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1950s Toothpicks, Okanuis and Malibus

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.

EPOXY SURFBOARDS

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

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1959 my first job, surfboard & car by Dave Aylett

Dave ‘Davo’ Aylett was a Cottesloe surfer in the late 50s and early 60s. He was also a talented vocalist and song writer in the popular Perth band, the ‘Young Blaydes’.

Image: 1963 Davo singing with Perth Band ‘The Times’ in a demo music video. Snapshot image from music video.

My first job

On Saturday mornings aged about ten I would go with Dad to Pope and Aylett, or W. Pope and Co on Murray Street in Perth. It was always a very early start because Dad would have to be the first there to open. The butcher staff needed time to get the window of meat display in before 7 am. The butchers who served the first customers would put on clean aprons and bibs and have breakfast first before opening time. I was made the tea boy for the first shift, then I put on my white dust coat and headed for the wrapping counter. I joined old Billy Lindoor and he took me under his wing. We would wrap meat parcels for the customers after they had paid at the cashier box. We had up to three cashiers to take the cash. Xmas, Easter and long weekends were flat out. Pounds, shillings, sixpence, three pence, pence and half pence was the currency. At 12 noon the shop doors would close till Monday and my job became washing the meat trays used for window meat display in hot soapy water then hosing the suds off before drip drying. I would then climb into Dads FX Holden Ute saturated from the tray washing and sweat. While I was tray washing Dad would be winding up the takings from the morning trade.”

“Dad and I would go home to The Boulevard in Floreat Park and then later to the block of apartments Dad built in Marine Parade Cottesloe.”

Photo: 2016 Davo’s Dad built Belvedere Apartments in Cottesloe. Peter Dunn’s ‘Funs Back Surf Shop’ is now out the front. Dave Aylett pic.

“After lunch Dad would go off to sleep and I was then allowed to wash the ute. To do that I would have to shift it and I would drive it up and down the drive way and around the back for the rest of the day, or until the petrol gauge showed just over empty. That’s how I learnt to drive aged about at age 13 or 14. In the mornings, I would get the ute out of its garage and drive it to the house front door. One day I was sliding across to the passenger side when Dad said “Get back behind the wheel. You’re driving now.” Wow look at me now. Finally I felt like a MAN!”

My first Surfboard

“We then moved to Cottesloe and I was bitten by the SURF BUG. With the money I had earned from my Saturday morning work I bought a hollow wooden Malibu type surfboard from Boans department store over the road from Dad’s W. Pope and Co. butchers.”

Photo: 1958 Brian Cole’s two homemade hollow plywood surfboards. The board on the left (with BC initials) is a short 12ft Toothpick, The board on the right is a 10ft Malibu. Brian made the surfboards in his backyard at Wembley. Brian Cole pic.

“It was Christmas 1959. I know that because Dad had just taken delivery of a brand new Chevy Belair from Young’s Autos. You see I seem to remember stuff by what sort of car Dad or I had at the time. I think I was born a petrol head!

My first taste of surfing was in front of where I lived, Peters Pool. I was about 15. I soon started to move up to where all the big guys were surfing; the Slimy and the Pilon. One day it was breaking out past the Pilon and the beach had eroded away and the broken wave was crashing over bare rock and against the retaining walls of Cottesloe. It was big. I managed to get one wave and escape being wiped out, then the second wave was a disaster. No leg ropes in those days and my surfboard and all my hard work became match sticks no thanks to the retaining wall.

From then I had a procession of foam boards, starting with a Barry Bennett and moving to a Cordingley. My old Barry Bennett board became so damaged on the nose, I cut it off and relocated the fin to what was the front of the board. The back of the board became the front of the board. It worked well. You could almost take a tea break on the nose. I left it down at Yallingup shack when I went to Sydney with Rex Cordingley and Peter Utting. On my return, it was gone. Water under the bridge.”

My first car

“I went straight from school into butchering. I bought my first car, a Morris Minor, when I was 16. I got my driver’s licence a day before I turned 17.”

Photo: A 1958 two door Morris Minor sedan similar to Davo’s. Image courtesy of Dave Aylett.

