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Bob Monkman’s Surfing Life by Malibu Mick Marlin

In 2001 Dunsborough surfer and longboard surfing scribe Malibu Mick Marlin wrote an article on South West surfing legend Bob Monkman for Australian Long Board (ALB) magazine (Edition 18).

The ALB story was based on Bob’s first 50 years of life and was titled THE HAPPY HALF CENTURY. It’s been 50 years of pleasing progress for WA’s Bob Monkman.

Image: 2001 ‘The Happy Half Century’ double page cover shot in ALB mag. Paul Jarvis pic.

This is Malibu Mick’s updated story on Bob Monkman’s surfing life. It is based on an excerpt of the 2001 ALB article and has been updated to August 2017.

As a young would-be cowboy hanging out in front of his folks’ petrol station in the tiny wheat-belt town of Mullewa, 400km northwest of Perth as the crow flies. Bob Monkman had no idea of where life on a surfboard would take him. Good heavens, this was 1963, and at the age of 13 he hadn’t even seen a surfboard, much less ridden one, living in this dusty little town 100km from the ocean. As luck would have it, the nearest high school to Mullewa was in the coastal town of Geraldton, so young Robert Cliff was sent to board at a Church of England boarding hostel with the vicar and his wife. The boys’ hostel was on one side and the girl’s hostel on the other. There was no leaping the fence, as the young boys were all sweet and innocent in those times. The hostel was located not far from Back Beach, so the boys would ride their pushies down Gregory Street and bum an old mal from Neil Peggler, one of the original Geraldton surfers, and by the way still going at it.

A year later, Bob’s folks moved to Perth, where he completed his schooling. But now, the surf was more than just a pushbike ride away from home. Bob had a new mate whose mum had bought him a Ron Surfboard from Boans department store. Bob and his mate would then hitch from Mount Lawley to City Beach where the board was stored and the two keen young gremmies would carry the board, one at each end, down to the beach. As Bob was now a confirmed city slicker and beach boy there was no need for the saddle and riding gear that he’d brought with him from the bush. So he sold the lot and bought a brand new 9ft McDonough for 48 pounds ($96).

With the new board came a change of scenery – Scarborough Beach. Here, Bob met lifelong friends Norm Bateman and Gary ‘Gooselegs’ Vaughan, along with Wayne Jacks, Kim Trayner and Murray ‘Tiny Brain’ Smith, who was about 20 at the time and king of the kids. Not long afterwards, a brand new 9ft 3 in Len Dibben was under Bob’s feet – being a little bloke he needed a much smaller board. In those days, before the Floreat groyne was built and the sand hills were tarred and feathered for carparks, the Scarborough boys only surfed their stretch of beach, as well-shaped waves were aplenty. The road to Trigg Point ran inland and the farthest north they went was Threepenny Reef, now covered by sand.

Later throughout his teenage years and apprenticeship as a cabinetmaker, surfin’ safaris down to the wave-rich grounds of the lower south-west were all the go on weekends, with Yallingup, Margaret River and Cowaramup Bay the main areas of focus.

The first set of wheels Bob owned was the ‘Pink and grey Galah’, a 1954 Vanguard, and with it full of mates like Gooselegs, he’d drive south on Friday nights. By now, it was about 1968, the boards were shortening and the v-bottom McTavish’s were state of the art. Ian Cairns was on the rise to fame and glory. On bigger days they’d be looking for guys to go surfing with as these were before leg-rope times and a lost board meant a long swim. One of the guys, Ron Waddell, wiped on the very first wave on his brand new board at Yallingup and off it went into the rip, never to be seen again. News spots were surfed – Gallows, Guillotine, Three Bears and anywhere the old wagons could find a track to the coast. They used to surf Big Rock a lot as the road ran along the hill and doubled back to Big Rock. They looked at this wave just down the beach for years and wondered if it was rideable, until someone finally did the walk and the legendary Left Hander was named and soon overrun with surfers.

Photo: 1970 young Bob cuttie at Rocky Point. Ric Chan pic.

At age 21, Bob finished his cabinet maker apprenticeship, hung around for a while and then in late ’72 went to South Africa with three mates – Peter Mac, Micko Gracie and Bruce King. They bought a Kombi in Jo’burg, drove down to Durban, then on to Port Elizabeth to work, surf ‘n’ play. After a stint in PE, they drove to Cape Town and then on safari up through Kruger National Park to Rhodesia and Victoria Falls. The other guys went to England and Bob took the Kombi and bailed for Jeffreys Bay to surf the beautiful right-hander for a few months before he too headed to England.

