surfboard shooting in australia, 1909-1940
Walker, Manly Beach, circa 1909.
this analysis is not confined to surfboard riding but, of
the development of other wave riding craft on Australia’s
beaches in the
Furthermore, given the domination of the surf life saving movement in the period, the study would be deficient not to account for this influence and the interaction of complementary and competing designs.
Specifically, the surfboat, the surf ski and the surfoplane are included along with short (prone) and long (ridden standing) surfboards.
Conversely, the development of body surfing, or surf-shooting as it was originally termed, is only briefly mentioned.
While there is, at least to this writer, an obvious connection between body and board surfing and developments in swimming technique at the turn of the 20th century (variously known as the Australian or American Crawl), this appears to have been completely overlooked by swimming historians.
Body surfing skills were a necessary pre-requisite for the confident use of any type of surfcraft and it was certainly Australian surfers’ success in surf-shooting at the turn of the century that encouraged their experimentation with surfboards.
By the mid-1970s, the importance of body surfing skills was significantly reduced with the universal adoption of the leg rope (USA: surf leash).
The earliest surfboards used in Australia were constructed from one solid piece of timber.
The first description in an Australian publication is by Charles Steedman in 1867:
“A small deal (pine) board, about five feet long, one foot broad, and an inch thick, termed a ‘surf board,’ ”. (1)
This is a
board, similar to dimensions reported in Tahiti (2)
and Hawaii (3) in the
Despite Steedman’s identification of the craft as a "surf board”, the text does not clearly describe the technique of wave riding and there is no indication where he observed this practice.
This may merely be a poorly transcribed account of any of the numerous previously published reports of Polynesian surfboard riding, and remains, at present, an historical anomaly.
detailed a five foot six inch huon pine board, purchased on
east coast that “may well be oldest board in Australia”.
This is similar to the dimensions prescribed by Steedman in 1867.
Claiming the board dates from the 1890s, the previous owner related that it “had been copied from Hawaiian boards brought to Tasmania by whalers”. (4)
From 1870 the
whaling industry was in rapid and terminal decline and in
Indian Ocean and Australian grounds were untroubled by
although the locals were still active.” (5)
While whaling had a long history in Tasmania, initially from shore bases before moving to offshore whaling ships, it was largely a spent force by the 1890s and the last of the fleet, the Helen, was hulked about 1897. (6) Certainly, prone boards similar to that identified by Walding were in use in Tasmania and Victoria by the 1920s, see below.
The possibility that visiting whalers were the first surfboard riders on the Australian coast is an interesting proposition given that whaling was practiced as early as1828 from bases at Cremorne and Mosman in Sydney. The demand for whale oil saw further bases operate from Eden of the south coast of NSW, Kangaroo Island and Victor Harbour in South Australia, Port Fairy in Victoria, and Port Lincoln in Western Australia.
Polynesian islanders to enlist in the whaling industry is well
the most famous, no doubt, Herman Melville’s fictional
Queequeg in Moby
Although the novel does not contain any reference to surfboard riding (Melville did write about it briefly in the earlier Mardi and a Voyage Thither,1849), after the destruction of the Pequod, the narrator is saved by clinging to Queequeg’s (prophetically constructed) coffin, in some respects a hollow surfboard, the similarity in template noted by John Dean Caton, in 1878. (7)
swamped in the surf when transferring stores on the Baja coast
the ship's captain, Charles Scammon, reported:
“There were several Kanakas (Hawaiian islanders) among the crew, who immediately saw the necessity of saving the boat: and selecting pieces of plank to be used as ‘surf-boards,’ put off through the rollers to rescue them.” (8)
This survival technique is not without precedent, the earliest use of a timber plank as a rescue device recorded by Homer in The Odyssey, circa 800 BC. (9)
Later, the account was reprised by Luke's account of a ship wreck on the coast of Malta in The Acts of the Apostles, when those who were unable to swim were able to survive with the assistance timber planks. (10)
While there is a probability that some Polynesian whalers traveled the world with their surfboards in the nineteenth century, determining a history of their activities is likely to be difficult and their impact on any local population conjecture. (11)
In 1910, Harold Baker, captain of the Maroubra Surf Life Saving Club, noted similar sized boards with a rounded nose and built from cedar rather than pine:
is used to a great advantage on flat, shallow beaches.
It is a piece of board, cedar for preference, about 18in. long, 10in. wide, and about half-an-inch in thickness.
It is square at one end, and half-round at the other.
The rounded end is to the front when shooting.” (2)
Boards of this
progressively became introductory boards for, mostly, juvenile
At one of Duke Kahanamoku’s demonstrations at Freshwater Beach in 1915, in a photograph of a large crowd of onlookers, five youths carry boards of different dimensions. (3)
Their role was largely supplanted with the introduction of the inflatable surf-mat in the 1930’s.
evidence that experienced Australian surf shooters began to
in the early 1900s with larger boards to replicate the widely
skills of the famed surfriders of Polynesia, who rode upright.
They were probably inspired by a combination of written accounts, illustrations, photographs, and/or first person oral accounts from visitors to Hawaii.
century almost every account by Western tourists travelling to
Islands included some mention of surfboard riding. (4)
The most widely published and effective was Jack London’s article “A Royal Sport” (1907) which recorded his introduction to surfboard riding, encouraged by Alexander Hume Ford and under the tuition of George Freeth. (5)
Ford was instrumental in establishing the most influential of the early Hawaiian surfriding clubs, the Outrigger Canoe Club at Waikiki in 1907, paralleling the formation of the first surf life saving clubs in Australia.
On the strength of London’s article, George Freeth was subsequently employed to demonstrate surfboard riding in California.
of larger surfboards in Australia was probably based on
or photographs of Polynesian surfboard riders.
Although the earliest illustrators struggled in depicting the fundamentals of surfboard riding, by the turn of the century most faithfully represented the correct alignment of board, rider and wave. (6)
The improvement was probably assisted by the availability of photographic images that correctly demonstrated the complex dynamics.
The influence of photography is seen in a dramatic illustration of a female surfboard rider published in 1911 by Australian artist, Norman Lindsay. (7)
The contribution of still and motion photography to the ongoing development of surfboard design and surfriding performance should not be under-estimated.
C. Bede Maxwell credits the champion swimmer, Alick Wickham, with shaping the first surfboard in Australia “from a length of driftwood picked up at Curl Curl.”(8)
only Sydney surf shooter said to experiment with larger
At Freshwater, circa 1905, “The Bell brothers, Frank and Charlie, spent crazy hours on a narrow outhouse door in the Freshwater surf” (9) and several years later at Manly “Fred Notting painted a brace of slabs and named them Honolulu Queen and Fiji Flyer; gay they were to look at but they were not surfboards.” (10)
introduced us to this exhilarating, thrilling pastime, and
to these romantic
tropical islanders is due our warmest thanks.
But typical of our race, the youth of Australia has developed the art until to-day they are the equal In
skill of their dusky natatorial neighbours.
This assertion was verified during the 1915 visit to Australia of famous Hawaiian swimmer and surfboard expert, Duke Kahanamoku.
He enjoyed our surf, but despite his great knowledge of surfboard riding, he admitted that the young Australians excelled his own efforts under the unusual local conditions, of which, of course, he had little experience." (1)
While Hay may
overstated the locals' skills, he is certainly qualified to
Sydney boardriders were active before the arrival of
Kahanamoku in the
summer of 1914-1915.
He was one of the early (body) surf-shooters, a member of Manly LSC, a champion member of the Manly Swimming Club and competed in swimming races against Duke Paoa Kahanamoku and George Cunha during their Australian tour. (2)
Hay was instructed in the finer points of surfboard riding at by Duke at Freshwater in January 1915 (3) and later wrote one of the earliest books on swimming and surfing technique, discussed below. (4)
Hay's article, The Referee quoted from a
letter under the heading
Walker Says- " I Brought First Surfboard To
saw an article
by you in 'The Referee' re surfboards, so
enclose a photo of myself
and surfboard taken in 1909 at Manly.
was the Poltalloch, a steel-hulled barque
built in Belfast in 1893.
