1950-60s SW Surfing Memoirs by Steve Mailey

Like a lot of other SW surfing pioneers Steve Mailey started his ocean apprenticeship in the SLSC movement. He was a member of the Floreat SLSC and prior to that North Cottesloe SLSC where he bought his first 16’ “toothpick” surfboard at 13yo and surfed the Cable Station where others helped him carry it.

In the late 50s, Steve started driving down south on surf trips with his mates. Some of his friends were: Kevin Merifield, Bob Keenan, Don Bancroft, Howard (the ghost) Kent, Don Roper, Dave Maxwell, Les Gillies, Gary Birch, Terry Williams, Dave Williams, Jim McKenzie, Des Gaines, Brian Cole, Colin Moore, Joe King, Ken Hamer, Alan Hamer, Eric Hamer, John Peterson, Tony Harbison, Laurie Burke, Ralph (Seagull) McNabb, Ray Geary and Ray Nelmes.

Photo: 1961-62 Bunbury Steve Mailey in bear suit (WW2 flying suit) with Don Bancroft’s balsa pig board. Photo courtesy of Steve Mailey. (Note: wearing nose guard on sunglasses).

1961-62 Steve Mailey IMG_0009 - Colour Cropped


Steve recorded these recollections circa 1999 for a book on the history of surfing in WA by photojournalist Nathan Lynch. Nathan’s book the blue frontier (a south-west surfing odyssey) was based on his University thesis and published by UWA.

Bernie Huddle

Bernie Huddle was about 6’4” tall, very slim, well-tanned, distinguished features and loved his surfing. He was the first that I can recall to give up the city life to live & surf at Yallingup in the early 60s. He worked at Caves House Hotel for some time and they gave him one of those old lounge chairs, which he placed amongst the melaleuca trees at Yallingup Beach overlooking the ocean. He would sit for hours watching the surf and waiting until it was just right before he would go out, usually on his own.

On one of his trips to Yallingup he hit a huge tree stump in his car just out of Mandurah and tipped the car on about a 45% angle. It seemed to become something of a tradition for surfers to look for ‘Huddle Stump’ going to and from Yallingup. After many years this ‘piece of history’ was removed with the advent of road work.

Photo: Late 1950s. Yalls beach boys inc Bernie Huddle (3rd from right) & Howard’ The Ghost’ Kent (2nd from right), others unidentified. Photo credit John Budge.

1955 Yalls beach people inc Bernie Huddle centre, Howard Kent 2nd right & Ian Strongman right- J Budge pic img358

Left overs

On one of our regular visits for entertainment to Bunbury, someone was left behind on route to Yallingup. I can recall having to take-off on foot from Bunbury to Yallingup about 2am after a social evening. Fortunately, in those days, the few drivers on the road would give us lifts. The essence was that so few people had cars in the beginning.

The same happened again, this time in Busselton (which was more common). Bob Keenan & I were left in town and I can recall it was the coldest I have ever been. Fortunately, we found a couple of bikes and rode up and down and around the main street all night to keep warm until we were collected in the morning.

Bathing options

We used to wash in the creek flowing under the bridge at Yallingup, we had a large tin can with holes in the bottom at the end of a pole. One would ladle in the water whilst the other scrubbed up. We would take turns.

Caves House

Evenings were usually spent at Caves House drinking and playing darts with the local farmers. Glen ‘Boonga’ Smith drove his car off the track leading to Caves House and down into the valley. We had a hell of a job getting him out.


Sometimes we would drive direct from Perth to the ‘Churchill Park’ dance in Busselton on Friday nights. And on Saturday night we sometimes went to ‘Yoongarillup Hall’ for a dance. We often encountered problems with the ‘local farmer boys’ due to our funny clothes and wooing the local girls. Beverages were usually consumed from boots of cars.

Access to surf spots

Access to some surfing locations was sometimes via rough tracks and at times lifting out of fence posts. We would stand on the post and wiring whilst the vehicle was driven over. Vehicles often bogged down and it was wise to always have at least 4 persons per car.

We enjoyed a degree of skin diving for food as well as exploring by car and sometimes on our surfboards.

Ex Clubbies

Essentially all early surfers were surf lifesavers from various SLSC Clubs who had taken a pride in discipline prior to getting ‘hooked on surfing‘. A fabulous group of guys that I am sorry to say, may never emerge in surfing again.

