surfboards in australia since 1900
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farrelly : design interview, 1968 

Midget Farrelly : Design Interview, 1967-1968.

Farrelly, Midget : An interview on the progress and development
of the modern surfboard
with Midget Farrelly.
Surf International
Vol. 1. No. 3  February 1968, pages 34 to 37.

The interview, most probably conducted by editor John Witzig, reprises Midget's view of Australian (Sydney) surfboard design developments through 1967.
Despite the publishing date of February 1968, it was clearly conducted in December 1967 before both visited Hawaii at the end of the year. 
Page 34

An interview on the progress and
development of the modern surfboard
with Midget Farrelly.

'I am looking for a different kind of wave, the kind that throws the power up behind you and sends the board skittering on its rail and its fin so that you
have got to get your body out over the board and the water and be like that
man on the motor bike.'

[Photograph by John Wizig: Bob McTavish, Yagen, 1967.]

Page 35

Could you explain in basic terms just what has happened to surfboards in the last twelve months?

Well, nothing really radical has happened to the majority of boards yet, but there is a general trend towards a shorter board.

Last summer it seemed everyone was riding nine feet.
We had come down from around nine five, nine six, and they were considered short boards.
During the winter, boards went a little farther.
I remember midway through the winter I made my first 8 foot 8 board and I thought that was short, but then about September they started to go even farther.
Generally they have gone down six inches to a foot and in the last three months the top surfers have dropped their lengths down two feet.

Any other basic differences except length?


The problem has always been if you make a shorter board how do you get it to do everything a long board does.
I think most of the good surfers now realize it's not one dimension of a surfboard that guarantees that it works.
As we get a little bit more sophisticated with design we are looking towards displacement volume to give us a true measurement of a surfboard.
While we have gone down in length we have come up in a few other things.
The design is so radical that we do need a basic thickness of at least three inches.
The introduction of the V bottom means more defined planing areas, more positive areas on the bottom of the board.
Rail shape has changed from a pointed, critical, radical rail to a softer, rounder, more oval rail.
The general rocker of a surfboard has been altered.
The nose is kicked radically while the tail flows away in a soft line.
So you have got the V, the more defined planing areas, nose rocker, and the change in rail shape, but I think most significant and obvious change is in outline.
We have almost got a very basic old fashioned outline: big, wide, square tail, parallel rails and a blunt nose.
You wouldn't say that the boards of today are beautiful at all.

Do you equate all this change with definite progress in surfboard design?

Well, I have to look at why I changed my board and I feel that I am progressing.

When I look around at some of the other shops I think they are progressing too, because we don't change the board and then change the style nowadays.
What I thought of- we've ridden the flats of the waves, we've ridden down the waves, we've ridden across the waves, and at different times under freaky circumstances we have ridden up the wave.
It would be more exciting if we were able to use gravity or centrifugal force to hold us up under the wave in the lip, and this can only be achieved through power drive or sharp acceleration or some kind of sustained momentum into the top of the wave and out of the top of the wave.
I think it all stems from the re-entry or whatever you want to call it.

Doesn't the very lightness and smallness of these boards restrict their momentum?

No, it doesn't.

The lightness or heaviness of a board is best governed by the lightness or heaviness of the wave. There seems to be a general yardstick in surfing, thin light boards thin light waves, thick heavy boards thick heavy waves.
Of course what was thick, is now absolutely revoltingly thick, and what was thin and unridable is now desirable.
A light thin surfboard is more sensitive.

From a manufacturer's point of view how much change in surfboard design can be attributed directly to controlled fashion?

I think that unless you have got a guaranteed market you can't ignore fashion.

The Sydney board builders have had a good winter and a good summer.
I think the reason they have had a good year is because people have been buying a new style of board.
Now we break it down into three months for surfboards.
The surfboard built today is infinitely better than the one built three months ago.

Is the development that has taken place in Australia applicable only to Australian surf?

At the present rate it probably is.

We have realized more and more so that we are riding our own waves in our own way.
I looked at Nat and as well as seeing the World Champion I could see a little bit of the future for Australian surfing.
He had condensed his style to what he needed the most.
The short board has done this to a certain extent.
You can't get away with imitation surfing.
Anything that is done on a short board has to be done very purposefully because it shows.
I think we have burnt off all these unnecessary characteristics in our surfing styles.
As individuals we have come to a very ideally suited style for local conditions anywhere around Australia.
This is what has really influenced surfboards in Australia right now.
In California or Hawaii changes come yearly.
I think we are not having a surfboard revolution as much as we are having a style revolution.

Well, in other words, the rest of the world isn't moving along a similar path to Australia.

No, definitely not.

I think that what we have done, really, is to utilize our waves and ourselves and our boards to get an unbeatable approach to our own waves.
The perfect example of this was the WindanSea team here.
There were plenty of good surfers but in our waves their boards weren't doing what our boards were, and their styles weren't either.
They did adjust, some of the more aggressive surfers seemed to fit very naturally in some instances.