(6) and the earliest
record of it visiting
Sydney is 13 June 1910, carrying a cargo of timber
from Portland, Oregon.
It is highly
that this is the occasion recalled by Tommy Walker in his
letter to The
The description of the board as “Hawaiian” confirms the origin of the board as imported and the demonstration of considerable skill implies that Walker had at least one full season of riding experience.
report from Coffs Harbour is noted by Chris Conrick:
“Reports of surfers using planks of wood on which to ride waves were not unknown at this time, as
evidenced in the following newspaper report in 1908:- ‘Board Riding Noted on Town Beach - Riders were
observed using 10 feet lumps of wood to ride the waves and in this there appeared an element of danger.’ (9)
does not name the riders, it is probable they were short-term
and not locals.
Conrick quotes from the Coffs Harbour Advocate, 22 January 1908, but the original source is yet to be confirmed.
A preliminary search of newspapers held by the Coffs Harbour City Library and the State Library of NSW indicates the Advocate was only published once a week and there is no actual edition for 22 January 1908.
If the report has any credibility (given the date may be incorrect), it raises the possibility that the riders may have been Hawaiian boardriders in the crew of a visiting ship.
Alternatively, one of the surfers may have been Tommy Walker, who is thought to have worked in the coastal shipping trade and is recorded as riding his board further north at Yamba circa 1912. (10)
report appears to be by C. B. Maxwell in 1949:
"... in 1912, C.D. Paterson, returned from a world tour with a 'real' surfboard from Hawaii; a solid, heavy redwood slab that no one could manage in the rough surf of North Steyne.
It was handed down to the other end of the beach where men like the Walker Brothers, Steve McKelvey, Jack Reynolds, Fred Notting and Basil Kirke, all but turned themselves inside out and upside down to master its management." (2)
While Maxwell extensively researched her book on the Australian surf life saving from unlimited access to official records, this account was undoubtedly based on anecdotal reports, possibly from some of the participants.
Unfortunately there is no record of any relevant interviews in Maxwell's papers held by the Mitchell Library, Sydney. (3)
Life Saving Club historian, presented an expanded parallel
some major variations:
" Mr. C. D. Paterson, a foundation member of North Steyne Club and president of the Surf Bathing Association of N.S.W. (later the S.L.S.A. of Australia), procured a board from Hawaii.
members tried, without avail, to master the intricacies of
riding the heavy
After they had suffered a lot of injuries and bruises, it was the general opinion that our surf was not suitable for board-riding.
The board came to be regarded as a lethal weapon, so it was taken to Mr. Paterson's home at The Spit, where it became the family ironing-board.
the interest of members at the south end of the beach,
however, and in
the 1912-13 season a number of Manly L.S. club members
decided to persevere
and master the art.
They included Jack Reynolds and Norman Roberts (both killed in World War I), Geoff. Wyld, Tom Walker (Seagulls), a 13-year-old boy named Claude West ... and an outstanding woman surfer, Miss Esma Amor.
They used boards of a Gothic shape, made from Californian redwood, designed and constructed by North Steyne member Les Hinds, who was a local builder.
8 ft. long, 20 in. wide, 1 1/2 in. thick, and weighed 35
They were flat on both sides, but had rounded edges to give a firm hand grip." (4)
Note that of
various early boardriders reported by Maxwell and Harris; the
Walker Brothers, Jack Reynolds, Basil Kirke, Fred Notting,
Claude West, and Miss Esma Amor were all later identified as
board riders. (5)
Harris' report that Paterson's board ended up as a ironing board in the family household has become part of surfing folklore, however, given its probable size and weight, the proposition always stretched credulity.
history of surfing movies published in 2000, Alby Thoms
reports that Paterson
brought the first known solid wood Hawaiian surfboard to
Australia on returning
from a world tour in 1909, significantly earlier than the date
by Maxwell and Harris. (6)
Thoms essentially reproduces the account of early surfboard riding in Sydney by Maxwell (also noting Wickham and the Bell brothers), however he does not indicate a source for the earlier date.
Chris Conrick, also suggests the date as 1909, based on
documents, with a slightly different scenario for the board's
“According to Surf Life Saving Assoc. records, the first Hawaiian surfboard to find its way to Australia was by
way of a gift to Mr. C.D. Paterson, the president of the association in 1909.” (7)
In 2007, Mark
substantially reprised the story of Paterson's board in an
in a history of the North Steyne Surf Life Saving Club (8).
Citing local historian Dr. Keith Amos, Maddox reports that Paterson was encouraged to procure a surfboard by "an American visitor" (9), which he obtained on a visit to Hawaii, sometime before 1912.
He reproduces an unaccredited post-1914 newspaper cutting with the recollections of an unidentified North Steyne member and, the previously noted, Basil Kirke, when at Manly in 1911:
"one weekend ... C.D. Paterson brought back from Hawaii a surfboard, first of its kind.
Basil Kirke, Tommy Walker and Jack Reynolds launched the strange looking object and, after many spills, succeeded in riding it." (10)
Maddox then notes Tommy Walker's performance at the Freshwater carinival in January 1912 (see above), although he implies Walker was a representative of the North Syene Club and not, as reported by the Daily Telegraph, a member of the short-lived Seagulls Club, one of four active at Manly beach during this period. (11)
for Paterson's acquisition of an Hawaiian surfboard between
1909 and 1912
appear to indicate significant inconsistencies with the
account of Tommy
Clearly, further research, particularly in identifying relevant contemporary documentation, is required.
Despite deciding to ban surfboard use at Freshwater, complaints continued to be forwarded to Warringah and Manly Councils.(2)
In a Mid Pacific Magazine article published in January 1911, ostensibly promoting Australian ski fields, the current Director of the N.S.W. Govenment Tourist Bureau, Percy Hunter, noted:
Local government concerns for public safety, similar to those at Freshwater, also expressed at Cronulla (4) and further south, at Thirroul near Wollongong (5) indicate that experimentation with surfboards was in evidence on other metropolitan beaches.
This is further supported by various anecdotal
Dee Why SLC historian, E.J. Thomas notes:
“A Deewhy identity of the period (pre-1914), 'Long Harry' Taylor made a board resembling an old-fashioned church door, but his efforts in the surf were so futile they became ludicrous." (6)
There is a
report from the North Coast at Newcastle:
“Joe Palmer claims that the first club member to use a surfboard on Newcastle Beach was Cecil Lamb, one of the staff of the Gentlemen's Club in Newcomen Street, in the 1911-1912 season”. (7)
An account of
Kahanamoku's surfboard riding exhibition at Cronuulla in
(see below) noted:
“While there were already surfboard exponents on our own and other metropolitan beaches, Duke
Kahanamoku first focused public attention on surfboard riding in NSW.” (8)
1912, prone boards '' four to five feet long, one
inch thick and
about a foot wide
slabs of cedar or pine " were in use on Coolangatta Beaches. (9)
By March 1912
potential danger of surfboards to the general surf-bathing
public had come
to the attention of the NSW government and their use was
the local government act:
“10. Where any inspector considers that the practice of surf-shooting (i.e., riding on the crest of the
breaking wave), whether with or without a surf-board, is likely to endanger or inconvenience other
bathers, such inspector may order bathers to refrain from such practice or to remove to a place
where such practice will not cause danger or inconvenience.” (10)
While for many
it has been all too easy to date the beginnings of surfboard
Australia from the visit of Duke Kahanamoku in 1914-1915 (2),
the previous chapters demonstrate that this was not the case.
As is often evident in history, the story teller may have a vested interest in securing a position of prominance for a compatriot, a family member, their club, their association, or themselves.
For example Manly surfboard champion, Claude West, confidently proclaimed in 1939:
"I was the first Australian to take up surf-board rlding. ...
I Iearnt on Duke Kahanamoku's board, which he left here after introducing surf-board riding to Australia before the war." (3)
the first Polynesian to profoundly effect Australian
Tommy Tana, from the island of Tanna in the New Herbrides first demonstrated the rudiments of surf shooting (body surfing) in the 1890s at South Steyne, Manly.