“I drove my car for the driver’s test to the Police Station. After telling the constabulary what I was there for the policeman asked what car was I doing the driving test in. I said “MINE.” He said, “How did you get it here?” I said, “I drove it.” He said, “So you drove it here without a licence?” I said “Yes”. He looked puzzled. He said “Wait here!” and he went through a door behind the counter. I think he went to tell his boss, the Sergeant.

Just a short delay and he returned, picked up his hat and said, “Well come on then.” I followed him out to my car and got behind the wheel. He said, “Get out on Stirling Hwy and turn left.” We proceeded with a number of lefts and rights and then he said, “Drive in there and park outside that bakery.” I did and without a word to me he got out and went inside the bakery shop. Returning to the car with a paper bag, the Policeman said, “Right, see if you can find your way back to the station.”

Parking out the front of the Police Station I just sat there, thinking I was in some kind of trouble. He said, “Well aren’t you getting out? What are you waiting for?” I followed him into the station and stood to attention at the counter while he went behind the counter and once again through the door out the back. He returned to the counter without the paper bag and drew out his pen. “What’s your name?” he said. I told him. “Any relation to Ernie Aylett?” he said. “Yes” I said, “He’s my father’s identical twin brother, my uncle.”  “Good!”  He said. “I’ll write my name on this piece of paper and when you see him next tell him to do something special to my motor bike for next time we go to training at Caversham.” My uncle Ernie tuned the police bikes and fitted them out for police work. The constable then proceeded to fill out the paper work for my driver’s licence. The date that my driver’s licence was issued was one day before I turned seventeen.

It became my mission to over rev and destroy good machinery after that. But since I’ve had cruise control, which I use everywhere, I now never get caught for speeding.”

Cheers

Davo Aylett

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1954 Rotto crossing history by Jim Keenan

In 1954 a West Australian newspaper article referred to two unidentified men who made a daring three hour trip from Cottesloe to Rottnest Island.

Image: 1954 unidentified young men Paddle Surf skis to Rottnest. Article courtesy of West Australian Newspapers.

1954-rotto-crossing-article-ex-west-aust-newspapers

WA surfing pioneer Jim Keenan was a member of City of Perth SLSC at the time and believes he knows who the lads were. This is his recollection of the incident.

IF MY MEMORY IS CORRECT I SUSPECT THE GUYS INVOLVED WERE ARTIE SHAW (A MATE OF MARK PATERSON) AND GEORGE BEVAN. THEY LEFT FROM COTTESLOE AND I THINK THEY PADDLED THE OLD 16 FT TOOTHPICKS AND NOT SURF SKIS AS REPORTED.

Photo: 1958 Artie Shaw & Bruce ‘Moonshine’ Hill wave sharing at Yallingup. John Budge pic.

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WE USED TO LEAVE FROM CITY BEACH. GRAHAM ‘COCKO’ KILLEN & I PADDLED OUR DOUBLE SURF SKI AND TONY HARBISON WOULD COME ACROSS ON HIS SINGLE SKI.

WE HAD CROSSED TO ROTTO ON DATES EARLIER THAN THE BOYS FROM COTT.

IN FACT WE WERE OVER AT ROTTO WHEN ARTIE AND GEORGE ARRIVED.

THE MEDIA BLEW THEIR CROSSING UP (AS THEY DO) AND THE BOYS ADDED TO THE BULLSHIT BY SUGGESTING SHARKS FOLLOWED THEM AND POSED A THREAT.

THE MEDIA HYPE ENDED UP WITH HARBOUR AND LIGHTS IMPOSING IN CONJUNCTION WITH SLSA, A BAN ON CROSSINGS.

Photo: 1956 City Beach north side. Dave Williams riding Toothpick and Jim Keenan & Cocko Killen on double surf ski. Ray Geary pic.

1956-city-beach-dave-williams-on-toothpick-jim-keenan-cocko-killen-double-ski-ray-geary-pic

WE CONTINUED OUR CROSSINGS AND IT ULTIMATELY RESULTED IN OUR EXPULSION FROM THE CITY OF PERTH CLUB. THIS WAS GREAT AS IT MEAN’T NO MORE TIED UP WEEKENDS AND MORE SURF TRIPS DOWN SOUTH.

