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renwick : boom in board riding, 1958 
Ross Renwick  : Boom in Board Riding, 1958.

Extract from
Renwick, Ross: Boom in Board Riding.
Australian Outdoors
November, 1958, pages 8 to10 and 76.

 A photocopy of this article contributed by Mick Kershler, Anna Bay, October 2008, with many thanks.
Page 8

Photos by Jim Eadie.
When the Hawaiian Surf Team left Australia early in 1957, they left behind them a type of surfboard which was to revolutionise the sport within 12 months.
Less than a year after they left, as many as 100 of their Okinuee-type boards could be seen at any
one beach at the one time, if a good surf was running.
Before this, when the 16 ft. surfboard was in vogue, most board riders stayed at the one beach, leaving it usually only to go to surf carnivals.
Now, if there is a surf running along the coast, roads between seem to be filled with hurrying cars, piled high with boards.
If a southerly is blowing, Manly, Deewhy, Warriewood and Palm Beach are worth looking at; if it's a nor'easter the beaches may be Long Reef, Queenscliffe or Avalon.
On the other side of the harbour, the accent could be on Bondi or Maroubra, but enthusiasts from this area very often cross the harbour and surf-seek on the more regular north side.
The north side is really not more consistent, but there are more beaches to select from, and from Freshwater north, they are much less crowded than the densely populated area south of the Heads.

The lighter boards make it possible for the girls to get into the act, something quite beyond them in the era of the banana board.

In this time - less than two years - board-riding has progressed in popularity to the point where it is practically becoming a national sport, used in tourist advertising ...

Page 9

... abroad, and featured in many American magazines.
Always spectacular, new equipment and new techniques have made it, for one example, the sport which TV audiences have voted the most spectacular on their videos.
They find sitting in an armchair, and waiting for the big "wipe-outs" much more exciting than watching foot-ball matches; whilst some fallen surfer, draped over the front of his board and being bounced down the fifteen foot face of a breaking wave, would probably rather be in an arm- chair watching, too.

Photograph of a collision between three Malibu riders, another rider kneel paddling on the right hand shoulder.
: A "prang" during "hot-doggin'" contest, over the reef at the south end of Avalon Beach.
Accidents are frequent where conditions are crowded.
These riders are on the breaking sholder of a wave  - the danger area.

But now, if a surfboard rally is held there are likely to be present 200 boards, 2000 spectators, 3 tele- vision cameras and an ambulance.
These rallies have only been held since early 1958 and consist of hour after hour of thrilling competition wave riding.
With the public they are a tremendous success, with the board riders they are a real test of skill and daring, for riding the same wave as fiIty other boards is at best, disconcerting.

Before the advent of the short board, a beach with twenty boards out was shockingly crowded.
Now, rallies aside, a beach with a good surf running may have as many as 100 boards operating at the one time.

Early Okinuee boards in Sydney were hollow plywood models, weighing about 40 pounds, and averaging 10 feet and a few inches in length.
Gordon Woods, who is the leading board designer on the east coast, built the first successful boards of this type.
Though they were perfectly made he expressed his dissatisfaction about their performance, which was inferior to solid balsa shapes.
At this time - early 1957 - it was impossible to get supplies of balsa, so most efforts were in the direction of an improved design for hollow boards.
Bill Wallace of Bronte and Woods were both busy experimenting with shapes, but alteration and improvement was only slight, though eventually length was reduced by a foot to nine feet.

Surfboards, and board riding in Australia in the last two seasons has undergone remarkable change.
This is one sport which is feeling the effects of progress.

When it was first built, the hollow Hawaiian board was considered successful, but soon proved an old theory about boards ... all the good features are noticed first, while the bad ones don't become obvious until the first big sea comes up.
If there had been no balsa boards around every-one would have been satisfied with the hollow ones. But the Hawaiians had left three boards when they returned home and these balsa jobs really showed the way.
Unlike the more cumbersome hollow, they rode high on a wave, and could be controlled from closer to the front.
When a wave is breaking, a hollow runs right out in front of it, and then slows down and waits for the wave to catch it.
With the balsa board there is little change in speed, for hanging at the top of the wave, it can come down with the crest, and ...

Page 10

... is not subject to violent changes of speed.