Tana influenced a group of Manly locals, one of whom, Fred Williams, became the leading exponent and an enthusiastic instructor. (4)
Polynesians also influenced the development of the crawl stroke in Australia, notably Alick Wickham. (5)
Following the formation of the surf life saving clubs in 1907, Pacific islanders appeared at several carnivals before 1914 in exhibitions of their surfing skills.(6)
Whereas in ancient Polynesia the surfriding elite were largely members of the royal class who, presumably, rode surfboards built by an artisan class of canoe builders (7) ; in the twentieth century, in a tradition associated with Duke Kahanamoku, elite riders were often at the forefront of board design and construction.
members of the Swimming Association, notably Cecil Healy,
Kahanamoku to demonstrate his surfboard riding talents and
had not brought a board, he indicated that one could be shaped
upcoming demonstrations. (8)
Local enthusiasm saw a billet hastily prepared, which may have had the template cut before Duke, “proving himself a fine craftsman”, prepared the rail and bottom shape. (9)
This appears to be suggested by Harris:
“A timber firm, George Hudson’s, donated a piece of sugar pine 9 ft long, 2 ft wide and 3" thick.
The firm did the rough cutting to Duke’s instructions then he finished off the finer designing of the bottom of the board, to give it lift on a wave.” (10)
board finished at 8 foot 8 inches long and 23 inches wide (11)
and made its first recorded appearance in the surf at
Freshwater on the
24th December 1914. (12)
In the New Year, further exhibitions were held on the 10th January at Freshwater and later that day at South Steyne on Manly Beach. (13)
There, Kahanamoku was joined by local surf-shooters, apparently keen to compare their skills with the visitor and in front of a considerable audience:
“The breakers were favorable for the pastime, and the Honolulu champion made some magnificent returns to the shore standing on his big surfboard. He was however, greatly impeded on this occasion by local surfers, who wished to give exhibitions of their own at the same time.” (14)
Further surfboard riding exhibitions were held in February at Deewhy (15) and Cronulla. (16)
of the day, presumably, after cutting the template with a hand
board was rough shaped with an adze and/or a draw knife and
with various grades of sandpaper. (17)
It is also to be expected that several coats of a natural oil and/or marine varnish were added to the board to prevent the timber from becoming waterlogged.
Sugar pine was
the preferred timber for Hawaiian board building:
“The board used by Kahanamoku weighed 78lb, and was sugar pine. He would have preferred redwood, but a properly seasoned piece of that particular timber, sufficiently long, could not be procured in Sydney. The necessary shape is almost that of a coffin lid, with one end cut to very nearly a point. The surf riding board is thicker at the bottom than at the top, tapering all the way.”(18)
the press, Duke made it clear that light-weight was a critical
that improved surfboard performance:
“Then too, Kahanamoku was at disadvantage with the board. It weighted almost 100lb, whereas the board he uses as a rule weighs less than 25lb.” (19)
in several photographs taken during the tour and the template
with all the other boards associated with Kahanamoku, unusual.
Specifically, the narrow nose template is uncharacteristic of most boards produced after the tour despite the reported influence of Kahanamoku’s design:
“Sid 'Splinter' Chapman (at Coolangatta, Queensland) could still recall the dimensions sixty years later ‘because the design that the Duke used was the best.’ “(20)
different to the “surf shooting board” shaped by Oswald
Downing of Manly
in 1917, currently on display at the SLSA headquarters at
Downing, a trainee architect, may have also been responsible for drawing up plans for the solid wood board printed and widely distributed by the Surf Life Saving Association of Australia. (21)
One reasonable explanation for this variation is that the template of the Freshwater board was not strictly Duke’s design, but was incorporated into this first effort by the tradesmen at Hudson’s.
immense historical significance, it is likely that other
shaped in Australia by Duke were the real models upon which
based their designs.
Following personal instruction by Duke Kahanamoku in surfboard riding at Freshwater, Fred Williams and Harry Hay were reported to comment "well we've already ordered a board each … and we are going to master that game beyond any other." (22)
There is a strong implication that the boards are to be ordered directly from Kahanamoku.
A report in the Sydney Morning Herald implies there were several boards built during January and may have included one shaped by Duke’s companion, George Cunha, although this is the only currently known reference to his association with surfboard riding during the tour:
“The executive had practically arranged another method of raising a sum for patriotic purposes for Friday 19th (February, 1915), at which the Hawaiian party were to be made the means of adding to the price of admission by auctioning several surf boards made by themselves.” (23)
were vigorous attempts to secure seasoned redwood billets of
to build these later boards, one of which made its way to
property of ex-Manly surf-shooter, Ron “Prawn” Bowden. (24)
In 2008, a possible second board was unearthed, it’s owner suggesting Duke shaped it in 1915 for a member of the well-established Horden family (25), however at this point the board’s provenience awaits further documentation. (26)
number of surfboards on Sydney’s beaches was increasing:
“When one Australian had learned the art, others became interested and soon Tommy Walker, Geoff Wild (sic, Wyld), Steve Dowling, “Busty Walker, Billy Hill, Lyle Pidcock and Barton Ronald (sic, Ronald Barton?) began to make boards similar to the one Duke had made.” (27)
board was handed over to George and Monty Walker of Manly who,
of the fine work Claude West had done in popularising
eventually gave it to Claude West, and he still has it, a
Claude West, a youth of 16 at the time of Kahanamoku’s visit, became the leading local surfboard rider. Originally a member of Freshwater SLSC, he later moved to the Manly club.
He dominated SLSA surfboard events until 1924-1925, when West’s mantle as the premier performer passed on to another Manly club member, “Snowy” McAlister.
Claude West donated the board to the Freshwater SLSC in 1953.(29)
famous protégé was Freshwater teenager, Isabel Letham,
credited as Australia’s first female surfboard rider.
In January 1915 she accompanied Duke in a demonstration of tandem riding at Freshwater (30) before appearing with him at the Deewhy carnival on the 6th February. (31)
This was not her first pubic appearance at a Deewhy carnival, the previous summer Letham had competed in a woman’s surf race in front of a crowd of several thousand. (32)
In Sydney, his impact was immediate.
A report in
in January 1915 illustrated that the danger of surfboard
to body surfers was not imaginary:
“Despite the continual outcry against surf-boards, the dangerous aids to shooters are still being used, and one last night at Coogee hit Mrs. Martha Green, aged 60, with such force that she is now in Prince Alfred Hospital with her right leg broken in two places.” (1)
One month after Duke's departure for further swimming and surfing demonstrations in New Zealand, the programme of the Surf Bathing Association of New South Wales' First Championship Carnival, at Bondi Beach on Saturday 20th March 1912, featured:
regulation was apparently of minor concern to seventeen-year
Wootton (nee Smith) who began riding at Point Lonsdale on a
board, brought from Hawaii to Australia around 1915.
She became a proficient and enthusiastic surfrider and the following summer had her own solid timber board, approximately 6 ft x 16 inches wide, built for a cost of 12 shillings by a local carpenter. (3)
In Queensland, Charlie Faulkner read of Duke Kahanamoku's surfriding and used his experience (and board?) as an aqua planner on the Tweed River to ride at Greenmount in 1914-1915. (4)
tour, Isabel Letham became a noted surf-shooter and surfboard
to be “teaching board shooting”, and an “expert at
In 1918, she traveled to America with hopes pursuing a career in the film industry. (6)
After a brief return to Australia in 1921, Letham was appointed Director of Swimming at the San Francisco Women’s City Club until 1929 when, as a result of a serious injury, she returned to Sydney. (7)
ongoing commitment to the British war effort in Europe it may
that the enthusiasm for surfboard riding generated by Duke’s
would have been severely curtailed.
Surf life saving club members readily volunteered for service, severely depleting the ranks of many clubs during the war and several became inactive. (8)
A number of serving club members, such as Manly surf-shooter, Olympic swimmer and journalist, Cecil Healy, failed to return. (9)
general conscription, enlistment at twenty-one and limited
by women, surfboard riding continued to flourish on Sydney’s
the extent that a weekly newspaper from Bondi, The Surf,
and board) surf-shooting over the summer months of 1917-1918.