Photo: 1957 Jim Keenan & Cocko Killen surfing Yallingup on their double ski. John Budge pic.

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I THINK DAVO WILLIAMS JOINED IN ON A TRIP OR TWO. I DO REMEMBER COLIN ‘MOOSE’ WHITE “BORROWING” A SURF SKI AND ACCOMPANING US TO THE ISLAND.

ON THE RETURN JOURNEY WE WERE “WELCOMED”BY SOME OVER EAGER SLSA MEMBERS AND THE LOCAL COPS FROM WEMBLEY POLICE STATION. THE POLICE ARRESTED MOOSE AND TOOK HIM OFF IN A SIDECAR TO WEMBLEY COP SHOP TO UNDERGO A VERBAL LASHING.

THE CLUB MEMBERS CONFISCATED OUR SKI’S (TEMPORARILY) AND THAT POSSIBLY WAS THE BEGINNING OF THE END TO OUR MEMBERSHIPS, A BLESSING IN DISGUISE.

MOOSE JOURNEYED TO SYDNEY LATE 1959 ALONG WITH MYSELF IAN TODMAN AND LAURIE BOURKE. MOOSE IS STILL IN SYDNEY AND A LONG SERVING MEMBER OF QUEENSCLIFF SLSA.  A TRUE BLUE CLUBBY!

Photo: 1960 Manly NSW L-R Joe Larkin (surfboard & film maker), Chris ‘Batman’ Steinburg, Colin ‘Moose’ White, Brian Cole & Jim Keenan. Photo Jim Keenan.

1960-manly-nsw-l-r-joe-larkin-surfboard-film-maker-chris-batman-steinburg-colin-moose-white-brian-cole-jim-keenan-photo-jim-keenan-pic03

THE SLSA WERE NOT VERY ADVENTURE MINDED AND DID NOT APPRECIATE OUR ACTIONS.

THERE WERE AT TIMES EVENTS THAT COULD HAVE LED TO A MAJOR MISHAP, BUT IN GENERAL ROTTO CROSSINGS WERE RELATIVELY SAFE (OR SO WE THOUGHT).

PASSING SHIPS IN THE FOG WERE A THREAT ALONG WITH EARLY SEA BREEZES WHICH TAXED OUR STAMINA.

TONY ON ONE OF THOSE FOG RIDDEN MORNINGS WAS ALMOST TAKEN OUT BY AN INCOMING PASSENGER LINER (ARCADES, I THINK). IT WAS HEARD BUT NOT SEEN IN THE THICK FOG AND TONY BEING ON A SINGLE SKI DID NOT HAVE THE SPEED FOR A QUICK EVASION. HOWEVER LUCK WAS WITH US AND HE ESCAPED A WIPE OUT.

THE RETURN JOURNEY WAS USUALLY A LOT EASIER WITH STRONG SEA BREEZES UP OUR BUTT. LONG SKATES ON THE SWELLS MADE FOR A LOT OF FUN AND SPEED.

Photo: 1960s Metro Training for State Surf Championships Dave Williams on toothpick paddle board (2nd from left) & Tony Harbison on plywood single ski (3rd from left). Steve Mailey pic.

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I REMEMBER ONE RETURN WITH OUT A SEA BREEZE. IT WAS HOT AND DEAD CALM AND WE WERE SUFFERING FROM HANGOVERS. ABOUT HALF WAY WE SPOTTED THE WANDOO (A WOODEN FERRY) AND TO RELIEVE OUR THIRST PADDLED OVER TO IT AND CLAMOURED ON BOARD VIA THE WINDWARD SIDE. WE SCARED THE SHIT OUT OF THE FISHING FOLK WHO WERE TOO BUSY FISHING ON THE LEEWARD SIDE. WE JUST APPEARED OUT OF THE BLUE AND SURPRISED THE LOT OF THEM.

Photo: 1958 Wandoo ferry arriving at Rotto. Don Roper is 3rd from front. Brian Cole pic.

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OF COURSE BEING SMART ARSES, WE DEVOURED A FEW STUBBIES PROVIDED BY THE FISHERMEN AND THEN TOOK OFF FOR CITY BEACH. WE WERE DE-HYDRATED UPON HITTING THE BEACH, NOT A GOOD IDEA.