Photo: 1972-73 surf trip to South Africa. Bruce King pics.

Top: (Left) 1972 departure from Perth Airport on route to South Africa. Bruce, Bob and Mac (Micko absent). (Right) 1973 South Africa Port Elizabeth Flat. Mac, Micko & Bob.

Middle: (Left) 1973 South Africa Mac & Bob with Kombi. (Right) 1973 South Africa Kruger National park Boab Tree. Bob, Bruce & Mac.

Bottom: (Left) 1973 Victoria Falls in Rhodesia. Bruce, Bob & Mac (Right) 1973 South Africa Transkei Kombi breakdown. Micko, Bob & Bruce.

Back in Oz, it was time for a change in career. Bill Oddy, the owner of Cordingley Surfboards, offered Bob a job as a shaper. His cabinet making skills were transferred from planning timber to planning foam. “It was pretty easy,” reckons Bob, “as the boards at the time had flat decks, flat bottoms and round rails.”

Photo: 1972 Cordingley Surfboards Jolimont WA surf design by Bob Monkman. Courtesy of Grant Mooney collection.

During this period, a young gal from Sydney was holidaying in Perth. Jenny Bell was her name. One night at the White Sands Hotel, Peter MacDonald introduced Jenny to a multilingual local surfer. This handsome young man reckoned he could parle Francais, spreche Deutsche, hable Espanola and speak at least another dozen different languages. Now young Jenny was pretty smart, and coming from Cronulla she knew that all surfers were full of shit, especially around closing time. However, something must have sparked. According to Jenny, it wasn’t love at first fright, but they had a lot of fun together, speaking only in English and, of course going surfing. Romance blossomed and the two lovebirds married in December 1975.

It’s 1976 and the newlyweds set off on safari to England first, then California, where they settled in Santa Barbara (near Rincon) for over a year. They bought a Kombi and surfed The Ranch and would head down to Ventura where Bob encountered the coldest water he’d ever surfed in. For work, he shaped a few boards for legendary Rincon surfer and board manufacturer Reynolds Yater, then moved on to shape for Al Merrick for a while. Shaping and surfing on single-fin pintails, he noticed even then a few longboards in the line-up and thought “What’s wrong with these guys, are they stuck in a time warp or something?” Bob also fixed up and extended houses while Jenny helped with the detailing and doing a few cleaning jobs.

They’d work for a while and save a bit of money, then hit the freeway south to Baja California, 250 miles south, for a few weeks of surf and adventure. On their biggest trip, Bob and Jenny were on their way down through mainland Mexico, heading for El Salvador and Costa Rica, when they decided to go down to the coast in the State of Oaxaca for a few days. What looked like a quick drive on the map finished up being an all-day encounter with nothing better than a goat trail, not getting out of second gear the whole way. However, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow was the Mexican pipeline, Puerto Escondido, still undeveloped and reminiscent of early Bali. Even though it was not the best time of the year, the surf was quite good and they stayed for a few months until the money ran out.

When they went through the immigration gates at San Diego, they didn’t have enough money for entry into the United States, but as luck would have it, the crabby old bitch at the Immigration desk happened to be training a new girl. “Do this! No, don’t do that!” The poor girl was so frustrated that she forgot to ask Bob and Jenny how much money they had on them and just stamped the passports. So through the gates they went, breathing a sigh of relief, and drove up to Santa Barbara and went back to work.

After 12 months away, Bob and Jenny decided to come back home. They travelled through Europe and even checked Biarritz in France, before flying on to Singapore. Next, it was a plane trip to Java and overland to Bali for a few months before settling back in Oz. There wasn’t much in Bali in those days; Kuta was all rice paddies and a few losmen, Lasi Irrawatis, Losman Kedin and Kamala Indah. Poppies Lane had a few thatched warongs and a few of Bob’s old mates from Perth were hanging out for the winter. Bob had uncrowded surf and Jenny had her first taste of Asian culture.