The third edition carried brief instructions for surfboard riding by Frank Foran, then captain of the North Bondi SLSC. (11)
Of the fifty-one surfboard riders identified by name, a significantly large number were female (eighteen, a ratio approximately 2:1).
“Busty” Walker is noted acquiring a new board at Manly, while at Bondi Arthur Stone is said to be building several and Reg Fletcher has painted his surfboard white.
Ron Bowden is reported surf-shooting at both Manly and Cronulla, probably on his board shaped by Kahanamoku in 1915, noted above. (12)
Other surfboard riders identified include several previously noted: Isabel Letham, Fred Notting, Geoff Wyld, Esma Amor, and Alick Wickham.
in Queensland, the Greenmount Surf Lifesaving Club procured
of Duke Kahanamoku's design, probably from Sydney.
The arrival of the boards prompted the construction of several replicas made and ridden by Sid 'Splinter' Chapman, Andy Gibson and a surfer known only as Winders.
As in NSW, the increased use of surfboards raised issues of public safety and in 1916 Coolangatta Town Council established restricted areas, infringements punishable by board confiscation. (13)
In 1919, Louis
a Geelong businessman who witnessed one of Duke Kahanamoku’s
at Freshwater, travelled to Hawaii with the intention of
learning the art.
He purchased several used redwood boards from Kahanamoku before returning to Victoria where he and Ian McGillivray rode them at Lorne.
One of the boards is held by the Surfworld Museum in Torquay, one is in the hands of a private collector and one was incorporated above the fireplace of the Whyte family beach house at Lorne. (14)
Manly boardrider and lifesaver, Ainslie "Sprint" Walker, was
to his employer’s Melbourne office and initially surfed on his
Portsea and Sorrento on the Mornington Peninsular.
As the son of William Walker, one of the pioneer surfriding family from Manly and major figures in the life saving movement, “Sprint” was a second-generation Australian surf-shooter.
He eventually focused on Torquay on the West Coast, the beach he considered best for surfboard riding, and was instrumental in the formation of the Torquay SLSC.
After the clubhouse burnt down in 1970, destroying one of his early solid timber boards, Walker and “Snowy” McAlister built a replica from Canadian redwood with an adze in the traditional method. (15)
By the end of
decade, some riders applied a variety of decorative features
to their boards,
usually on the nose area of the deck.
Members of the life saving clubs added the logo of their club in paint, matching the embroidered badge on their swimming costume.
The rider’s name or initials were other popular additions and sometimes the board was given its own name, in the manner of Fred Notting’s Honolulu Queen and Fiji Flyer, circa 1908, and noted above.
Very occasionally, the décor included an illustration such as a cartoon character drawn from popular culture. (6) Usually these décor features were painted on the board but in some cases simple text was carved into the timber.
While oiling and varnishing the timber remained the dominant method of preserving the timber from the salt water, some boards were fully coated with paint.
As in the case of Reg Fletcher at Bondi, the most popular colour was white (7) and only rarely was a board multi-coloured. (8)
structural damage was promoted by the timber becoming
waterlogged and after
drying, cracking longitudinally along the grain.
Unlike hollow timber and the later fibreglassed boards, which tend to break across the centre, a severe collision could split a solid timber board in two from nose to tail.
This was probably a common problem with a tendency for Australian’s to ride their boards hard into the beach. In Hawaii, boards that had begun to split longitudinally were secured with a “butterfly wedge” that was inserted across a crack. (9)
Oswald Downing’s board shows a major split down the board that has been repaired with a simpler rectangular wedge near the nose.(10)
problem used by Australian board builders was to shape and fix
metal nose-guard, usually copper, attached with nails or
By the mid-1930s, a more sophisticated method was the addition of the nose plate, a bar of stainless steel mitred into the timber about 12 inches (30 cm) from the tip of the nose and fixed with screws. (12)
This effective structural feature is unique to Australian boards of the period and does not appear on contemporary Hawaiian or Californian boards.
V. H. Biddell designed the three-man Surf King in
a timber frame, painted canvas and tin tubes, stuffed with
His next design, the Albatross circa 1910, was a more conventional four-man surf boat similar to the American dory.(3)
In 1908, Manly SLSC obtained their first surf boat, a double ended clinker built with oars Nos. 2 and 3 rowing side-by-side on the centre thwart.(4)
This was followed in 1913 by M.L.S.C., designed by Fred Notting, a Manly SLSC member and noted surfboard rider, which was commonly known as the “Banana boat” due to the accentuated rocker. (5)
often themselves surfboard riders (6),
noted for their wave riding bravado.
In the 1920s, the Holy Grail of big wave riding was the Queenscliff Bombora, which broke on extreme southerly swells, actually rolling in to Freshwater.
The first recorded attempt to ride the break was in 1928 by the crew of North Steyne’s Bluebottle with Ratus Evans as sweep.
Although they caught a large wave, the boat was swamped in the whitewater and the crew assisted by Queenscliff SLSC members in their surfboat. (7)
The next attempt, in 1939, by the Manly LSC surfboat under Frank Davis had a similar result, this time assistance provide by the Freshwater boat with Don Wauchope as sweep oar.(8)
The Freshwater Club, in a boat nicknamed “Struggles” and captained by George Henderson, would be eventually credited with successfully riding several waves at the Bombora in 1948. (9)
In June 1961,
newspapers featured front-page photographs of Freshwater
Jackman, riding a large Queenscliff Bombora wave and claiming
it as a first.
Jackman himself reported that several surfboard riders, including Claude West, had preceded him in the late 1930s, although he notes West was assisted out to the break by the Manly surf boat. (10)
Roger Duck and Lou Morath, a member of both the Balmoral Beach Club and Manly SLSC, were also credited with riding the Bombora on surfboards before Jackman’s celebrated rides of 1961.(11)
on the mid-north coast of NSW, oyster farmer Harry McLaren
shoot waves in a specialized canoe called a duck punt that was
with two small hand paddles, sometime between 1913 and 1920. (3)
The unsuitability of the flat-bottomed punt in the surf led him to build a new craft with pronounced rocker and a long based keel fin to facilitate wave riding.
Critically, the deck was enclosed with cedar panels with a draining bung, thereby avoiding the propensity for standard canoes to be swamped. It was to be known as the surf ski and was the first successful hollow timber “board” built in Australia.
Manly SLSC member and boardrider, Dr. J. S. 'Saxon'
Crakanthorp was intrigued
with McLaren and others riding at Town Beach on their skis.
No doubt aware of the difficulties encountered in the surf by standard canoes, as ridden by Notting, Walker and others, Crackenthrop was so impressed he purchased one.
On returning to Manly, significantly enhanced the ski’s performance by fixing two leather foot straps and replacing McLaren’s small hand paddles with the common double-bladed canoe paddle.
The cedar panels were later replaced with marine plywood. In this improved configuration, Crackanthrop effectively claimed he was the inventor. (4)
knowledge “that for speed they must have less weight in
and more buoyancy” (4)
some crude attempts to construct hollow boards in the period
Similar to Tom Blake’s initial experiments, Claude West, circa 1918, attempted to hollow out a solid redwood board, but water easily penetrated cracks in the timber and the project abandoned. (5)
would eventually dominate surfing across the Pacific into the
is unlikely his hollow construction was unique.
As noted above, in Australia Harry McLaren's surfski was of similar construction and photographic evidence appears to indicate that hollow-type boards were used in the the world wide development of aquaplaning behind power boats.
to the SLSA authorities from the clubs where surfboard riding
popular; Palm Beach, Collaroy, Manly and Cronulla; trials were
the swimming pool of the Tattersals Club in Sydney in the
second half of
Perhaps the death at Collaroy of a local club member, George 'Jordie' Greenwell, during a belt and reel rescue attempt earlier that year tempered any misgivings of the examiners towards the surfboard and it was added to the belt and reel and the surf boat as official SLSA rescue equipment. (2)
for building a solid redwood surfboard were added to the
of the SLSA Handbook issued for 1932.
There were also instructions for its use and notes detailing rescue procedure and rules for a surfboard rescue event.