REGARDS JIM

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Vintage South West surfing images.

This a collection of late 50s & early 60 South West surfing images from various photographers in the Surfing Down South archives. It features a pod of WA surfing pioneer legends.

Photo: 1957 Bernie Huddle & Keith Kino riding plywood toothpick boards at Yallingup. Water photography by John Budge.

1957 Yalls Bernie Huddle & Keith Kino surfing wooden toothpick surfboards - JB pic img568

Photo: 1958 Yallingup Main Break surfer John Budge on home-made balsa board. Water photo courtesy of John Budge.

1958 Yalls John Budge - John Budge pic IMG_0005

Photo: 1962 Gallows outside break Jim Keenan & Puppydog (NSW) riding Barry Bennett boards from NSW. Jim Keenan pic.

1962 Gallows outside break J Keenan & Puppydog on NSW Barry Bennet boards - J Keenan pic

Photo: 1960-61 South Point Cowaramup Bay unidentified surfer. Steve Mailey pic

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Photo: 1962 Yallingup Main Break surfer Murray Smith. Photo courtesy of Glen Campbell (Dolphins Board Club).

1962 Yalls surfing Murray Smith - Glen Campbell Dolphins Board Club pic IMG_6348

Photos: 1962 Surfing legends at Gallows. Time ravage images courtesy of Brian Cole.

Top: (Left) Bob Keenan. (Right) Brian Cole.

Bottom: Dave Williams both images.

1962 Gallows surfing Brian Cole pics collage_photocat

Photo: 1963 North Point Cowaramup Bay unidentified surfers. Tom Collins pic.

1963 Cowaramup Bay North Point unknowns - Tom Collins pic img235

Photo: 1963 Bunker Bay ‘The Quarries’ unknown surfer. Tom Collins pic.

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Photo:1963 Terry ‘Rat’ James doing a ‘quasimoto’ at Gallows. Photo courtesy of Sonny James.

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Photo: 1963 former City Beach surfer Mick Lindsay surfing Gallows. Mick now resides in NSW. Photo courtesy of Geoff Berry.

1963 Mick Lindsay Gallows SW3

Photo: 1964 Margaret River Main Break surfers L-R Murray Smith & Jim Keenan. Photo courtesy of Jim Keenan.

1964 Marg River Murray Smith & Jim Keenan surfing - J Keenan pic1

Photo: 1964 WA’s first State Mens Champion Alex ‘Zac’ Kochanowitsch surfing Margaret River Main Break on his ‘Rising Sun’ surfboard. Ernie Potter pic.

1964 Zac Kochanowitsch Marg River - Ernie Potter pic

Bonus Images.

These 1950s images were sourced from pioneer WA surfer/photographer John Budg’s vintage photo collection. The actual photographers are unknown.

Image: 1950s unidentified pin-up girl.

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Image: 1950s unidentified Eastern States surfers riding plywood Toothpick surfboards at an unknown location. .

1950s Aust Surfing toothpicks unknown - John Budge pic img357.jpg A

Thanks to the various photographers for providing the vintage pics.

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1950s WA Surfing History by Kevin Merifield

At 10 years of age (1948) I started riding my bike from Daglish where I lived to City Beach, that in itself was quite an experience as the then only road leading to City Beach was the old “switch back” a narrow unsealed road which literally went up and down over the sand dunes. At the beach I used to swim and catch wave’s body surfing style with arms to my sides and chest out usually in the white water straight to shore. As I got a bit older I started cutting across the face of the wave with one arm out and hand of the other arm on the face of the wave to keep me in the action area of the wave, I guess that’s where I first experienced the thrill of surfing and I just kept riding that bike back for more.

At about age 12 or 13, I joined my big brother Lyn as a junior member of the North City now Floreat Surf Lifesaving Club and then a couple of years later followed him to the Swanbourne club. Lyn was a pretty good swimmer and won a state junior R&R title in 1952, unfortunately I wasn’t much chop as a swimmer and usually brought up the rear of the field in most races, come to think of it I’m still not much chop as I usually find out when swimming after my board at Margaret’s or Yals after snapping many of Creatures leg ropes, they reckon I’m their best test pilot!

