a few kegs as underage drinkers, that the clubbies started to tolerate board riders. We even entered a team in a surf carnival and won the blue ribbon rescue & resuscitation, which pissed off the clubbies to no end – but they won the bloody boat race!

Photos: 1964 Narrabeen local Mick Marlin surfing the Alley. Photos by surfing legend Jack Eden.

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In the late autumn of ’65 I threw in my apprenticeship (silliest thing I ever did) and headed north to Queensland for winter with Clive, Wincote, Hetho & Spud. I grabbed my 10ft Farrelly triple stringer (which cost me £53/10/- ) and joined them to surf the right-hand point breaks of that fabled land. Many adventures followed, which may be dragged out of the deep recesses of my mind and put into print one day.

Not many of the old crew still surf. A lot showed at the 30th and 40th North Narrabeen Boardriders  Club anniversary weekend dinner dance & keg in ’94 and in 2004. A bit wider of girth and thinner on top, but still able to help the young blokes demolish a truck load of kegs. Over 500 of all ages turned up for the North Narrabeen Boardriders Club 50th anniversary in 2014.

Photo: 2014 Mick Marlin at North Narrabeen Boardriders Club’s 50th Anniversary celebration. Photo courtesy of Mick Marlin.

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The old boys are now scattered over the place, mostly Northern NSW and Queensland and myself happily ensconced in WA.  Just don’t hit me up the arse with a cattle prod – it sends the pacemaker haywire!

Mick Marlin

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