Two images of surfboard riders in action, one illustrating paddling technique and a portrait shot of several riders holding their boards were included in the photographic plates. (3)
Harry Hay, who
impeccable credentials in both sports, published Swimming
A member of Manly SLSC, he was one of the early (body) surf-shooters and, as a champion member of the Manly Swimming Club, was conversant with the rapid developments in swimming technique that culminated in the universal adoption of the crawl as the dominant speed stroke.
In the summer of 1914-1915, Hay played a major role in the tour of the Duke Kahanamoku party.
He was contestant at the heats for the 100 yards swimming championship of NSW at the Domain carnival on 2nd January 1915, won by Duke Kahanamoku in world record time. (2)
In the surf, he was one of the first locals to receive personal tuition in surfboard riding from Duke at Freshwater. (3)
Written in a concise and informative manner, Hay provides an excellent introduction to riding a solid timber board.
The chapter on
riding in Surf- All About It (4),
also published in 1931, is less expert.
A substantial book of fifty pages, with extensive quality illustrations, it lacks accreditation of author, artist or publisher.
The author, while probably an experienced journalist, appears to have based his account largely on knowledge imparted by others and not extensive personal surfing experience.
For example, the following could be said to be an optimistic view:
“It is no harder for a moderately skilful surfer to learn the use of the board than it was for him to learn the art of shooting.
And the risk of danger is certainly no more.” (5)
H. Phillips' Surfing
of Sydney, N.S.W. (6),
1931, is a collection of professional beachside photographs
basic captions, whereas the other contemporary works use
The vast majority are at Manly or the beaches of the Eastern surburbs and include beachcscapes, female fashions, surf carnival march pasts and reel and rescue competition.
There are half-a-dozen photographs of surfboats, several of canoes, and a number of inflated craft.
The four images of surfboard riders in action include one rider standing on his head and a female riding prone.
A photograph of seven riders, of various ages and one female, holding their boards illustrates a range of board design and decor and, given the variation in swimming costumes, possibly representing several surf life saving clubs at a competition.
of Bronte, a Sydney doctor, developed the Surfoplane in the
up to 1932. (3)
It is unclear how Smithers came to his design, but in Europe experiments with inflated watercraft had been in progress for over sixty years, as reported by Charles Steedman in 1867, sometimes disastrously:
“not long since, in Paris, the inventor of a patent air-mattress was actually drowned, together with his assistant, through the mismanagement in some way of a specimen of his artificial life-preserving apparatus which he was exhibiting in public.” (4)
claims for the inventor of the surfoplane, (5)
for example SLSA historian Sean Brawley credits Bondi’s Stan
Examining the events of Black Sunday, the most celebrated rescue in the history of Australian surf life saving on 6th February 1938, Brawley comments:
"The surfoplane had been introduced to Bondi Beach a few seasons earlier by Stan McDonald.
On his retirement, McDonald had designed a rubber surf mat that he called a 'beacher'.
Along with his chairs and mutton oil tan spray, McDonald leased the mats in their hundreds; riding them became a popular surfing activity at a time when board riding was still a marginal and almost exclusively a surf club activity.
The surf mats soon became more popularly known as 'surfo- planes', the name of a rival surf mat manufacturer." (6)
date for McDonald’s introduction is circa 1934 (“a few” = 4 of
certainly post dating E. E. Smithers’ and C. D. Richardson's
for a "rubber surfboard” on 7th October 1932. (7)
The next summer the Patent Office accepted a trademark design from Smithers and Richardson for the "Surfo-plane" (8) and, by the mid-1930s, the company promoted them as hire items in advertisements. (9)
Surfing film historian, Albie Thoms notes the surfoplane ''was soon in mass production, being hired by the half hour on Sydney beaches, and proving popular with all ages and both genders. Surf-o-planes were... filmed for Movietone News 6/7 (1935), ... Movietone News 7/15 (1936), ... Movietone News 8/13 (1937), ... Movietone News 9/14 (1938), which included shots of Dr Smithers riding his invention at Bronte, ...and ... Movietone News 10/6 (1939)." (10)
potential danger of surfoplane riders to led to calls for them
to be segregated
from bodysurfers, but an inqury by a SLSAA sub-committee
found no evidence for such drastic action. (11)
Around this time, surfoplane racing was included in some SLSAA carnivals, often dominated by Cronulla's Bob Holcombe who had nine consecutive wins including the 1938 Australian Championship. (12)
The craft were extremely popular with Manly Life Saving Club reporting 261 rescues in the 1938-9 season, half of which were carried out on or swept off rubber floats. (13)
In 1955 surfoplane plans and photographs were included in the Gear and Equipment Handbook. (14)
was used worldwide, including a report that included it in
events at the
Makaha Surfing Contest in the later 1930s (15),
the exact process and chronology of this distribution is
In the United States, surfoplanes, “also called ‘surf rafts’ or ‘floats’- were being used in Virginia Beach, Virginia in the early ‘40s and in Southern California by the late ‘40s.” (16)
By the late 1960s its status in Australia as the dominant juvenile craft was under threat by the Coolite, a soft lightweight polystyrene board and by the mid-1970s, the rubber surfoplane had been largely replaced by an updated design, the inflatable canvas surf mat.
The same year,
Blake added a long base keel fin to his hollow board design, a
that had already appeared in Australia on McLaren’s surf ski
At the same time Blake also added a circular shaped stainless steel “big surf handle” mounted on the tail of the board, as an aid to controlling the board from the tail. (3)
appear in any of the published plans of the his paddleboard
from 1933 to
1946 (4), but a two inch keel fin
with a 14
inch base was included as “a necessity” on a 11 foot Square
Riding Surf Board, dated 1937. (5)
The stainless steel tail handle, originally fitted to Blake’s Kalahuewehe hollow board, appears not have to been widely adopted by Hawaiian or Californian hollow board riders, based on a large number of photographs of the period.
In Australia, however, “a gip handle at stern as safety measure” was specified by the SLSA in their Handbook of 1947 as a necessary addition to hollow paddleboards. (6)
It is unknown
the published plans for the laminated surfboard had any impact
builders, but one report indicates Bern Gandy acquired an
probably from California, and surfed it at Lorne in 1935-1936.
Gandy subsequently built a 10ft 6'' replica and took this board with him to Sydney in 1938. (4)
A board of similar construction to the laminated design, said to be from a Geelong family but its providence otherwise unclear, is held by a private collector. (5)
A Photographic Anomaly:
Ongoing research has yet to confirm the provenance of a photograph of tandem riders, reproduced right, that potentially calls into question the current understanding of the development of the hollow board in Australia,
copy was printed
in a collection of black and white photographs under
the tittle "The
Old Timer's Album" in Surfer in 1965. (5)
obvious extreme thickness, it is highly probable that
it could have only
of surf ski began to emerge, the wide body model used for wave
an elongated ski to improve paddling performance for racing,
by Jack Toyer of Cronulla in 1936. (2)
Concurrently, at Maroubra 'Mickey' Morris and 'Billy' Langford
the double ski, although their first model proved too narrow.
The broad-beam model, like a surfboard, was ridden in a standing position when on the wave with the addition of a leash connecting the paddle to the nose, probably to keep the two apparatus together in the case of a wipeout, which was more probable when riding while standing.
One, unaccredited, photograph of several broad- beamed models was included in the SLSA Handbook of 1938. (4)
These skis were first seen on film in Movietone News 8/51 in 1937 at Manly, the riders both sitting and standing. (5)
at Maroubra, the surf ski was adopted as standard life saving
in 1937 (6) and
the Australian Championships as a rescue event with a paddler
The skis proved very popular and it was suggested that "the new craze is giving the surf board some very keen opposition." (8)
The same year, Surf Ski Manufacturers at Smith's Avenue, Hurstville marketed "the new Ultra-Modern Surf Ski" at seven pounds and fifteen shillings including delivery by rail or boat plus packing at two shillings and sixpence, or fifteen shillings deposit and payments of three shillings and sixpence per week. (9)
At the end of
the surf ski made its first excursion outside Australian
“The Walker Brothers sent a surf ski to Duke Kahanamoku at Honolulu and members of the Australian Pacific Games Team which visited Honolulu in 1939 say Duke was often seen paddling around on his ‘ski from Australia’.” (10)
sanction, skis were not included in the SLSA Handbook of 1938,
the photograph noted above, and in December, these skis
competed with canoes
in an SLSC carnival. (11)
The SLSA Handbook was later adjusted to include notes on Rescue Methods and Rules for Control by Clubs for surfboards and surf skis (12) and eventually plans were included for an 18 feet single and a 22 feet double ski. (13)
a wave riding board and not competitive in paddling races.
