My First Trip Down South – over 50 years ago!
By Errol Considine
December 1965 saw my first trip Down South – I was 14. The memories of that first taste of the magic of the Capes region remain vivid today.
My brother Jeff and I had been bitten with the surfing bug a few summers earlier and ridden our first boards on our home beach at Scarborough, and been part of the local ‘crew’. Eventually, both becoming members of Scarborough Board Club.
We were in awe of the stories we kept hearing from the older guys – especially Murray Smith and the North End Board Club crew, who were also Scarborough-based – about the monster waves on the Yallingup-Margaret River coast. We were busting to get down there.
By ’65, Jeff and his mates in their last year at Scarborough High School had started getting driver’s licences and some were picking up an assortment of old cars and fitting them with roof racks.
So when Jeff finished his Leaving Exams in early December, we loaded up his new 9’6” Dibben-Cole single stringer onto high schoolmate Fred Bosich’s Austin Lancer, along with his board too, on a Monday morning. Jeff and I packed our boardies (ours were custom made by Jenny Cordingley – Fred wore black footy shorts to surf!), wax and sleeping bags and headed for Mandurah, cutting across to Pinjarra, and then on the narrow and winding South West Highway on the s-l-o-w trip South.
We headed to Margaret River and the Prevelly caravan park, which had old buses fitted with bunks and a gas stove, and I think a single light bulb! Camping down south also meant taking along a stash of tinned taste delights like braised steak and onions or baked beans, as the staple diet ….I reckon global warming was given a kick along by a spike in methane gas emissions rising into the atmosphere from the Capes Coast of SW WA during that era!
The following year, we camped at Prevelly. Brother Jeff had started as a Cadet Architectural Draftsman at the Public Works Department in early 1966 and saved enough to buy his first car, the Mini, which carried us for many surfing weekend Down South.
“Funny but early in our Down South days we seemed to always stay at Prevelly. One weekend, we were even being drafted in by the Scarborough Board Club boys to help on the wheelbarrows and shovels to lay the cement slab for their corrugate iron clubhouse which was erected there. North End Board Club built another one nearby. But after the first few summers we all gravitated to staying at the top of the Capes Coast Yallingup, and sleeping on the grass in front of the dunnies.
Geoff Moran, another of Jeff’s mates who also lived near us in Doubleview and went to Scarborough High, joined us on later trips Down South. He had a good camera and snapped the black & white pics which appear with this little vignette memoir….buying and processing colour film was expensive!
Geoff later got called up for Nasho’s and went to Vietnam and I sort of lost contact with him after that….”
Photo: 1966 Jeff’s Mini Minor laden with surfboards in the camping area at Prevelly Caravan Park. Geoff Moran pic.
Photo: 1966 Jeff sitting on Malibu boards on top of his new mini. Geoff Moran pic.
“The top board strapped on the Mini is Geoff Moran’s McDonagh – I recognise the ‘competition stripe’ (it was light blue)…So the bottom board would have been Jeff’s Dibben-Cole 9′ 6”, single stringer, laminated wooden tail block, yellow D-fin, no colouring’.
Photo: 1966 Geoff Moran’s McDonagh surfboard (ex NSW) at the back of the Moran’s house near us in Doubleview – his sister Pam in the shot. Geoff Moran pic
Photo: 1966 Geoff Moran’s EK Holden sedan at Doubleview. Geoff Moran pic.
“Geoff’s Holden took us on other surf adventures – I remember going to Avalon for the first time one summer’s Saturday morning in this car, driving over an open paddock to a wire fence and having to clamber over it to get to the top of a sand hill to check out the waves – it was small and as we got there the sea breeze came in and turned it to junk! Didn’t get wet that day..”
…but I digress – back to the tale of my first ever trip Down South…
The surf spots we knew about in late ‘65 and could locate between referring to our Shell road map, plus by drawing on the knowledge we’d picked up from other guys who’d already been regularly making the trek south, were: Yallingup, Smiths Beach, Indjidup Carpark, Cowaramup Bay (Huzza’s and South Point), Gallows, and Margaret’s Mainbreak and River mouth.
In his autobiography, “Nat’s Nat and that’s that”, Nat Young wrote about his first trip West. He and Rodney ‘Gopher’ Sumpter were recruited by Paul Witzig to shoot an Australian sequence for filmmaker Bruce Brown for his movie “Endless Summer” – including a segment on a surfari to WA. The ground breaking movie was first released in 1964, with worldwide release in 1966. So their trip must have pre ’64.
Nat wrote: “In Perth…the waves were a bit of a disappointment (not surprising!) …and we headed south towards the Yallingup-Margaret River area … we drove to Yallingup and booked into the Caves House hotel… The next day, we tried to get out through the big, nasty waves at Margaret River, but found ourselves washed back up on to the beach after only half an hour – we couldn’t even get out the back…we felt like complete failures and had to admit the waves were too big for mere kids.”