The real stuff was yet to come and at age 17 I ventured down South to Yallingup with my cousin and best mate Ray (Spider) Evans for the Australia day long week end 1955. It took us about 5 hours to get there via the South West Hwy. as there was no coast road then. I can still recall driving the little green bug (Renault) over the hill looking at Yals for the first time and saying “shit spider, have a look at that” both our eyes were popping out of our heads as the waves looked monstrous, in reality it was probably a typical Yals 5-6 foot day but by Perth standards it was huge.

To this day I still don’t know who told us about Yals, I guess the word just got around!

Some of the guys I remember heading down south in the first couple of years included the following:-

List of WA surf pioneers ex Kev Merifield IMG_0002a

Apologies for any left out.

It didn’t take long for the word to get around, so the numbers swelled significantly in subsequent years and still is today.

Photo: Early 1960s Yallingup Beach line-up. L-R Tony Burgess, Don Roper, Dave Williams, Don Bancroft, Howard Kent, Rob Birch, John Peterson, Kevin Merifield, unknown, Alan Hamer, Gary Birch, Mark Paterson, Barry King, Laurie Burke & Colin Moore. Photo courtesy of the West Australian.

1960 Yalls beach line-up West Pic IMG_01

Our home at Yalls was an ex-Navy hammock pitched between a couple of melaleuca trees in the virgin bush overlooking Yalls main break. Tucker was usually a couple of tins of baked beans, great for Jim’s blue flame fart trick or spaghetti and meat balls around the camp fire, later jaffles became the go with Horse Williams regularly knocking off a half a dozen or so a meal.

Sometimes for a real treat Red Abbott would walk out on the reef at low tide and catch a couple of octopus which he would cook in olive oil and share if there was enough to go around, it was a bit like JC feeding the multitude.

Getting into the old hammocks at night after a skin full of booze provided a challenge which often resulted in being tipped upside down with the help of a mate flat on your face in the dirt. Trying to keep warm wasn’t easy until someone got hold of a couple of  ex air force bear suits which the fighter pilots used to wear in world war 2, they were great and it wasn’t long before quite a few of us had one. When it rained, we used to head for the shelter of the veranda of the old one room Yallingup primary school on the corner of Caves Rd. and Wildwood Rd. just down the road from where I now live, or sometimes if there was an unlocked door or window head for one of the old Hammond cottages, which were the only houses on what is now the exclusive Yallingup hill.

Often in the mornings at first light we would be wakened by the sounds of the then budding trumpet player Don Bancroft a non-drinker going through the scales to the annoyance of the hung over, bleary eyed rest of the crew. After much yelling of abuse and rock throwing to no avail it was time to scramble out of the hammock and from where we were camped check out the waves. Don later became one of the leading Trad jazz trumpeters in Australia and if I’m ever in Perth on a Saturday arvo and not watching my old footy team Subi, I head down to the Railway hotel North Fremantle to see Don and his Cornerhouse Jazz Band do their stuff.

Photo: 1957-68 Subiaco Football Club. Kevin Merifield SFC 213 games & 4 State games – Photo courtesy of the Subiaco Football Club and Weekend News.

1957-68 Subiaco FC Kevin Merifield SFC 213 games & 4 State games - Weekend News IMG

When it was time to go for a surf we would venture out at Yals on whatever equipment we had. For the first couple of years that was usually a 16 foot toothpick ex lifesaving paddle board, 9-10 foot home made hollow ply board, chest board, hand board and not to be outdone Jim Keenan & Cocko’s whopping big double ski which was about 25 foot long.

For me at first it was a chest board which was probably the equivalent of today’s body board. It was about 4 foot x 18 inches marine ply with turned up nose, they were originally hired out at Scarborough beach as ‘surf shooters’ in the 1920s / 30s but later banned, being too dangerous at the popular beach. After being stored at the Scarborough surf club for many years we managed to get hold of a few which were ‘re born’ at Yals.

Photo: 1950s wooden chest board similar to the board used by Kevin. It is understood this board was made by Ward boat builders. Photo courtesy of Bob Green.