Back in Perth Bob fitted-out boats for a couple of years before buying a farm down south at Yallingup. On New Year’s Eve in 1978, Holly their first daughter, was born. Not long after, the family packed and moved to the farm. Bob set up a workshop in the shed and started making cabinets before moving into a factory unit in Dunsborough. Pretty soon a factory unit and land came on the market just down the road and they hocked everything to buy it. “Best move we ever made!” reckons Bob.  In June 1981, twins Kyla and Sage were born.

In 1985, the ‘bunch of fun locals’ at Yallingup decided to have a surfing contest, featuring only Malibu surfboards. And so the Yallingup Malibu Classic was born. Bob needed a board for the contest so he had his old mate Greg ‘Thunderpants’ Laurenson, master shaper for Rusty Australia, make him a new mal. Bob recalls his first wave: “I remember saying to myself that I must step back before I turn. Well I stood up, tried to turn and plonked right over the side!” He swapped between short and long boards for a number of years and dominated the annual Yallingup Malibu Classic. So much so, that the organisers changed the rules. Now the prize of a new board and trip to Bali were drawn out of a hat and not won by the winner, which was always Bob Monkman. By now, Mark Ogram had set up Yahoo Surfboards in Dunsborough and Bob became chief test pilot.

Photo: 1985 Inaugural Yallingup Malibu Classic presentations on beach front. Brad Leonhardt pic.

L-R Bob Monkman, Greg Laurenson and Loz Smith.

In 1991 Western Australia sent its first team to the national Longboard Titles, held that year on the Gold Coast. It has sent a team each year ever since. Two years later, the late Lindsay Thompson started competing at State level and was WA’s top competitor, winning every age group title. He became the first West Aussie to make a final at the Nationals when he came fourth at Bells in ’95. The following year, Bob decided to give the State Titles a go and won both the Masters and Grand Masters, thus making the team to compete at Caloundra in Queensland. The surf was tiny, the competition fierce, but he still managed to get through a couple of rounds and came away more experienced and far wiser.

Photo: 2000 Yal Mal contest presentation at Yallingup. Mick marlin pic.

Front row: Chris ‘Chubby’ Tranthem, Mick Marlin (author), Bob Monkman, unidentified (2).

Middle row: Unidentified, Bob Bright and Adam Lane.

1996 was the biggest year so far for WA longboarding as the Nationals Titles were to be held at Yallingup. Bob went all out in the State rounds, winning the Open ahead of Gary McSwain and Lindsay Thompson and also the over-45s Grand Masters ahead of Lindsay Thompson and Mick Marlin.

However, a month before the National titles, tragedy struck. At Cowaramup Bay, teachers, students and spectators were watching the final heat of the annual surfing contest between Margaret River and Cowaramup Primary Schools when the cliff above them collapsed, resulting in the deaths of nine people, five adults and four children. One of those lost was Lindsay Thompson, who was judging at the time. The National Titles were dedicated to the memory of Lindsay and his photo adorned both the poster and program. Although a sad time for all, the titles went off without a hitch in good surf, with the feeling of Lindsay watching over the proceedings from above.

Photo: 1999 Yallingup Malibu Classic – Lindsay Thompson Team Challenge winners – Team Yahoo

L-R Kevin Anderson, Kevin ‘Twiggy’ Sharland, Bobo, Gary McSwain and Mark Ogram sponsor of Team Yahoo. Loz Smith pic.

Bob went through to the final of the over-45s, not even dropping into the repechage heats. But even a home break advantage is not enough to help if luck is against you. “I thought I had to surf fantastic to win, but all I had to do was just go out and surf normal,” says Bob. “So I thought I’d pick those nice inside lefts that run down the reef – the point scorers, but every wave I took off on closed out!” The other guys sat out on the shoulder and took the fat ones. The winner was Peter Hudson NSW, then Alan Atkins VIC (second), Bob WA (third) and Eric Walker NSW (fourth).

Photos: 1999 Bob Monkman competing in State Titles held at Avalon Point. Mick marlin pics.

Bob won the State open and over-45s almost every year for a while, until his young protégé Justin Redman from Quindalup started winning the opens. The bridesmaid’s tag at a national level was a hard one to shake, with a second place behind Robye Dean QLD at Port Macquarie and a second behind Eric Walker NSW in South Australia. It was not until the Australian Longboard Titles at Bells Beach, Victoria, in October 1999 that the trophy was held high by a West Australian when Bob won the over-45s from Phil Trigger QLD and Andy McKinnon QLD. A solid performance throughout the entire event put Bob on the victory dais at last. Although lost for words at his acceptance speech, he paid tribute to his old mate Lindsay Thompson, who placed fourth in the final of the same event, just five years previously.