Lou Morath used a hollow plywood board for the surfboard trails, held on Narrabeen Lakes, to determine representatives to the upcoming Pacific Games.
The board was approximately 11 feet long and unusually wide with a large square nose and smaller tail both sheathed in thin metal plates.
Typical of Morath’s exceptional craftsmanship, the deck has several contrasting decorative “vee” panels down the board.
Contemporary photographs of the trials illustrate two other boards similar in size and shape, one held by fellow Manly LSC member, Harry Wicke.
He was a noted board rider who, it has been inferred, was not considered for selection due to his German heritage, in a flurry of nationalist paranoia with the outbreak of war in Europe. (3)
Wicke’s board, also with metal nose and tail sheathing, is about 10 feet long.
Built by Palm Beach SLSC member Keightly 'Blue' Russell, the board is currently in the Manly LSC’s Australian Surfing Museum collection. (4)
Importantly, these three boards are not characteristic of the standard Tom Blake hollow board template and appear to be rather an attempt to produce a lighter board similar in dimensions to the earlier solid wood.
This perhaps demonstrates an independent Australian design influence, the most likely candidate Harry McLaren’s surf ski, as appropriated at Manly by Dr. Crackanthorp.
with “starting the kneeling paddle fashion in Sydney”
was himself a competitor in the trials and subsequently a
His personal board, and several others, in the trial photographs are substantially longer than the three detailed above, probably in excess of 14 feet.
Held nose down by their riders, their tails are cropped out by the top of the image.
These models appear similar to the square nose and pin tail template to the Blake design.
Lou Morath (Manly), Keightly ('Blue') Russell (Palm Beach) and
(North Bondi) were selected as boardriding representatives in
a large Australian
team which attended the Pacific Games in Hawaii. (6)
As well as his solid wood wave riding board, Lou Morath probably took a hollow board to Hawaii different to the one he used in the trials.
A photograph, titled “Lou Morath and another paddler in training for the 1939 Pacific Games " (7), shows him paddling a board that closely resembles one held by the Manly Art Gallery and Museum (8) with the number “2” and “Lou Morath” hand painted in gold script on the deck.
This 14 feet long board has contrasting wood paneling of the deck, somewhat similar to the board used at the trials, and long based solid timber keel fin.
It’s pin nose and square tail are at variance with the standard Blake hollow.
The other paddler, on a board that bears the rescue reel logo used by several Australian surf life saving clubs, is possibly an Hawaiian competitor, perhaps even Duke Kahanamoku himself. (9)
competition, the Daily Telegraph detailed a brief
"Events proposed are surf board out-and-home paddle race, surf board tandem race, surf board
display, and surfboard rescue race." (2)
From the first, the intention was have an Hawaiian team to
Australia the following year (perhaps to initiate an annual series
"A conditlon of the tour is that the Hawaiian Association reciprocate with a visit to Australia in 1940." (3)
officials were enthusiastic about the tour as an opportunity
their life saving methods in an international context.
The Surf Life Saving Association chairman, Mr. Adrian Curlewis, commented:
"I feel that while taking part in the surf board championships our represenatives should give demonstrations of surf rescue work." (4)
expressed confidence in the ability of the Australian
boardriders to provide
a vigorous contest:
"Mr. Hunter said tests had shown Australian surfers the equal to those in other parts of the world.
'The world record for a still water swim with a surf board is 31 1/2 sec.,' said Mr. Hunter.
'I know of several who got within a few seconds of this time without special training.' " (5)
The current record holder was probably American, Tom Blake over a distance of 100 yards. (6)
" 'Paddling record times in the still water of a Honolulu canal, over a distance from 100 yards to a mile,
are held by Tom Blake, an American.' said Mr. Russell yesterday."
Daily Telegraph, Friday, 10 February 1939, page 7
of the competition had yet to be specified, most Sydney
the surf at Waikiki was considerably less testing than their
a factor that would prove to be to their representatives'
"Snow" McAlister noted:
"The broken surf of Australia demand tremendous skill of the surf-board rider.
I think our best men have enough skill to match anybody in the surf."
(6) Daily Telegraph Wednesday, 8 February 1939. Page 1
A similar view
expressed by CIaude West:
"The type of surf we have is the toughest in the world to master, and Australians could hold their own in the easier Honolulu surf.
The smooth, unbroken roller of Honolulu would be a picnic for our men. " (7)
Daily Telegraph Thursday, 9 February 1939. Page 7
similar view in an article, with the less than subtle title, "Australians
'Tops' in Surfboard Riding":
"Our waves are irregular, bank up to great heights, and break some distance from the shore.
In order to choose the correct type of wave and ride it expertly and safely, one must summon far greater daring and skill than the Waikiki rider has to do." (8)
The Referee Thursday, 9 February 1939. Page 15
fomer president of Palm Beach Surf Life-Saving Club and who
had surfed at Waikiki (9), was far more circumspect in his
SLSAA: Surf in Australia, November 1, 1936, pages 9-10.
"A feature of the board riding in Hawaii, which strikes the Australian expert on first experiencing the
sport there, is the amazing angle at which the riders come across the wave..."
"Nobody in the world could beat the Hawaiian beach boys in the surf."
However, it is important to note that the question of surfboard design was crucial, Ralston also noted:
"But with fast, hollow boards, and training, our men could compete with anyone over there." (10)
Daily Telegraph Wednesday, 8 February 1939. Page 1.
While the skills of Sydney's boardriders were being lauded in the press, "Blue" Russell, also of Palm Beach, was beginning to make serious practical tests against the stop watch on the flat water of Pittwater.
tests, a light hollow board of special three ply, about 15
feet 4ins. long
The board was built by Mr. Russell , who considers it as fast as boards used at Honolulu.
It weighs about 30lb., whereas a solid board would weigh about 60lb." (11)
Daily Telegraph Friday, 10 February 1939, page 7
Note Russell's use of "a light hollow board", possibly of his own design.
Before the end
February the range of program activities had expanded
"They will compete against each other in the water, on surf-boards, in Australian surf-boats, in Hawaiian canoes, and the Australians will demonstrate the surf rescue system evolved here."
Daily Telegraph Wednesday, 22 February 1939, page 1
team to visit Hawaii was considered highly prestigous, and the
was evident in a preview of that year's Australian
"Almost overshadowing the championship carnival in current interest is the proposed visit of swimmers, surf board riders and a boat crew to Honolulu in July." (2)
at Manly Beach on18th March, the Surf Board Race was won by G.
Bondi, second R. Russell of Palm Beach and third was J. Mayes
However, for unknown reasons, these results were not considered sufficient to finalise team selection and further trials were held on Narrabeen Lakes, see below.
clubs were vocal in support of their champions for inclusion
in the touring
"Bob Holcombe, widely skilled surf competitor and current surfoplane champion of the Cronulla club, has nominated for the S.L.S.A. surf team which will tour Honolulu in June."
Volume 3 Number 8 April 1, 1939, page 14.
"All members are confident that (Newcastle) Club Champion Alan Fidler will secure a berth on the Honolulu trip."
Volume 3 Number 9, May 1, 1939, page 8.
were conducted on Narrabeen Lakes to determine selection for
paddlers to compete in Hawaii.
Some competitors included A. Major and R.K. Russell (Palm Beach), H.H. Wicke, R. Duck, F.C. Davis, L. Morath,
and R. Lumsdaine (Manly).
The boards, " the latest types of hollow surfboards", were of dirverse design and lengths.
Volume 3 Number 9. May 1, 1939, page 7.
Eventually Chapple (North Bondi), Lou Morath (Manly-Balmoral) and Blue Russell (Palm Beach) were selected as the surfboard representatives.