Kevin – The board built by Ward looks very familiar and similar to the one I used to use, chrome handles and all. You will notice the concave at the bottom that used to fit around our mid drift when lying on the board, we also wore flippers. Hard to see if the Ward board had turned up nose as mine certainly did. 

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Surfing in those early years was hassle free, dropping in wasn’t a problem and it was normal to see 3 or 4 guys on the same wave sometimes even holding hands. Jim and Cocko were classic to watch on their double ski as was Pato doing head stands no wonder Jake and Paul turned out so good and Davo carving up the waves in great style, he was probably the pick of the bunch at that stage. Kneel paddling was the go and for some like Pato finished up with calluses on their knees the size of tennis balls. There were no wet suits, or leg ropes just ‘budgie smugglers’ or a pair of old footy shorts and jumper which meant you spent half the time swimming after your board in the bay at Yals and if you wiped out spent time under water trying to free the footy jumper wrapped around your head.

For the first couple of years we only surfed Yalls but then started exploring other spots, they included Injidup Bay now Car Park Gallows and South Point. Getting to Injidup was a challenge as there were no roads or 4 wheel drive vehicles just a sandy fisherman’s track with plenty of limestone outcrops. You would regularly get bogged and more often than not take out a muffler or stake a tyre. About the only car that could handle the track trouble free was the old reliable VW Beetle, they would go anywhere and looked a sight with six or more 9/10 foot Mals strapped on the roof. It seems funny now but we surfed South Point for a couple of years, usually when it was onshore at Yals before someone said “hey have a look at that over there” pointing to what is now famous North Point. We also didn’t make it to Margaret’s until 1960/61.

I can’t recall exactly when, probably late fifties, Davo, Horse and myself ventured south down the beach after a surf at Gallows and spotted a few good looking  waves coming in, Davo said that looks like a cut throat wave and hence ‘Guillotine’ a now popular break was born.

There is always conjecture as to who and when the first waves were ridden at Yals and Margaret’s. At Yals the names of Ron Drage, Rod Baker & Don Morrison and Bruce Hill, Bernie Huddle & Bill Pratley come to the fore. Bill Pratley swears it was he, Moonshine & Bernie in Easter 1953 and I reckon that’s probably right. As for Marg’s the most accepted claim is that Mal Bromley and Warren McKinney were the first in either 1960 or 61, Murray Smith, Cliff Hill & other names also pop up in conversation. Harbo claims Mal & Warren came back to Caves House raving about the monster waves they discovered and surfed at Prevelly. With more than a few ales under our belts their claims were dismissed as exaggerated bullshit, “nothing could be bigger than Yals we all said. Harbo reckons he and I went down there the next day and surfed it but my memory fails me on that one.

Image: 1969 Kevin Merifield surfing Margaret River main break. Image courtesy of Sunday Times.

1969 Kevin Merifield surfing Marg River Sunday Times1

Around 1957/58 we formed the West Coast Board Riders club with meetings held in Davo’s garage in Wembley. By then, there were regular groups heading down south for weekends, this usually entailed 4/5 hour trips via South West Hwy. with the obligatory refreshment stops (pubs) along the way. By the time we hit Yals we were well and truly primed for a good days surf the next day. On the return trip home we would often stop at the Highway Hotel in Bunbury for the Sunday arvo session. With Bernie Huddle (piano), Don Bancroft (trumpet) Moonshine (clarinet) Artie Taylor (trombone) and Harbo (tea chest slap base) we had the makings of a pretty good Trad jazz band. The band and the rest of us would get free grog which made it all worthwhile. How we got back to Perth in one piece I’ll never know!

After a few years of roughing it between the melaleucas at Yals we put the hard word on Bill Copley, the then manager of Caves House hotel to take over the old laundry as our new home. After a bit of tidying up, double decker bunks, concrete floor and a roof over our heads we really had it made, and we only had to stagger about 50 metres back to the ‘Shack’ as it became known after a night at Caves. With sometimes a dozen or so crammed into the shack it was every man for himself. They were hilarious times with everyone taking the piss out of each other, it was a laugh a minute with some real characters within the group. The mateship amongst that early crew was very special and still is today.

