In 1956 pioneer surfer Jim Keenan and some of his surfing mates from the City of Perth SLSC travelled to Victoria to witness an international surf carnival held in conjunction with the Melbourne Olympics. The American surf team enthralled Aussie surfers with their wave riding skill on Malibu surfboards.
After seeing the Malibu’s in action, the WA boys discarded their heavy plywood toothpick surfboards and moved to the lighter more manoeuvrable Malibu’s. It was the introduction of Malibu surfboards to Australia and the beginning of the movement away from Surf Lifesaving Clubs to free surfing.
These are Jim Keenan’s recollections of his trip to Torquay Victoria in 1956.
Many of the early Yallingup Surfers were still members of various SLSA Clubs in 1956. They had not been exposed to the virtues of a Malibu and tackled the Yallingup break with 16 ft plywood boards and skis.
Photo: 1950s City of Perth SLSC clubbies with plywood toothpick surfboard at City Beach. John Budge pic.
L-R Ron Drage, Dave Williams (dec’d), Graham ‘Cocko’ Killen and E Mickle.
SLSA Australia elected to conduct a Surf Carnival at Torquay Victoria in conjunction with 1956 Melbourne Olympics. Many countries were invited and included the U.S.A. and Hawaii.
The Americans were mainly life guards from Los Angeles and Hawaii. They arrived in Sydney before the Torquay Carnival and proceeded to enthral Aussie Surfers with their Malibu skills at various beaches. The same skills were displayed at Torquay late November ‘56.
Fortunately, a group of West Australians including early Yallingup surfers witnessed the Americans in action. Some of those from W.A. included the likes of Dave Williams, Graeme Killen, Jim Keenan all devotees of Yallingup.
Photo: 1956 WA boys wearing Bear Suits (WW2 flying suits) at Luna Park in Melbourne. Jim Keenan pic.
L-R unidentified, Dave Williams (dec’d), K Jones, Jim Keenan, R Howe and Graham ‘Cocko’ Killen.
After Torquay the group of WA surfers visited Sydney Northern beaches where the Americans again displayed their skills only, this time in far better surfing conditions.
Well known Australian board builders managed to purchase some of the Mals and from there the rest is history. Malibu production began in earnest and the demand was full on. Joe Larkin and Gordon Woods were along with Bill Wallace some of the early builders in NSW.
Unfortunately for the SLSA clubs, the visit back fired with many of their members signing off and adopting free surfing as their lifestyle. The exodus was not limited to the eastern states and many West Australians also made the same decision.
Photo: 1957 Bernie Huddle (dec’d) with his balsa Malibu surfboard at Yallingup. John Budge pic.
The Malibu was born and surfing at Yallingup and other breaks never looked back. Mind you, one had to be keen as a new Mal cost the equivalent of six weeks wages.
Photo: 1964 Murray Smith and Jim Keenan surfing Margaret River main break on their Malibu’s. Jim Keenan Pic.
They were wonderful days and it is great to witness the Mals in action to this day.
Editor’s note: There is a 1956 East Coast newspaper article on the visiting US Surf Team (including pic of famous big wave surfer Greg ‘Da’ Noll) on display at the WA Surf Gallery – Aravina Estate, Yallingup.
Bonus party pic
WA surfing pioneer Jim Keenan celebrated his 80th birthday with his salty old sea dog mates at Marmion Angling and Aquatic Club on Friday 23 June 2017. Jim’s actual birthday was the previous day (Thursday). The old boys enjoyed a few ales had a great afternoon.
From left to right, strictly as their heads appear – Kevin Merifield, Dan Daragan (Dec’d), Ray Nelmes, Jim Keenan, Dave Maxwell, Graham (Cocko) Killen (Beer in hand). Bruce (Moonshine) Hill, Mark Paterson, Tony Harbison, Les Gillies, Bill Prately, Jim McKenzie and Laurie Burke. Brian Cole and Terry Williams had been present, but had left a little earlier.