By the end of
1939 a detailed programme had been prepared by the Hawaiian
forwarded to the Surf life Saving Association of Australia.
Beginning with their arrival on 5th July, this consisted of official receptions, parades, social outings, two nights of swimming and diving events at the Waikiki Natorium and a third at Punahou Tank. .
The first night at the Natorium was to include the100 Yards Surfboard Race for Men, Open.
Sunday, July 16, was to feature "Lifeboat, canoe, surf board, ski and outboard motor regatta at Ala Moana Canal in front of Ala Moana Park"
Some of these proposed events were:
"4. Hawaiian surf board race, 1 mile (board must be 12 ft., at least 60 lbs., 12 inches width at stern).
8. Australian ski paddling race- 1 mile- Hawaii v. Australia.
9. Surf board relay-women (8 to team)-1 mile straight course.
11. Australian lifeboat race- Hawaii v. Australia.
13. Surf board relay (8 men to team)- 1 mile straight course."
The final day of competition, Saturday 22 July, was to include:
"1. Life-Saving Rescue Race- Australia v. Hawaii.
2. Australian Lifeboat Race through Surf.
3. 100 Yards Footrace on Sand Beach.
4. Surf Board Race through Surf.
5. 400 Yards Relay Race on Sand Beach."
- Volume 3 Number 9. May 1, 1939, page 1.
of the reel and belt and the coral reefs at Waikiki was
"They say the R. and R. team for Hawaii is to be provided with military boots to race over the coral sea beds."
Volume 3 Number 10. June 1, 1939, page 14.
The boat crew
Frank B. Fraund (Palm Beach), Frank Davis (Manly) and Dickson,
and Mackney (all Mona Vale).
The R. & R. squad was Les McCay, (North Cronulla), Alan Fitzgerald, (North Wollongong), Hermie Doerner, (Bondi), Hec Scott, (Newcastle), Bill Furrey (North Steyne) and Alan Imrie (Burleigh Heads).
Doerne was a noted water polo player and team captain.
Robin Biddup (Manly) was probably selected as the strongest swimmer available, a state champion and winner of bronze medals for the 440 yards freestyle and as a member of the 220 yard freestyle relay (?) at the 1938 British Empire Games in Sydney.
As previously noted, the boardriders were Chapple, Morath and Russell.
Predominantly from the Sydney Clubs, the team included, perhaps diplomatically, one representative each from Newcastle, Wollongong and Burleigh Heads, Queensland.
officials or supporters, Jack Cameron, H. Spry, H. Chapple,
Jack McMaster, Tom Meagher, F. Boorman, and Harry Hay. (2)
Hay first competed against the competition’s host, Duke Kahanamoku, now the Sheriff of Honolulu, at Stockholm in 1912 and an active participant in the Hawaiian’s surfboard riding demonstrations in Sydney in 1915.
P. Wynter represented Sydney’s Daily Telegraph. (3)
the team was filmed at training for:
“Movietone News 10/15 (1939) and Cinesound Review 397 (1939), and again on their departure for Movietone News 10/28 (1939) and Cinesound Review 400 (1939).
However there was no footage of their arrival...or of the paddling race". (4)
Surf in Australia reported:
"Harold Spry, well-known Manly identity and ex-member of the Queenscliff club, will be visiting Hawaii
at the same time as the surf team.
Harold is an expert amateur movie photographer, and we hope he will be afforded all facilities to
record the team's activities in film."
Volume 3 Number 10. June 1, 1939, page 14.
The existence of any footage taken in Hawaii by Harold Spry is currently unknown.
Before the team departed, two surfboats were shipped to Honolulu
allow the Hawaiians time to familiarize themselves with the craft.
The other equipment, surfboards and the reel, probably travelled with the team.
There is possibility that surfskis were also taken, there was already one at Waikiki in the possession of Duke Kahanamoku (x), and maybe some surfoplanes.
In the preparations for a tour to New Zealand in 1937, it was reported:
"Surfoplanes Ltd. are loaning a plane to each member and the Bondi Club are loaning a reel."
Surf in Australia February 1, 1937, page 11.
The team departed Sydney on the 23rd June in the s.s. Monterey and arrived in Honolulu on 5 July 1939.
Diamond Head on Wednesday, 5th July, we were first met by
the two Australian
boats, manned by Hawaiians and Americans.
Then came Duke Kahanamoku in a Customs cutter, accompanied by John Williams, Secretary of the
Executive Committee, and Don Watson, Committeeman.
Extracts from Captain's Report of Pacific Surf Games, October 3, 1939, page 2.
The team had the pleasure of being made honorary members of the famous Outrigger Canoe Club.
Water conditions were pleasant, because water temperatures here range from 66 degrees to 82, and
the weather is never colder than 56 nor warmer than 88.
Extracts from Captain's Report of Pacific Surf Games, October 3, 1939, page 3.
team made its first public appearance at 3 p.m. at Makapun,
demonstration of R. and R. with details, followed by exhibitions of belt and surf racing, surf board
riding and surf boat work.
This exhibition amazed a crowd of 15,000 with the precision of the R. and R. drill, and much
favourable comment was heard on all sides.
Later, when the boat cracked a wave, the crowd went wild with excitement and kept asking the crew to give further exhibitions, which they did, and were roundly applauded by thousands lining the highway to Makapun.
Extracts from Captain's Report of Pacific Surf Games, October 3, 1939, page 3.
In front of
spectators at the swimming carnival at the Waikiki Natatorium
"Robin Biddulph swam third in the 800 metres race, won by Nakama in Hawaiian record time, and in the
only other event we contested, the 400 metres relay, our team, consisting of McKay, Doerner,
Fitzgerald and Furey, was successful.
In the heats of the 100 yards board race Morath and Chapple qualified for the final by getting 1st and
3rd respectively in the 1st heat and Russell qualified in the second heat, gaining 3rd place."
Extracts from Captain's Report of Pacific Surf Games, October 3, 1939, page 3.
At the second
carnival on Friday, 14th July:
"... Biddulph secured 3rd place in the 200 and 400 metres.
The relay team secured second place in the 400 yards relay in opposition to the crack Maui team, including Nakama and Hirose.
In the final of the 100 yards board race Russell secured 3rd place and Boorman 4th place."
Extracts from Captain's Report of Pacific Surf Games, October 3, 1939, page 3.
of Saturday, 15th July, the team:
"... journeyed to Waialua Beach, situated some 30 miles from Honolulu, on the other side of the island, to demonstrate to officers and men of the Hawaiian Army Recreation Office, the Waialua Agricultural Company and Community Association.
The beach was well attended by civilians and service men, and so well were our methods received
that there is every possibility of their adoption by the army.
After being entertained at dinner at the Haliewa Hotel, the team returned to Honolulu."
Extracts from Captain's Report of Pacific Surf Games, October 3, 1939, page 4.
at Aquatic Carnival held Ala Moana Canal, starting at 8.30
A crowd of about 3,000 watched the most complete and diversified regatta ever presented in
On the programme were canoe races, barge races, surf boat races, surf board competitions,
outboard motor races and swimming events.
Our crew triumphed over the Territorial Beach patrol oarsman representing the island in the 3/4 mile
surf boat race, which was the feature event of the regatta, in the good time of 6 min. 57.7 sec.
Australia won the surf board relay over a mile in 10 min. 49.5 sec., thanks to the magnificent effort of
Lou Morath, who reduced a leeway of 40 yards to enable R. Russell to commence the last lap with a
lead of 5 yards.
Russell continued the good work and won by 30 yards.
In the 3/4 mile board race, J. May, of Honolulu, who had started under protest, won from R. Russell
and Dick Chapple, but was disqualified owing to irregularities in his entry, and the race was awarded
to R. Russell.
In the 1/2 mile swimming race Biddup suceeded in gaining second place to K. Nakama after
swimming a very erratic course.
Extracts from Captain's Report of Pacific Surf Games, October 3, 1939, page 4.
training at Waikiki the team visited the aquarium and later
museum, where surprising interest was displayed in several early native surf boards, native canoes,
paddles, hollow log drums, and feather capes and helmets.