Steve Mailey
Circa 1999


Photos: 1958-60 Yallingup beach
(Left) 1958 Ross Gosden & Don Bancroft – Photo credit John Budge.
(Right) 1960 Yallingup beach run. L-R Tony Burgess, Steve Mailey (in bear suit), Ross Gosden, Colin Moore, Don Bancroft, Gary Birch, Ken Hamer. Photo courtesy of Steve Mailey.

1958-61 Yalls people pics collage_photocat

Photos: 1961-62 surfing at Yallingup. Photos courtesy of Steve Mailey.
(Left) Party wave. (Right) Mark ‘Patto’ Paterson headstand.

1960s Yalls surfing Steve Mailey collage_photocat

Photo: 1961 Steve Mailey surfing ‘The Lighthouse’ surf break near Cape Naturaliste. Photo courtesy of Steve Mailey.

1960-61 Steve Mailey surfing at Lighthouse IMG_0014

Photos: Gallows surf break. Photos courtesy of Steve Mailey.
(Left) 1958 Red Abbott & others surfing Gallows. (Right) 1961 Gallows track. Steve’s surfboard in foreground.

1958-61 Gallows Steve Mailey collage_photocat

Photos: 1961 South Point Cowaramup. Photos courtesy of Steve Mailey.
Top: (Left) Barry Brakewell & Steve Mailey wave sharing. (Right) Steve Mailey.
Bottom: unidentified.

1961 South Point 3 collage_photocat


In 1961 he went on a surfari to NSW with Bob Keenan, Les Gillies, Tony Burgess & Alan Hamer.
The first overnight stop was at Ceduna, where we all slept under the truck service ramps after some heavy drinking at the tavern. Passing through Mt Gambier we stayed overnight in Adelaide then on to Victoria’s Great Ocean Road to Melbourne and then finally Sydney where we stayed with the old Yallingup crew.

We returned to WA on the state ship ‘SS Southern Cross’.

Photos: 1961 East Coast surf trip. Photos courtesy Steve Mailey.
Top Left: Great Australian Bight. L-R Bob Keenan, Les Gillies, Tony Burgess & Alan Hamer.
Top Right: Mt Gambier. L-R Alan Hamer, Bob Keenan & Tony Burgess.
Bottom Left: Mildura Pub on Eyre Hwy WA near Eucla. L-R Alan Hamer, Steve Mailey, Bob Keenan, Proprietor, Tony Burgess & Les Gillies.
Bottom Right: Alan Hamer & friends on SS Southern Cross.

1961 East Coast trip Steve Mailey 3 collage_photocat


In 1997 a paddle out was held at Yallingup Beach to celebrate the life of SW surfing pioneer Howard ‘The Ghost’ Kent.

Photos: 1997 Yalls Howard ‘The Ghost’ Kent paddle out. Photos courtesy of Steve Mailey.
(Left) SW surfing pioneers team photo. (Right) Steve Mailey, Kevin Merifield & Ken Gymm.

1997 Yalls memorial for Ghost collage_photocat


Steve lives and works in the city.

Photo: 1999 Steve on Trigg Beach with Len Dibben surfboard. Photo courtesy Steve Mailey.

1999 Trigg Steve Mailey IMG_0031

In 2013 Steve wrote a book titled Boys of the Lake. It contains stories of a young life growing up in Shenton Park WA in the mid-twentieth century.

Images: Cover and insert from Boys of the Lake book. Images courtesy of Steve mailey

2013 Boys in the Lake by Steven Mailey 1 collage_photocat


1956-57 Surfers Camping at Yallingup

In the 50s’ pioneer SW surfers camped under melaleuca trees in front of the Yallingup Beach car park.

Surfside Tea rooms was available for meals at the time but the beach Caravan Park and Hideaway Homes accommodation options didn’t happen until the 70s.

Photo: 1956-57 Yallingup campsite L-R Tony Burgess, unknown, John ‘Red’ Abbott (hammock), unknown, Bernie Huddle, Alan Hamer, unknowns (3). Photo Credit John Budge.

Let us know if you can identify the unknown persons.

1956-57 Yalls camping Tony Burgess, unknown, John 'Red' Abbott (hammock),unknown, Bernie Huddle, Alan Hamer, unknown- JB pic img583

Photo: 1957 Surfers cooking on camp fire at Yallingup Beach. L-R Des Gaines, Jim Keenan, unknown, Laurie Burke, Bernie Huddle & Artie Taylor. Photo credit Jim Keenan.

