In the 1960s we wanted to get some national recognition that our home grown WA talent was as good as the stars on the east coast.
While our surfers couldn’t seem to crack the big placings in the National titles when they went east, we all reckoned Greg Laurenson was the equal of any of the big name craftsmen from Brookvale, the Sydney epicentre of Australian surfboard making, or the Gold Coast. And he eventually earned respect over there and began getting mentions in the national magazines.
Can’t recall him ever being called ‘Greg’. He was first dubbed ‘Thunderpants’ but that later morphed into ’Thunder’, ‘Pants’, ‘Pantsman’, or ‘GL’.
Photo: 1967 Greg Laurenson surfing Rocky Point. Greg Woodward pic.
I think GL got his start at Hawke Brothers Surfboards in Osborne Park. Hawke, his main shaper Murray Smith and Greg were all members back then of Scarborough-based North End Board Club. Pretty much all the North End guys rode Hawke boards.
His life had been tied to the ocean from an early age. His father had been a radio officer on merchant ships and later, for a time, was a lighthouse keeper on Troughton Island, on the far north Kimberley coast – which today is an isolated base for choppers servicing oil and gas facilities in the Timor Sea. Back in the 1950s/60s it must have been like going to another planet! GL spent some time there during school holidays.
In the late 1960s, he was one of the select Scarborough crew who were he first to discover and surf the named faced break ‘The Spot’, near Yanchep. And was in the crew who were believed to have been the first to surf the south side of Rottnest, in 1969 [Editor’s note: look for another story on that Rottnest trip to ‘The Yellow Bucket’ later this year on SDS].
GL first started to build his reputation as a master shaper after he moved to Cordingley Surfboards in Subiaco.
In 1969, he left Cordingley and set up under his own name in a factory on Scarborough Beach Road in Osborne Park – it was behind a dry cleaner’s with the site today occupied by a Caltex servo with factories still behind it.
I collaborated with Ric Chan to work up a bit of PR for Laurenson Surfboards. I was a first year cadet reporter at the Daily News afternoon newspaper. I got one of the staff photographers to go out and get a picture of “(Thunder)” at his factory.
I don’t know whether Ric’s surf movie idea was ever actually a goer but it gave me enough to spin into a yarn which got a run in Perth’s afternoon newspaper.
Image: 1969 Errol’s ‘Thunder’ article in Daily News. Image courtesy of Errol Considine.
My starting wage as a cadet in January 1969 was $28 a week, going up to $32 a week when I turned 18 that March. So it took me a while to save up enough for my first new Laurenson board, which I got late that year.
I excitedly picked it up on a Friday afternoon and headed down south for the weekend. My first waves on the new board were at good quality Windmills. But it was the pre-legropes era. I lost my board in the first session.
It was early summer and while the banks were pretty good there was still not a lot of sand on the shoreline and my beautiful Laurenson stick smashed into rocks and got a bunch of small dings and fractures on the bottom. Bugger!
So, early the next week I was back at the Osborne Park factory to get some repairs done!
I took that board when I drove east in May 1970 with my mates Peter Bevan and Chuck Morton-Stewart, to go to the World titles at Bells, and then up the east coast to Sydney, Gold Coast and Noosa. It went great on that trip and I did get some favourable comments from a few locals along the way.
Pants preferred to see himself as a sculptor/craftsman
and would let me watch him shape for hours, all the while
discussing what was going on in sculptural terms….
I met many of the east coast’s shaping greats
but I have never seen anyone to match the
pure elegance of what Pants produced.
Mal Leckie, who now lives in Coolangatta. Queensland recalls: “I was studying sculpture at WAIT (now Curtin University) in those years and was very tuned in to curves, edges and their relationships etc. Pants preferred to see himself as a sculptor/craftsman and would let me watch him shape for hours, all the while discussing what was going on in sculptural terms.
“I wish I still had the chamfer-back twinny Pants shaped me at Cordingley’s in ’71.
“After I left WA at the end of ’73, I met many of the east coast’s shaping greats but I have never seen anyone to match the pure elegance of what Pants produced. Maybe DVS (Dick Van Straalen) and Richard Harvey come closest.”