What do you think your part is in the development of the modern Australian surfboard and the modern Australian style of surfing?

Well, I felt quite inspired after watching some of the surfers at the Australian Championships at Bells a little more closely than I ever had done before.

I think I summed up Bells as being the kind of contest where people actually wanted to get out and get more out of a wave than have ever been gotten out before.
They wanted to ride Bells in a way that had never been done before.
They weren't afraid of Bells, and I think this sort of inspired me to try to create some pattern for progress.
I felt that the gravity a motor bike rider in a cage creates for himself could be applied to the basic cylindrical shape of a wave.
I have always known the standard principles of, for instance, the difference between a yacht hull whichis a displacement hull and a speedboat hull which is a planing hull.
By a combination of the two I thought you could achieve a board to plane as well as displace so as to achieve speed and control all in one.
The progression towards round bottoms has proven that a round bottom definitely puts you back in the wave, but it often leaves you there too.
There had to be an answer.
I felt a split planing surface under the tail, set at different angles, would provide the displacement of a round bottom plus the planing advantages of a flat bottom.
Radical changes in direction won't be achieved on a long board.
I found that by reducing length any dimension that argues with my physical domination of the board I got a much more responsive board to say the least.
Reduction in fin areas changed the performance of my board.
The board would maintain forward direction but would also provide greater side slip.
Actually the surfboard is turning more into a hot rod.
We are not building beautiful instruments or beautiful boats or anything any more, they are just basic hot rods.
I think that's as far as my part goes.
I create a pattern of progress for myself; it's quite obvious that by reducing the board's domination of my surfing I can dominate the board and then start working on the wave.

Well, how much ot this is applicable to the kids who buy your surfboards?
What does it really mean to them?
Is it too tar advanced above the commercial market to have a direct application to it?

It is, if they haven't seen you surf one of these boards.

It's the same thing as giving refrigerators to Eskimos if they didn't know how to use them.

Do you think the market is enough in tune in Australia?

Yes, it is in Sydney now.

If it is happening in Sydney now, it will be happening in the rest of Australia in three months.
The kids themselves are quite critical and if a new style of surfing is adopted by a top surfer on a new board, then a lot of people are going to examine it very quickly.
A perfect example of this is Manly.
A person who provides one of the newer designs has to understand what is going on, and I think it should be obvious from the new style of surfing what is going on.
All I can say is that things are developing so much more right now.
So much more is being done and known.
These new boards are definitely more demanding.
Some of the poorly built ones are so demanding that in fact people can't even paddle them, and once they do get away they seem ...

Page 36
Three photographs:
Top: One of Bob McTavish at Angourie (?) and a quote from the interview:
'When you are hanging on like a bob sled team so that you are really trying to do what the fly is doing.'
Bottom: Two of David Treloar and a quote from the interview:
'Between Manly and Palm Beach you've got twenty miles, and I would say at times there seem to be about two thousand surfers.
In amongst that two thousand and twenty miles you've got the best surfers in the whole country.
So something has got to happen.
Things have got to pop.'
Two moods of manly surfer David Treloare.(sic)

An Interview on the progress and development of the modern surfboard with Midget Farrelly.
and a quote from the interview:
'I am looking for a different kind of wave, the kind that throws the power up behind you and sends the board skittering on its rail and its fin so that you have got to get your body out over the board and the water and be like that man on the motor bike.'

Page 37

... to spin out.
A properly designed small board say around eight feet; should paddle quite well and should have good wave traction.

What is going to be the effect of this Australian development on the United States following the WindanSea team?

Well, without looking at it politically- I mean a few of those guys who came out here are all tied up with surf teams and manufacturers- to use Steve Bigler's words, it will either be a fantastic fad and it will blow the whole scene over there or else it will be a dud from the word go.

I think personally that there are enough of the kind of waves that this new small board needs over there to be ridden well, and like Pete Peterson said, if somebody gets over there this summer, on one of these boards, the people just won't believe it.
I think they are looking for something new over there.
This is sort of evident from the attitude of the surfers who came out.

What about Hawaii?

Well, the thing about Hawaii that is so constant and so undeniable is the wave conditions.

Heavy waves and heavy offshore winds.
Now I think that on the right days this kind of board can be ridden there, too.
It's a well-known fact that on a 15-foot Makaha point day if it's glassy you can take a hotdog board out and just wail on those big mounds of water.
But I've seen the best big wave riders spin out on a gun on a ten-foot offshore day.
I think that with the right kind of person riding one of these short boards on a smooth 12- to 15-foot Sunset Beach day, driving straight at the bottom, and then changing direction and going back almost over its own wake towards the top of the curl and then rebounding off the curl and coming back over just a'head of the white water.
I think this is the ultimate aim of every surfer I have ever seen ride Sunset; to get to that vertical almost upside down position and then to sweep down to the flat at the last section with the lion at his heels.

Do you imply that Australia has reached the stage of making a genuine contribution to world surfing?

Well, I don't imply it, I know it.