Photo: 1962 Yallingup WCBC shack with Laurie Burke’s FB Holden & the Ghost’s Holden panel van out the front. Brian Cole pic.

1962 Yalls WCBC shack L Burke's FB Holden & Ghost's Holden panel van - Brian Cole pic img268

A couple of years later another shack was built not far from the original to house the ever increasing crew heading south, most were younger than the original crew and many too young to hold a Driver’s license hence the originals became known as the ‘big wheels’ and the younger crew the ‘little wheels’.

A collection of my anecdotes follows:-

Mixing with the locals

For the first couple of years the locals, primarily dairy farmers couldn’t work out who these weird bods were invading their territory, trespassing on their land and going out in what they considered wild seas and shark invested waters. Even back in those days we dressed, acted and spoke differently (surf speak had already began). Sometimes on a Saturday we would head into Busselton for a night out on the town. It usually took about a half an hour at the Vasse or Commercial hotels before it would be on. The locals would have a go at us and it would be good old fashion one on one fisticuffs for about 5 minutes until you were both buggered then up to the bar to share a beer together. After a while the locals got to know us better and we became good mates with some and were eventually accepted into the community.

Proto-type leg rope

Getting tired of swimming after his 16 foot toothpick at Yals Bill Pratley proclaimed enough was enough. What was probably the first attempt to attach board to body Bill tied a big hunk of rope around his waist and the other end to the handle on the tail of his 16 foot tooth pick board, the rope was pretty thick and no way was it going to snap. Bill paddled out at Yals on a reasonable size day, took off, blew it, got wiped out and consequently got dragged behind his board all the way to shore. I can still picture his head bobbing up in the white water every now and then desperately gasping for air on the journey to shore, just as well he had good lungs!

Butch Guthrie

There were times when we would be sitting out the back at Yalls when someone would yell out “lookout here comes Butch”. All eyes would turn to the sky and in the distance this little single engine plane would be heading our way. Before long Butch would swoop over us at about 10 feet above the ocean do a loop and come back for seconds. We would be crapping ourselves usually diving under as he passed over us. We got to know Butch a local farmer and real character and after we discovered Guillotine, put the hard word on him to put in a track for us from Gallows. Butch who never wore shoes had feet about 6 inches wide with soles as hard as leather, he came to have a look and literally walked through this prickly bush scrub as though it was carpet, “no worries boys” he said, went home got his bulldozer and an hour later we had our track, total cost 1 carton of beer.

Photos: 1960s Butch Guthrie with bi-planes and tractor on his Moses property. Photos courtesy of Guthrie family.

1960s Boodge Guthrie 5 collage_photocat

While there are old car bodies littered along Butch’s old dirt track to Gallows as testimony to its roughness, Kevin didn’t need a 4wd to conquer the track, he did it with ease in his Mercedes sedan.

Photo: 1968 Kevin Merifield driving his Mercedes 280SE on the Gallows track. Photo Jim McFarlane.

1968 Gallows track Kevin Merifield's Merc 280SE- J McFarlane img623

Hammond cottages

There was this time when we were in our hammocks at Yalls and it started to piss down. Jim Keenan said let’s check out one of the Hammonds cottages, so he Spider and myself headed off and managed to find one with a window unlocked, after settling in with a bed each there was this knock on the door with a female voice shouting “come on out I know your there”, there was silence and then after about the third time, Jim casually called back in a soft voice “There’s no one here”, we  pissed ourselves laughing and with tails between our legs fessed up to a not so amused Mrs. Hammond.

Photo: 1971 a Hammond Cottage on Elsegood Road Yallingup. This cottage was purchased by Peter ‘Spook’ Bothwell. Photo courtesy of Peter Bothwell.

1971 Yalls Spook's Hammond shack - Peter Bothwell IMG_0002

Bernie Huddle

Spider Evans, Jim Keenan and myself would often hitch a ride down south with Bernie Huddle in his FB Holden. Bernie who was an industrial chemist by profession wasn’t very mechanical minded, Jim sitting in the front seat without Bernie realizing would ease his leg across, put his foot on the clutch and slowly push the peddle down. With the motor revving like hell Bernie would throw his hands in the air and declare “there’s something wrong with this bloody car” Jim would suck Bernie in several times without him ever knowing what was going on, Spider and myself would be pissing ourselves in the back seat. After a couple hours of driving Bernie would be seen continuously tapping the fuel gauge and further declaring “there’s something wrong this bloody thing keeps going down”.