Extracts from Captain's Report of Pacific Surf Games, October 3, 1939, page 4.
July.-Our team concluded its Honolulu Pacific Games visit
with a surf carnival
Waikiki Beach in the afternoon, commencing at 3 p.m.
The Australian style programme had to be curtailed, as it was impossible to hessian the area and
thousands of spectators overflowed on to the narrow beach, crowding out the competitors.
However, the team was greatly applauded when they gave a characteristic march past display, a
unique spectacle at Waikiki.
Then our rescue and resuscitation squad, in giving a rescue display, which was explained to the vast
crowd through a megaphone by myself, drilled with machine-like precision as the huge crowd fought
for better vantage points.
it became utterly impossible to clear the people from the
beach, and the
other beach event contested was a beach relay race, in which our men were successful by a big
The boat crew succeeded in winning their race by the narrowest of margins after one of the most
exciting races I have ever witnessed.
With the exception of the last 50 yards the Hawaiians were always in front, and only a super-human
effort on the part of the crew enabled them to win.
There were two board races conducted, one an unrestricted race, in which Russell came second,
and a restricted race in which boards were drawn for, and Chapple secured third position.
Extracts from Captain's Report of Pacific Surf Games, October 3, 1939, page 5.
Probably the most touching farewell was when Paul Wolf and Bob Pirie, swimming champions,
stripped on the wharf and, diving into the water, swam a quarter of a mile to wave good-bye as the
ship swung into the stream.
Extracts from Captain's Report of Pacific Surf Games, October 3, 1939, page 5.
It is unlikely
surfers were impressed with the surfboat performance in
their outrigger canoes, by now a standard tourist attraction
and a source
of beach boy income.
The belt and reel may have been even more quickly dismissed, its use of amongst the coral reefs of Waikiki probably highly inconvenient, possibly lethal.
The one Australian invention that did make an impact was the surf ski, one sent by the Walker Brothers to Duke Kahanamoku in Hawaii and possibly delivered by members of the Australian team. (5)
It is possible that the team also included other surf skis for their visit, and less likely but still conceivable, an example of the surfoplane.
riders were successful in at least one event; Hermie Doerner
his captain’s report:
“Sunday, 16 July, 1939 … Australia won the surfboard relay over a mile in 10 min. 49.5 sec., thanks to the magnificent effort of Lou Morath who reduced a leeway of 40 yards to enable K. Russell to commence the last lap with a lead of 5 yards”. (7)
Tuesday, 24 January 1939.
in Australia, Volume 3 Number 7. March 1, 1939, page 1.
3. Volume 3 Number 8. April 1, 1939, page 2.
Cit., page 65.
2.b. Harris: Op. Cit., page 21.
3. Harris: Op. Cit., page 17.
4. Thoms: Op. Cit., page 39
5. Hall, Sandra and Ambrose, Greg: Memories of Duke - The Legend Come to Life.
The Bess Press, PO Box 22388 Honolulu, Hawaii 96823, 1995, page 83.
6. Quoted in Franki: Op. Cit., page 41.
Given that the
impetus for the competition was a discussion of surfboard
design, it is
ironic that the prominent Hawaiian designer, Tom Blake, was
based on the
west and east coasts of America from 1937 to 1941 and unlikely
to be at
the Pacific Games in 1939. (3)
Apart from the advantages of observing the Hawaiian boardriders in their home conditions and the possibility of returning with a Blake hollow board, observing the board construction and access to the various published plans was just as significant.
Blake’s designs themselves made an overwhelming impact and after 1945 Australian hollow boards were faithful replications of his standard paddleboard.
After the war, Dick Chapple stenciled his manufacturing details on his boards and labeled “Hawaiian Surfboard”. (4)
While obviously alluding to Blake, the designer was not specifically noted.
for 1947, reprised the solid wood board plans, first included
and added the Hollow Surf Board, a 14 feet model that did not
This edition, demonstrating the change in focus from wave riding to paddling competitions, added Surf Board Race Rules (6) and photographs of a race start and finish replaced the surfboard riding photographs from the previous editions. (7)
A further entry specified Surf Boards and Surf Skis Rules for Control by Clubs, wherein Blake’s “big surf handle” of 1935 was now considered a necessary addition by the SLSA as “a gip handle at stern as safety measure”. (8)
In 1955, The
Handbook was divided into four parts, No. 1 Green
No. 2 Blue (Instruction and Examination), No. 3 Red
(Competition) and No.
4 Brown (Gear).
The Pink section of the Gear edition (Drawings and Plans) updated the developments in surfcraft since 1930. The current plans for the tuck-stern surfboat and its accessories were extensively detailed (pages 168-172). The solid board was deleted, now replaced by plans for 14 feet (wave) and 16 feet (racing) surfboards (page 171). The other types of surfcraft that had been developed in the last thirty years were also detailed, an 18 ft. single surf ski (page 175), a 22 ft. double surf ski (page 177), surf ski paddle (page 171) and a rubber surfboard or surfoplane (page 179).
of these craft, and rubber flippers, in use were illustrated
in the White section (Action and Illustrative Plates).
The following manufacturers are credited in the Acknowledgements (pages 70-71):
Tuck stern surf boat: G. R. Wilson, 148 Cammeray Road, North Sydney, N.S.W.
Surfboard: Bill Wallace, 10 St. Thomas Street, Bronte, N.S.W.
Single and double surf ski: S. H. Heaton, 119 St. James Road, New Lambton, N.S.W.
Rubber float or surfoplane: Advanx Tyre and Rubber Co. Pty. Ltd., Neild & McLachlan Avenues, Rushcutters Bay, Sydney, N.S.W.
Swim flippers: M. D. Turnbull Engineering Pty. Ltd., 2 Canal Road, St. Peters, N.S.W. (
In Chapter IX: The Future (page 67), the text concentrates largely on the introduction of the helicopter as an important adjunct to surf life saving techniques. Maintaining an essentially conservative outlook, "A review of present gear and its effectiveness under Australian surf conditions indicates there will be few, if any, revolutionary changes”. The writers were otherwise accurate in their predictions: “The use of fibreglass...for surf boats, boards and skis, are also a distinct possibility for the future." Australian surfboards would undergo radical change in 1956, with the introduction of the fibreglassed Malibu board by visiting American and Hawaiian surfers in 1956.
Of particular interest in the photographic section are “Single Surf Ski with decking removed to show framework” (Plate 9, page 82) and a quiver portrait of R. Young, credited as “Surf Boards for different conditions. Left to right are boards for curling waves, for an average surf of rolling waves, and for long swells or green waves” (Plate 33, page 104). Standard Blake hollow boards, these boards are progressively longer and narrower, each decorated with Young’s name and a graphic of dice totaling 7 (one 3 and one 4).
“Standing up and riding waves to the beach on a Surf Board” (Plate 30, page 102, top) illustrates transverse riding on a hollow board on a wave of considerable size with a well-formed curl, contradicting a common assumption that these boards rode straight to the beach. This image is possibly shot from a surfboat at Fairy Bower, a powerful right-hand reef break south of Manly Beach.
Moran or Nick Carroll?
2. Brawley: Palm Beach SLSC, page 66.
Lynch and Gault-Williams: Op. Cit., pages 147 to 161.
Chapple, Dick: Hawaiian Surfboard, circa 1946.
On display, Quicksilver Surf Shop, The Corso, Manly, 2008.
SLSA: Op. Cit., (1947), Specifications for making a Hollow Surf Board, pages 208 – 209.
The Surf Life Saving Association of Australia: The Australian Surf Life Saving Handbook
Fifteenth Edition (Revised June 1947) pages 274 - 275.
SLSA: Op. Cit., (1947), Surfboard race start, unaccredited, Plate EX page 275, Surfboard race finish, unaccredited, Plate FX page 276.
The Surf Life Saving Association of Australia: The Australian Surf Life Saving Handbook
Fifteenth Edition, Revised June 1947,
The Surf Life Saving Association of Australia, Sydney, Australia, page 213.
The Surf Life Saving Association of Australia: The Australian Surf Life Saving Gear and Equipment Handbook.
First Edition October 1955, page 171.