Running a surfboard business while also being the main man in the making process was a tough gig financially and the full page ad published in West Country Surf magazine in 1972 shows, GL was being promoted as the star shaper back at Cordingley’s by then.
Image: 1971 Cordingley Surfboards advt in West Country Surf Magazine. Image courtesy of Errol Considine.
In 1977, GL’s reputation was still a headline act for Cordingley Surfboards, as the ad below published in the Sunday Independent newspaper shows with him as member of the “All-Stars”, along with young gun surfer-shaper Craig Bettenay plus the rest of them led by business manager-master spruiker Bill Oddy.
Image: 1977 The Cordingley All-Stars advt in Sunday Independent Newspaper. Image courtesy of Sunday Independent.
Note: Front row should read (left) Charles Campbell, top Glasser and Finisher; (right) Mike Godwin, Finish Polisher.
He moved to Queensland for a period during the 1970s, and his reputation as a shaper grew.
In an obituary published in “The West Australian” Robert Conneely was quoted on GL’s standing at that time…
“By mid 70s Greg had really come into his own
as one of the finest shapers WA had produced.”
Through this era, GL had also built a reputation as surf contest judge and organiser. He played a key role in the staging of the 1978 Nationals at Yallingup.
He also became a mentor for many young shapers.
But GL’s reputation really took off nationally when Ian Cairns – then the best surfer in the world on the big waves of Sunset Beach on the North Shore, which was the core of pro contest surfing at that time – lured GL back to Perth to shape his Hawaiian-inspired designs.
GL moved on from Cordingley Surfboards and by 1980 – as shown in the ad below from West Coast surf magazine, with Mitch Thorson – was at Star Surf making boards for the late and sadly missed Dave Kennedy.
Image: 1980 Star Surfboards advt featuring Mitch Thorson and Greg Laurenson in West Country Surf Magazine. Image courtesy of WCS Mag.
Pant’s shaping and surfing lifestyle odyssey also included periods making boards in Japan, and in California for the legendary Rusty Priesendorfer.
In ’83, Rusty came to WA – according to the current Rusty website – to make boards for Santosha. And Mitch Thorsen, riding one of his shapes, was shown ripping on the cover of Surfing Magazi.
Santosha got the Rusty surfboard licence and the American surfboard pioneer hooked up with GL, taking him to California to learn the latest technology. He was an in-demand shaper for Rusty for a long time.
Greg Laurenson later moved to Dunsborough and kept making great boards for many years, including back under his own signature.
Photo: 1982-83 Greg Laurenson Surf Studio Dunsborough. Gary ‘Gooselegs’ Vaughan pic
He and Loz Smith were amongst the main movers who launched the annual Yal Mal in 1985 – still going strong each December, more than 32 years later.
GL later bought and renovated yachts and did some bluewater sailing trips out of Fremantle. He also moved on to sailboard design.
He later lived on his yacht in Hillary’s board harbour for a period – my brother Jeff used to go there and they’d drink a few red wines together. They would both go within a few years of each other from bowel cancer…
Pants married his partner Jo, who he’d met during an ocean sailing race, on Valentine’s Day 2007 and passed away two weeks later. They had two daughters, Jade and Zoe.
The 2007 Yal Mal was in commemoration of the memory of ‘Thunderpants’, ‘Thunder’, ‘Pants’, ‘Pantsman’, ‘GL’ as a mate and mentor to so many and to mark his great legacy to WA surfboard making.
The following GL article appeared in the Sunday Times 11 march 2007. The reporter Jordan Marchant is the son of Ron, who went with us to Greg’s funeral….
Image: 2007 Board shaper mourned article by Jordan Marchant. Image courtesy of The Sunday Times.
Footnote – nicknames: Nicknames were big back then. Besides the variations on Thunderpants, another North End Board Club member, Murray Smith was dubbed ‘Tiny Brain’.