Photos: 1999 Bob Monkman competing in National Titles held at Bells and Jan Jac Beach Vic. Mick Marlin Pics.

In 2000 Bob was awarded the Australian Sports Medal for his contribution to surfing. He was presented with his Medal and letter from Prime Minister John Howard at a ceremony held at Caves House Yallingup.

Photo: 2000 Bob with his Medal and letter from the PM at presentation ceremony Caves House Yallingup. Loz Smith pic.

Bob got back into the shaping bay for a five or six years, shaping his own boards and doing a few signature models for mates through Mark Ogram’s Yahoo Surfboards. “I can’t believe how hard it is to shape a modern longboard, it’s 10 times harder than shaping an old tracker!” Bob reckons.

Photo: 2004 Noosa Festival of Surfing. Old boys final. L-R Wayne Deane, Bill Tolhurst, Robbye Deane, Bob Monkman, Eric Walker, Norm Bateman.  Mick Marlin pic.

The Monkman’s eldest daughter Holly followed in her Dad’s footsteps. She became a very keen and competent grommette, winning the State Junior Women’s title and later, the State Open Women’s title. Holly capped this off by taking out the Australian Women’s title in 1997, before turning pro and doing the world circuit. Taking Holly to contests, Bob would enter the short board rounds and won the State Grand Masters title.  After Holly’s big win they both went on a yacht trip through the Mentawai’s while Jenny and the twins lapped it up in Bali. Holly competed on the world circuit for a few years before taking up marketing and management positions with a number of surf companies. Creatures of Leisure, Globe USA, Electric, Coastalwatch and Quicksilver Asia among them. Now a resident of Bali, Holly runs a surf school.

Photo: 2014 Jenny & Bob Monkman at Surfing Down South book launch held at Vasse Felix Winery. Loz Smith pic.

Into the new century Bob and Jenny built a new home in Dunsborough and ran the gallery and woodworking business until 2007 when they decided to retire. Bob kept having a crack at the national titles and in 2001 he won the Aussie Over 50s title at Yallingup followed up by winning the Over 55s when the titles returned to Yallingup in 2006. In 2011 he won the Over 60s division at Port Macquarie.

Photos: 2001 National Titles held at Yallingup. Bob Monkman over 50s champ. Mick Marlin pics.

Left: Bobbo the Over 50s national champ.

Right: WA team L-R Justin, Paul Thompson, Bob Monkman, Claire Finucane, Tim Fitzpatrick, Gary ‘Gooselegs’ Vaughan and Bob McTavish.

Photos: 2006 National Titles held at Yallingup. Bob Monkman over 55’s champ. Mick Marlin pics

Left: Bob waxing up his longboard.

Right: Holly and Jenny Monkman cheering Bob on at Aussie Titles Yallingup.

In 2017 Bob won the Over 65 division at this year’s WA State Longboard titles and at the National Titles at Cabarita NSW he made the semis in the Over 65s and won the Over 60s division surfing against the young blokes.

Bob and Jenny are part time grey nomads and proud grandparents. Twins Kyla has had three sons and Sage one son.  Bob has his annual one month sojourn up at Gnaraloo riding mostly a 6 foot 6 inch fish while around Yallingup he uses mostly a mal.

Photo: 2012 Bob cooking scones at Gnaraloo surf camp. Ron Marchant pic.

L-R Bob Monkman, Tom Martin and Ron Marchant.

A surfing life well lived. Just look out for the little bloke perched on the nose out at Yallingup.

Regards

Malibu Mick

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  • Michael Schaffer

    Bob Monkman, one of the nicest guys I knew in WA, good to read of him doing well and living the good life.

    • Jim King

      Hi Michael.

      I added your comment onto SDS Facebook so Bobbo and his friends would see it!

      Jim King
      SDS Administrator.

  • Tony Wigger-Smith

    What a great life you have lived Bob, and you sure know how to tell a story Mick well done both of you.

  • Gary McCormick

    A great cover of a Real Gentleman in Surfing, Well done Bob and Mick.

  • Gary McCormick

    2000 Yal Mal Photo Middle row “Unidentified” is Rodney Rocket from Mullaloo LBC.