If up and coming, and soon to be world-ranked surfers like Nat and Gopher who we’d seen in the surf magazines couldn’t ride the big stuff Down South, what chance did we have?!
When we first laid eyes on Yalls and Margaret’s Main Break … well, it looked like Hawaii in the surf magazines and we just crapped ourselves, and decided not to sacrifice our young lives to the surf gods and venture way out there!
And, in those pre-leg rope days, South Point had a fearsome reputation for snapping boards lost in the take-off zone – and so that was also a no-go zone!
But we still had a week of what we thought were epic waves.
We all rode some neat little runner rights breaking back towards the south corner of Smith’s, on a bank formed near the out flowing creek; had a few great sessions at Huzzawooie; and then two or three consecutive mornings of what in my mind’s eye now, over half a century later, were sensational small rights at Margaret River mouth – consistent and clean, and within our capabilities back then.
With only two boards on the car, as the younger hanger-on grom I had to wait for one of the older guys to come in and borrow one of their Mals. But I got my share of waves and was stoked.
“It would not be until 1968 – my last year at high school – that I could afford to buy my first new board! I was a serial pest, driving everybody nuts borrowing their boards….during school holidays, I used my brother’s board midweek while he was at work!”
“We obviously liked the small rights at Margaret River mouth – these pics were taken in ’66 and we were back there for more”.
Photos: 1966 Surfing Margaret River mouth. Geoff Moran pics
Top: Jeff paddling out & Errol surfing the wave.
Bottom: (Left) Jeff performing a Quasimodo head dip (Right) Errol performing a Cheater Five.
One day during that very first trip in December 1965, there were perfect right-hand sets peeling off the sand point out from the River mouth towards what we now know as ‘The Box’ ….they were too far out for us to work-up the courage to tackle them but we thought they looked like the peeling walls of California’s Rincon that we’d seen in “Surfer” magazine. I’ve never seen it break like that again, in my many trips south over the past 50+ years…
I think my brother and Fred Boshart also had a session at Inji Carpark, but I was not up for that yet and watched from the shore!
In those first trips we often headed down random tracks of Caves Road hoping to find other waves.
Photo: 1966 Jeff & Errol ‘on surfari’ at the back of Cowaramup. Geoff Moran pic.
Photo: 1966 Jeff & Errol goofing around for the camera at the back of Cowaramup. Geoff Moran pic.
“I think, looking for waves also meant goofing around for the camera! I think we were inspired by the antics which always featured in the USA surf movies by Bruce Brown and Bud Brown – that this is what surfers did when ‘on surfari’!”
Photo: 1966 Jeff & Errol kissing the ground after digging the mini out of a dirt track. Geoff Moran pic.
“After digging the Mini out of a dirt track (maybe the notoriously boggy Gallows), we were happy to be back on the bitumen of Caves Road”.
Crowds were certainly not a problem in that first week Down South. We saw just two other surfers! On the whole coast!! They were staying in one of a small group of cabins at Prevelly. We said hullo and chatted at the caravan park but only crossed paths with them in the surf once, during one of our long afternoon sessions at Huzza’s … as I recall.
Photos: 1966 South West coastline. (Left) unidentified surf coast. (Right) Cape Naturaliste. Geoff Moran pics.
Photos: 1966 Jeff exploring Canal Rocks. Geoff Moran pics.
The surfing horizon opened up for us in December 1965 – and nothing would ever be the same again. Our eyes had been opened to somewhere unique on the planet. It would keep drawing us back on countless weekends and holidays… seeking out the many Down South adventures and life experiences which eventually came to pass over the following decades.
In “Offshore and Pumping”, the booklet released by Surfing WA to mark its 40th anniversary, Down South legend Bob Monkman wrote: “…we were different. We had long sun-bleached hair, wore different clothes and were always happy from the buzz of surfing all day…”
“We were a relatively small group, everyone one knew each other and crowds weren’t a problem. In fact, we would often wish for a few more people to be out on the line-up because it was always good to have someone to fetch your board if you had to swim or tell you which way your board went.”
There’s much truth in Bob’s words. Being part of that small crew regularly travelling Down South – after that first expedition at the end of 1965 – did make us feel special –and different. We were in the right place at the right time, and on the right side of our surfing history, in terms of crowds and surfing new waves.
And, over half a century since that very first trip “Down South”, I still get a huge buzz every time I come over the crest of the hill and Yalls and see the whitewater, and that stunning coastline and cliffs stretching away north towards Three Bears and Sugarloaf Rock. The magic remains …undimmed by the years. What an amazing adventure it all was…
Footnote: If you think about it, our generation of salt water addicts have left more than footprints in the sand…like, social impacts. The term “Down South”, for example, was originally a bit of a secret verbal code we all shared back in those early days – initially our parents and other “oldies” did not have a clue what we were talking about most of the time… Now, of course, ‘Down South’ is a universally recognised and used term by just about everybody in Perth.