Nicknames of crew from one of my clubs, North Coast (of which GL was also a member), included: Skullcap, Spider, Gooselegs (who is still universally known as ‘Goose’), Big Eyes (and his younger brother of course became Little Eyes), Spike, Corky, Kegs, Boots and I was dubbed (by Gooselegs) as ‘Armpits’ …because of the way I surfed with my arms raised. Thanks Goose, not!
Work mates’ & surfing buddies’ memories of Pantsman
The origin of ‘Thunderpants’ by John Balgarnie
I was with Greg Laurenson when he got his nickname ‘thunder pants’. We were on our way down south and called in at the Wokelup pub for a beer and singalong on-route. Greg and I were standing at the front bar and this guy with a stutter ran into the pub from the car park to tell Greg he had left his underpants in his car……however because the guy had a stutter it came out sounding like ‘thunder pants’ and his nickname was born.
Peter Dyson – The Wokelup pub on the inland road from Brunswick Junction had an old pianola piano that played recorded music. It was our meeting place on the way down south. We used to gather around the piano and sing songs and have a drink. After one session at the Wokelup, Bill Branney went straight through the S bends between Busselton and Dunsborough and was thrown through the windscreen and ended up in a paddock with the cows.
Sometimes we drove down south on the Old Coast Road, but it was constructed of rough limestone and our slow old Kombi vans used to get bogged.
Remembering Pants by Charles Campbell (ex Cordingley Surfboards)
1965 – 1971
I first worked with Pants at Cordingley Surfboards when situated in Hay Street, Subiaco (learning to glass, repairs, etc). Rex and Colin Cordingley owned the business then and Bill Oddy (Shop Manager), Dave Ellis (Machining, Sanding, Gloss Coating and Repairs), Pants (learning to shape from Rex) and I worked together then among others.
It was in Hay Street, Subiaco Pants cut his hand using the ban saw while cutting a fin out of a panel of fibreglass – Rex instructed me to ‘give him a hand’ over to the Doctor’s Surgery on the opposite side of Hay Street from the factory. Half way across, Pants decided to faint or something and I struggled, being only 5’6” and Pants being 7’0”, arms and legs everywhere, I guess we must have made it to the Doctor to patch him up.
1971 – 1979
Rex and Colin sold Cordingleys to Bill and me after a fire in the Hay Street factory and we moved to York Street, Subiaco. Employees then were Bill (Part Owner and Shop Manager) and me (Part Owner and Workshop Manager, Industrial Fibreglassing), Pants … and Adam, his Golden Retriever (Shaping), Dave (Machining, Sanding, Gloss Coating and Repairs), Bruce King (Industrial Fibreglass work), Rod Slater (Industrial Fibreglass work) and others.
The York Street Factory also burned down and Cordingleys moved to Jersey Street, Jolimont.
Bill and me, Pants, Dave, Bob Monkman (Shaping), Peter MacDonald (Machining, Sanding), Steve ‘Blue’ Nicholson (Shaping and Blue fitted out the new Factory and Workshop) and Craig Bettenay (Shaping) worked together and we built some great boards.
Bill and I sold the business to Colin Earle and family.
Photo: 1979 Greg Laurenson in shaping bay at Cordingley Surfboards in Jolimont. Ric Chan pic.
1989 – 1997
Pants, Dave and I were reunited, building surfboards for Rusty Surfboards in Osborne Park. Mick Button was in charge of the factory then. Some very comical situations unfolded during those years with Pants.
Pants… stopped on the Old Coast Road
for fuel or smokes or something, took
a while to realise when he got back
to drive on (in the dark) that he
was headed back towards Perth!
Friday night after work, he would load up and head south, Pants had a Ford Falcon panel van in those days, stopped on the Old Coast Road for fuel or smokes or something, took a while to realise when he got back to drive on (in the dark) that he was headed back towards Perth!
When he sold that van, the new owner was coming into the factory to pick it up, he pulled the mattress out of the back to discover a wet suit and other treasures he hadn’t seen for a while underneath. It was a bit of a bummer as the wet suit had rusted to the floor of the van.
Photo: 2004 Yal Mal former Cordingley workmates. Loz Smith pic
Back row: Charles Campbell, Dave Ellis and Peter Mac. Front Row: Greg Laurenson and Bob Monkman.