Photo: 1958 City of Perth SLSC members L-R Bernie Huddle, Tony Harbison, Artie Taylor, Dave Williams, Colin Taylor & Bruce’ Moonshine’ Hill. John Budge pic.

1958 City Beach B Huddle, T Harbison, A Taylor, D Williams, C taylor, Moonshine John Budge pic

Spider’s lucky break

One night at Caves House Hotel Arty Shaw lined up this barmaid and arranged for her to meet him back at the shack after she knocked off. At closing time we all staggered back to the shack and settled in for the night. About a half an hour later, I heard this little faint voice in the darkness calling “John are you there” Spider not being one to miss an opportunity responded also in a faint voice “over here” Well Spider did pretty well for himself that night and for me on the bunk above him, it was little sleep with the boat rocking and rolling all night. At daylight we heard this almighty scream and the barmaid yelling “who the hell are you”, Spider had a grin on his face from ear to ear for the rest of the week end.

Ghost rescue

One day at big howling offshore Marg’s Ghost Kent took off on this huge set wave and didn’t make the drop. Paddling back after a wave I spotted Ghost swimming to shore after his board. I paddled over to him and said “Ghost your board went back over the wave and is heading out to sea”. Ghost who wasn’t a very strong swimmer turned around and headed back after his board. After sitting back in the line-up for a while and watching what was going on I realized Ghost wasn’t making any headway as his board with the aid of the stiff offshore was drifting faster than he could swim. I decided it was rescue time and took off after his board, by the time I got to it and caught up with him we were probably a K or more off shore in the deep black water struggling like hell to make any headway. I reckon it took us a good hour or more to make it back where we both collapsed buggered on the shore, but very pleased to be back on dry land.

Photo: 1961 The Ghost surfing Gallows on a King and Cole surfboard. Photographer unknown.

1961 Ghost at Gallows on King & Cole surfboard unknown photographer 2 (2)

Serenade at Caves House

Sometimes in the arvo after a good mornings surf we would head over to Cave House for a quiet ale. Caves a State Govt. owned hotel then catered mainly for honeymoon couples. We would sit on the road next to the pub playing 78 rpm Trad Jazz vinyl records on a wind up gramophone which was our kind of music in those days. Jim Keenan’s favourite was ‘I want a gal just like the gal that married dear old dad’ it was a great rendition but after about 10 times straight it got a bit much. The honeymooners also thought so and would lean out the window telling us to shut up.

Gallows delights

When we went to Gallows for a surf pre track days we had to walk through the scrub for about a mile, board perched on our head Indian style. We would sneak past the Cullity house in the middle of the scrub and if you were lucky sometimes get a glimpse of a very attractive Cullity daughter sun baking nude in the back yard. On our way back we would collect drift wood from the sand dunes and trade it for a Devonshire Tea at Mrs. Hunt’s Tea Room on Caves Rd (now Lavender Tea House), she used to use it for dry floral art arrangements.

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These days.

These days Kevin is retired and lives on a rural property in the South West with his wife Margaret. He still surfs in the South West and enjoys surfing up north during the cold SW winter.

Photo: 1990s Kevin Merifield surfing Turtles on the North West Coast. Photographer unknown.

1990s Gnaraloo Kevin Merifield surfing Turtles IMG_0011a

70th Birthday party.

In 2008 Kevin celebrated his 70th birthday with surfing friends at his Millbrook property.

Photos: 2008 Kevin’s 70th birthday pics and bottom right 2012 Kevin & Harbo at Yalls. Photos courtesy of Kevin Merifield & Loz Smith.

2008 -12 Kevin Merifield 70th birthday & Harbo 1 collage_photocat

Biography.

Kevin has written & published his biography ‘An Interesting Life’ for friends and family…see book cover below.

2014 An Interesting Life by Kevin Merifield IMG_001

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