In the early 50s WA surfers used hollow plywood 16ft Toothpick and 10ft Okanui surfboards to surf metro waves.
Surfboard designs changed in 1956, when a visiting American surf team put on a surfing display in conjunction with the Olympic Games held in Melbourne. The American boys (including famous big wave surfer Greg Noll) impressed Aussie on-lookers at Vic and NSW beaches on their light weight balsa Malibu boards.
WA surfers then started importing balsa boards from NSW manufacturers while others made balsa boards in their backyards.
In the late 50s surfboard innovators Brian Cole and Barry ‘Joe’ King made themselves 9ft triple stringer surfboards out of coolite foam glassed with epoxy resin.
This is a collection of 1950s surfboard images with comments from SW surf pioneers Terry Williams and Brian Cole.
Terry ‘Horse’ Williams: “From 1958 Yallingup was visited on a fairly regular basis, I must have still had the Hillman Minx. I continued surfing on various types of belly board. The most popular type of stand up board after the 16 ft toothpick was a ply Okanui board about ten feet long. Also around at that time, there were ply double (Jim Keenan & Cocko Killen) and single skis. They were all hand-made and were beyond my very limited wood working skills. Occasionally someone would arrive with one of the old canvas covered stand up skis. They didn’t last long in the Yallingup surf. The people who paddle today’s stand up boards (SUPs) think they have something new, but they were around back then”.
PLYWOOD TOOTHPICK SURFBOARDS
Photos: 1950s Ron Drage & Dave Williams with Toothpick surfboards at City Beach. John Budge pics.
Photo: 1954 Ray Geary with his Jasper design surfboard at City Beach. Ray Geary pic.
Photos: 1955 Ray Geary & Rob Wakefield with Toothpick surfboards. Ray Geary pics
Left: Rob Wakefield & Ray Geary with Rob’s new 16’6” board.
Right: Rob with old 13’ and new 16’6” board.
Photo: Mid 1950s City of Perth clubbies Ron Drage, Dave Williams, Cocko Killen and E Mickle with plywood Toothpick paddle board at City Beach. John Budge pic.
Photo: 1956 Tony Harbison with broken toothpick board at Yallingup. Brian Cole pic
Note: old Yallingup timber change rooms in the background.
Photo: 1956 Ray Geary’s homemade four man surf ski at City Beach. Ray Geary pic.
L-R Ray Geary (19), Neil Chapple (17), Rob Wakefield (18) & Colin Taylor (17).
Photo: 1958 Dave Williams with toothpick surfboards at Miami Beach near Mandurah. John Budge pic.
Photo: 1958 Peter Docherty (age 13) with his 12ft plywood surf board at City Beach. Peter Docherty pic.
PLYWOOD OKANUI SURFBOARDS
The following material on Okanui surfboards was sourced from History of Okanui Surfboards in Australia by Bill Wallace published in Pacific Long Boarder Magazine 3 April 2012.
In the early 1950s world renowned surfing industry legend Bill Wallace was making four Toothpicks a week as well as wooden skis for clubbies throughout Sydney. During this period Bill and his mates where known to surf 20-foot waves off Bronte, Bondi and fairy bower on 16′ to 20′ toothpicks. The toothpicks weighed around 30KG – this would be thought of as ludicrous to the big wave surfers of today as the toothpicks had no fins!
In 1956 Greg Noll and other surfers from the USA brought the Balsa Malibu to Australia, when Bill and others saw the board in the water they couldn’t believe how a board could ride across the wave and turn so easily. Bill set out to replicate that board, but at that time you could not buy Balsa wood in Australia. So he made it like the toothpicks from the ’40s – hollow in the middle and chambered with Marine Ply. These boards would be known as the “Okanui.”
Bill Wallace: “Most people think the Okanui was a Hawaiian word, but I think Bluey Mayes came up with it. ‘Oka’ Meaning Aussie and ‘Nui’ meaning new, the new Aussie surfboard!”
Photo: 2012 NSW Bill Wallace with a 1957-58 Wallace 9’6” Okanui surfboard. This hollow board is made out of Marine ply and has Hope Pine and Surian Cedar rails. It is the last Okanui made by Bill Wallace.
Jim ‘Lik’ MacKenzie: I bought my first Malibu style board from an older Scarborough Surf Club member at age 13. Due to the lack of Balsa wood from WW11, the board was made of marine ply and was hollow inside with ribs like a boat. It also had a bunghole in the nose to drain any water out. It was the Australian marine ply version of the USA balsa Malibu surfboard and was called an Okanui.
My son Sol collects vintage surfboards. He located and purchased my original Okanui surfboard for his collection…see pics below.
Photos: 1958 Jim ‘Lik’ MacKenzie’s original 10ft marine plywood Okanui surfboard. Jim MacKenzie pics.
BALSA MALIBU SURFBOARDS
Terry ‘Horse’ Williams: “The board that really shook up the surfing scene then was when Laurie Burke arrived back in Perth with a nine or ten foot balsa Malibu board. That had everyone amazed. My first board was a balsa board made by Danny Keogh in Sydney. I can’t remember the price of the board but I remember the cost of air freight was pretty steep. I know my board arrived pre-dinged. The airlines had no idea how to carry them, there was no bubble wrap then. I must have used that board for a year or two. The trouble was that when they got dinged they soaked up water like blotting paper and became very heavy”.
Photos: 1957 Bernie Huddle with his homemade balsa board at Yallingup. John Budge pic.
Brian Cole: “Light weight 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.
Most of the balsa boards were imported from eastern states surfboard manufacturers Gordon Woods, Bill Wallace & Bill Clymer. Pioneer 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.
Some of the balsa boards were homemade in back yards from balsa blanks purchased from Boans Department store in Perth city.
The balsa was purchased in lengths 9ft x 4” square. Then they were glued & clamped together prior to shaping with electric & hand planners. A spoke shave was used to take shave off rough edges of the timber. 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 fin was glassed onto the board.”
Photo: 1957 Dave Williams with his monogrammed balsa board at Yallingup. John Budge pic.
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.
Photo: 1958 homemade balsa surfboards at Yallingup. John Budge pics
L-R John Budge & Don Bancroft.
Photos: 1950s Balsa surfboards.
Left: 1957 Bruce ‘Moonshine’ Hill with balsa board at Miami Beach near Mandurah. John Budge pic.
Right: 1959 Brian Cole with balsa pig board at Coolangatta in Qld. Brian Cole pic.
Photo: 1959 surf pioneers with balsa surfboards at Mettams near Trigg Beach. John Budge pic
L-R Colin Taylor, Dave Williams, Cocko Killen, Bruce ‘Moonshine’ Hill & Artie Taylor.
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 Barry ‘Joe’ King with his homemade three stringer epoxy surfboard at Yallingup. John Budge.
Brian Cole’s homemade 9ft three stringer epoxy board can be seen in the following photo. (Brian is second from left).
Photo: 1959 a quiver of epoxy, Okanui, and Malibu surfboards at Yallingup. Brian Cole pic.
L-R Ray Nelmes, Brian Cole, Jim Keenan, Des Gaines, Laurie Burke, John Budge & Artie Taylor.
Coming soon 1960s Surfboard Designs