Pants shaped good boards when he was in the mood. At his funeral paddle-out at the lagoon at Yallingup – Dave Ellis and I were side by side in the water when Greg’s ashes were released, and the onshore breeze blew the ashes in our faces and we both remarked ‘he used to give us the shits at work over the years and he is still doing it!’ Ha Ha!
Pants was a great bloke, ‘a legend’ in the surf industry.
Pantsman by Rod Slater (ex Greg Laurenson Surfboards)
These are the recollections of an old surfer, 45 to 50 years after they happened and I believe they are as accurate as my memory allows.
When Greg (Pants) left Cordingley’s to start his own surfboard brand, I think Kevin Agar took over from him.
Pants started his own business in Scarborough Beach Road, behind City Dry Cleaners. Hawke Brothers Surfboards were across the other side of Scarborough Beach Road, Murray Smith was working for them at this stage, I am not sure if he was shaping boards. I bought my first board (second hand) from Hawke Brothers who then ran their business from a shed at home in Nollamara.
Pants started in partnership with Terry Jacks (dec.). This arrangement didn’t last very long as ‘Jacksy’ wasn’t interested in the hands on part of board making, he was more interested in spending his time down the beach promoting the new boards!
Pants taught me to glass and originally he was shaping and I was glassing. We shared the sanding and finishing. More surfers quickly became involved in the business:
- Peter ‘Con’ Connelly from Inverloch near Phillip Island learnt to sand and finish the boards. We had problems with the quality of the finish because we didn’t have a ‘proper’ finishing room. This resulted in a lot of wet’n’drying and polishing.
- Ron Waddell became quite infamous for his ding repair capacity
- Howard Johnson (dec.) was involved in the initial stages but moved on fairly quickly. Howard was caught with a small amount of marihuana in his white Simca Aronde and I think he found other work after this. Some thought the ‘bust’ was somewhat intentional because it would mean the person caught could not go get to ‘nashos’, a significant factor in the lives of many surfers at that stage.
- I member Terry Garrett also spending a lot of time in the factory but I am not sure if he did any work or not.
Greg’s shapes were typically flawless…
he was…undoubtedly the best shaper in WA
and, we believed, he was the equal
to any shaper in Australia.
Greg’s shapes were typically flawless and he was still undoubtedly the best shaper in WA and, we believed, he was the equal to any shaper in Australia. However, finances were always a concern and as workers we all lived a hand to mouth to existence even though we surfed good boards.
Eventually we had to pay cash for any materials to build the boards and this, more than anything, spelt the end to Pants’ dream to build his own boards. I know he went on to manufacture for himself again at a later stage, hopefully with more success.
I finally, after being with Greg Laurenson Surfboards from day one, was forced to find alternative work. I started making boards for Jack Dadd in Hampton Road in Fremantle. The boards were labelled ‘Innovator Surfboards’.
Photo: 1970 Laurenson Surfboards team at State Titles Yallingup. Ric Chan pic.
L-R. Greg Laurenson, Peter Holzman, Ron Waddell, Bruce King, Robin ‘Skullcap’ Sutherland, Peter Dyson, Rod Slater, Giles Geiger, Steve ‘Sheepdog’ Cockburn and John Balgarnie.
There were many great times had in Pants’ factory and a number of significant events occurred:
- Pants bought a new, light blue, XW Falcon panel van and a number of us drove to Bells Beach at Easter time, and back again. A fleeting visit.
- Ian Cairns was emerging as a champion surfer.
- Midget Farrelly made the first ‘side slipper’ surfboard and we made a number of these at Pants’.
- Midget started sponsoring Ian, a significant chapter in WA surfing history
Photo Gallery of GL images by Rick Syme.
Rick Syme has had an acclaimed career as a photographer in Perth [http://www.syme.com.au/]. Back in the late ‘60s he was a member of Scarborough Board Club and a close mate of Greg Laurenson’s, and they made many trips down south together.