But I think Australia reached that stage when her first good surfer achieved any sort of recognition anywhere at any time.
But generally and as a nation I think Australia is definitely contributing something nobody else has even thought of.
Because, well, it's unheard of riding small to big waves on a little board, and I think that if the whole project is handled diplomatically and intelligently this could become a far reaching thing.
I think it could go just about everywhere.
Nat showed that a big guy on a little board can do a lot, and I think the good surfers now are proving that regardless of who you are, big or small, on one of these little boards, if you use the right approach, you can do more than a lot, you can do wonders.

Where exactly is the change in equipment leading to as far as performance is concerned?
To greater performance or to performance in a different direction?

Performance in a more definite direction instead of clouded mysterious points in the future.

It's evident to everybody how good a surfer is now.
Everybody has the same goal and by just applying themselves to this goal they come out with their own style, their own standard of ability, without the characteristics of era styles.
I look around at most good surfers and average surfers and it's rare to find two good surfers with one absolutely copying the other.
It's so obvious now that you need to get your body to do so many things and that you are so taken up with this, that you don't really have time to put your hands above your head or below your knees. A good surfer is obvious from his speed in the wave, his position back in the wave, his radical changes of direction and his control of white water.
It seems to me that "grace and poise" have long since given way to a do or die effort to get into the most important part of the wave: up inside, underneath; it's the vertical, the throw, pitching, twisting, convulsion of water up high and back towards the curl.
If you are riding up under the curl you can't maintain one angle of trim, you have to get up there in the first place and get the heck out of there in the second place, and get up there agaln.
It's not that it's repetitious, but it's time consuming inasmuch as a surfer doesn't have a chance to look like he's on the shoulder, or in the curl, or behind the white water.
He'll be doing all three things anyway.

While it is very difficult to evaluate at this time, it would be apparent that genuine progress is being made in Australia in surfing.
Why has it happened in Australia?
And conversely, why hasn't it happened anywhere else?

Well, I think that in the last year Australians have set themselves such high standards that they had to live up to those standards insomuch as any easing up on that pattern of progress would have meant falling behind.

I think that there are a lot of young surfers like Russell Hughes or Ted Spencer who are so bent on being good, so determined to make the top, that they are pushing the older guys who themselves are pushing to stay in front.
It's very competitive.
There is no doubt about it.
In one week you will see something new done in the water and at the end of that week, if it's good, well, the other guys will have adopted it.
I don't mean a hand position or a head position, I mean something like a new way to drift on the wave or a new kind of fin refinement.
Everybody picks up on it and it seems to me like highly competitive progress and a genuine desire to be good.

Don't these same conditions exist in other countries?
In California, for example?

They do.

They definitely do.
It would be easy for me to say that everybody in California is hooked on noseriding or something like that, but I don't really know.
I haven't been there for a year.
There is one thing, though, between Manly and Palm Beach you've got twenty miles, and I would say at times there seem to be about two thousand surfers.
In amongst that two thousand and twenty miles you've got the best surfers in the whole country.
So something has got to happen.
Things have got to pop.

In California Skip Frye might live 150 miles away from David Nuuhiwa in Los Angeles, and Cooper is up at Santa Barbara, and he's a-long way from Skip.
You don't get much competitive progress there.

I think that if this group breaks up that we have right now and go their own way, then I think you'll see a lapse.
I honestly think that the reason we have progressed is that to have a reasonably small group that is compact and really working hard at getting ahead.
It might be a little severe saying that they are all trying to beat each other, but I wouldn't say that they are not trying to beat each other.

The future?

Well, what I'd like to do is naturally to surf every wave that I can get my hands on.

Every good wave.
I am looking for a different kind of wave, the kind that throws the power up behind you and sends the board skittering on its rail and its fin so that you have got to get your body out over the board and the water and be like that man on the motor bike; your head will be upside down and your feet above you and you will be stuck there like a fly.
I am trying to work up into the curl and then back out of it at lightning speed and I know these other guys are too so it's a pretty common goal.
I think the natural final stages of the present progress is putting this board onto a wave in Hawaii. Your moment of truth will be when your tail is high on the wind-blown wall at Sunset and you are trying to force the rail in to get some traction to kill any skitter that's going to come somewhere between the nose and the fin.
When you are hanging on like a bob sled team so that you are really trying to do what the fly is doing. We are going to try to carry this thing into big waves.
It's definitely worked in small waves and the board has some similarities to a gun, so I don't see why it shouldn't work.
I'm keen to try in Hawaii.
Anyone who is there for about a month or two could probably get one of those things stuck right up under a big peak with the shore obscured from view by a cascade of water, and in this situation there is so much true involvement with overcoming your situation that there is no thought as to whether you are looking right or you are doing the right thing.
It is a natural situation in that you have so much to contend with, that your body and your mind will interpret how you should overcome it, and it will be obvious by the way that you do it, how your style is your own.

Surf International
Vol. 1. No. 3  February 1968, 
pages 34 to 37..

home catalogue history references appendix

Geoff Cater (2007-2016) : Midget Farrelly : Design Interview, 1967-1968.