1957 Yalls Des Gaines, Jim Keenan, unknown, Laurie Burke, Bernie Huddle & Arty Taylor - J Keenan pic



1950s Balsa Surfboards

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.

Pioneer WA surfer Brian Cole: “Most of the balsa boards were imported from eastern states surfboard manufacturers Gordon Woods, Bill Wallace & Bill Clymer. Veteran 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.”

Photo: 1959 Team photo of WA surf pioneers with balsa surfboards at Mettams beach near Trigg. L-R Colin Taylor, Dave Williams, Graham ‘Cocko’ Killen, Bruce ‘Moonshine’ Hill & Artie Taylor. Photo credit John Budge.

1959 Mettams C Taylor, D Williams, C Killen, Moonshine & A Taylor - John Budge pic

Some of the balsa boards were home made in back yards from balsa blanks purchased from Boans Department store in Perth city.

Brian Cole recalls the balsa board making process: “The balsa was purchased in lengths 9ft x 4” square. Then the boards were glued & clamped together to meet required dimensions. A ‘spoke shave’ was used to take shave off rough edges of the timber prior to shaping with electric & hand planers. 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 wooden fin was glassed onto the board.”

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.

1958 Subiaco Bob Keenan on pogo stick shaping balsa blank from Boans - B KeenanA

Photos: Homemade Balsa Boards

Left: 1955 John Budge with Nirvana balsa board at Yalls. John Budge pic.
Middle: 1958 Don Bancroft with homemade balsa board at Yalls.
Right: 1959 Brian Cole with balsa pig board at Coolangatta Qld. Brian Cole pic

1950s Homemade balsa boards IMG_002

Pioneer surfer Bernie Huddle meticulously looked after his balsa board.

Brian Cole: “One weekend at Yallingup in 1958 Bernie put his balsa board in the shade under the melaleuca trees while he was sunbaking. A church group come along and set up a picnic and started singing hymns on the beach front. Surfer/musicians Don Bancroft & Colin Taylor started accompanying the hymns with their instruments (trumpet & trombone). The Rector got upset with Don & Colin and asked for “a bit of decorum”. Then some of the church kids started jumping on Bernie’s balsa board and were putting holes in it….when Bernie saw what was happening he let forth a blasphemous tirade. The church group quickly packed up & left the beach within 2 minutes. Afterwards Dave Wiiliams said “Everybody got a piece of watermelon at the picnic. Hellelujah.”

Photo: 1957 Bernie Huddle with balsa surfboard at Yalls. Photo credit John Budge.

1957 Yalls Bernie Huddle & board - JB pic img600

Image: 1960 Dave Williams riding his imported Bill Clymer (NSW) round tail balsa board at City Beach. Image courtesy of WA Newspapers.

1960 City Beach Dave Williams on Clymer Balsa Board - West Aust IMG_01




1950s Vintage Yallingup Beach – Can you identify the people on the beach?

Pioneer surfer/photographer John ‘Budgie’ Budge captured this image of surfers chatting on Yallingup Beach in the 50’s. Bernie Huddle is the tall fellow 3rd from the right, but the others are unidentified. In the background are relics from the past. On the left is a beach shelter sheltering a life saving reel and on the right is a wooden change room. Photo credit John Budge.

Please let us know if you can identify any of the boys in this vintage image.

1955 Yalls beach people inc Bernie Huddle- J Budge  pic img358







1958 Surfing Apprenticeship in SLSC

1958 Many early SW surf pioneers started their surfing apprenticeships in Surf Life Saving Clubs. Refer Surfing Down South book for more details. This 1958 photo shows a group of City Beach surfers with surfboards relaxing outside the City of Perth Surf Life Saving Club building. Back L-R Bernie Huddle, Tony Harbison & Artie Taylor. Front L-R Dave Williams, Colin Taylor & Bruce ‘Moonshine’ Hill. Photo courtesy of John Budge.

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

1958 This photo of City Beach and the former City of Perth Surf Life Saving Club building was taken by Brian Cole from the SLSC tower located on the end of the groyne. The club rooms were built in 1935. Photo credit Brian Cole.

1958 City Beach view SLSC from tower (SLSC Club built 1935) - Brian Cole pic