He was even one of the gang of mates who climbed into Thunder’s new panel van to make the legendary spur-of-the-moment trip to Bells to watch the Easter comp – they raced across the continent (including the punishing, unsealed Nullarbor section), hung out and watched some waves, and then turned around and drove back to Perth! …it was an easier time back then just to do cool stuff for the heck of it – ‘cos they could!!
Rick lived on West Coast Drive at Trigg, just north of the Point. The house is still there. He used to have a Super 8mm camera and shot lots of reels of film of the Scarborough/Trigg/Mettams/North Beach crew riding waves.
The Syme’s garage was converted into a mini movie theatre with a projector, screen and black drapes to seal it off from outside sunlight, and lounge chairs. The crew spent many hours there watching the 8mm clips and generally getting up to no good! But it was all great fun.
The caption comments with the following pics were provided by Rick…
Photos: 1967 Greg Laurenson with his Pig Board at Yallingup. Rick Syme pic.
Rick – The ‘pig board’ shots were circa ’67 Yallingup. Pants (a new and in-experienced business owner) was trying to find a ‘point of difference’ with his ‘pig board’.
Photo: Circa 1967 Greg Laurenson with his blue Kombi at Surf Beach. Rick Syme pic.
Rick – The shot of Pants near the blue Kombi was ‘surf beach’ circa ’67 not long after the Kombi had ‘fallen over’ on the surf beach track with 10 surfers on board (a whole other story!).
Photo: Circa Xmas 1969 Greg Laurenson and Fred Annesley sitting on the bonnet of Holden sedan at Yallingup car park. Surfside store is in the background. Rick Syme pic.
Errol – The boards on the roof of the car have those swept back long single fins, stringer-less blanks and lots of rocker.
The beginning of Yallingup Malibu contest and Pants by Loz Smith
In the early 80s I lived in a shed on a friend’s property on Caves Road opposite Abbey Farm Road, Yallingup.
On a Tuesday night, I used to go to dinner at Bobbo and Jenny Monkman’s place in Vasse Yallingup Siding Road, Quindalup with Greg ‘Pants’ Laurenson from Quindalup and Peter Mac from Yallingup.
I presented a Tin Plate award (as opposed to a gold plate as a bit of fun) to Jenny in recognition of her efforts in preparing meals for us. I had a plaque engraved on a tin plate.
Over dinner, I suggested to the boys that we should go back to longboarding and create a fun Malibu event at Yallingup. At that time, only John ‘Boy’ Malloy was riding a Mal in small waves. The boys agreed and this spawned the concept of the Malibu Classic – now known as the Yal Mal.
I had no experience running contests and asked Pants to be competition director and chose Tony ‘Harbo’ Harbison as head judge for the first Malibu Classic. Bobbo made the trophies.
The first Yallingup Malibu Classic was run in 1985 and the rest as they say is history.
Photo: 2004 Yal Mal Loz Smith and Pants at Baggies & Bow Tie function held at Surfside. Loz Smith pic.
Loz – It was the last gathering at Surfside before it was demolished.
Photo Gallery of GL images at Yallingup Malibu Classics by Loz Smith.
Photos: 2004 Yal Mal social pics – Loz Smith pics.
Left: Pants and Bob Monkman.
Right: (Top) Jo, Jade and Greg Laurenson. (Middle) Chris Fullston and GL. (Bottom) GL and Peter Dyson.
Photos: 2007 Yal Mal Greg Laurenson Memorial contest – Loz Smith pics
Top: (Left) Pant’s daughter Jade Laurenson. (Right) Jo, Rob and Di Conneely.
Bottom: (Left) Peter ‘Rinso’ Wise, George Simpson, John Balgarnie and Bruce King. (Right) GL Memorial contest t-shirt (courtesy of Bruce King).
Photos: 2011 Greg Laurenson surfboard signed by Kelly Slater at Marg River Pro – Loz Smith pics
Top: (Left) Kelly Slater. (Right) Ian Cairns and Loz Smith.
Bottom: (Left) Taj Burrow. (Right) Fred Annesley.
Image: 2007 Surfboard master obituary edited by Len Findlay. Image courtesy of WA Newspapers.