The purists were not satisfied. .. they wanted balsa.
But at this stage none was available so some turned to making a hollow fibreglass board.

There was much talk from people who claimed they were going to produce a perfect fibreglass construction, which would perform as well as balsa, and would be twice as strong.
In actual fact, everything that appeared was an abject failure.
The ones that were strong enough weighed almost as much as a small surf-boat, while the others were inclined to warp into all sorts of unpractical shapes.
The most successful one I saw, was made by Doug Jackson of Bilgola Surf Club, who had also made the first hollow Okinuee.
One day he went down the front of a dumper at Palm Beach and the board was never the same again.
A few days later the same thing happened, and he didn't even bother to pick it up off the beach ... just left it there.
Similar results discouraged much enterprise in the fibreglass only field, but in the interlude the first load of balsa had arrived from Equador.

This was early summer 1957, and hollow boards had been in use for half a summer, and the following winter.
The first man to start making balsa boards was Roger Kieran of Beacon Hill who had been a
champion rider of post-war days.
Kieran began making successful "teardrop" shaped boards, and before long he was turning out five boards a week without meeting the demand.
Balsa boards were so much better than the hollows, that when Gordon Woods began turning them out he had a three months waiting list.

Though the balsa boards were satisfactory in every respect, experiments in design were still being tried.
The two shapes most popular at the moment are the "hot dog" and the "pig" boards.
These two types are the very latest, straight from the Californian surfing centres, and are in extensive use in Hawaii.

Photograph of surfboard rider, probably Northern beaches.
Before it broke. this wave was ten ft. high - a moderate surf.
With the new boards riders can crack waves twice the size with comparative ease.
Photograph of surfboard rider on a 10 foot right hander.

A board streaks out on to the shoulder of a wave at Manly.
This is a "pig" board, and is riding low' in the water. 

"Hot Dog" Board
"Hot-doggin" is a surf board slang phrase for the art of twisting and turning: going one way and then the other.
To "hot dog", the waves have to be suitable; they must have a shoulder.
A shoulder is the part of the wave which is on the edge of a breaking crest.
Whilst being almost as steep as a breaking section, a shoulder is green, untroubled water.
The rider picks up the wave in the centre of the crest and turns his board in a corner, cutting across the face of the wave and heading for the shoulder.
If he has timed his "zip", the wave should be breaking directly behind him.
When the wave stops breaking behind him he is on the shoulder, so he steps back and swings his board back in towards the breaking wave.
When the board has run back to the white water, it is turned again, and run across the shoulder, then turned again towards the crest.
This is repeated until the wave closes up.
Hot- dogging, with its repeated changing of speed and direction is thrilling for the rider, and often unbelievably so for the spectator.
A good display of this looks as complicated as a ballet routine, with the rider working from one end of the board to the other.(Continued on page 76)
 Page 77

At times he may be standing as close as a foot from the nose (for speed) and a second later a foot from the tail (for turning).

Hot-dog design is the first to come really close to being the perfect compromise.
They are equally suitable for cutting across the face of big steep waves and for "hot-dogging" on smaller surfs.
They are an ideal shape for the learner as they have stability as well as good performance.

As a rule, length of a "hot-dog" board is between nine feet, and nine feet six inches.
Width is about 22 inches at the widest part, which is about three feet from the tail.
The nose of a "hot-dog" is fairly narrow and it sports an extremely large fin.

Pig Boards
Pig boards are the latest development in board riding from the Laguna Beach, California, workshop of Ed Velsey and Hap Jacobs. These men, the leading board designers in the States, made the pig board to "out-hot-dog" the "hot-dog" type.
Because of its nature, the pig board is strictly small sea equipment.

They have a nose which is extremely narrow, and turned up, and their tail is relatively the same shape as a normal nose, also kicked up.
Maximum width is right at the tail so to control the board the rider stands about four feet from the front.
When cornering it is possible to stand three tnches from the nose, this leaves nine feet of board at the rear of the rider.
In a small surf they are colossal, but when the waves get up a bit the pig is hard to con- trol for it runs straight down the face and is hard to keep moving.
Brilliant pig board riders in Sydney are Bluey Mayes of Bondi, Bob Evans and John Williams of Queens- cliffe and Peter Clare of Manly.

Advent of a New Type of Board - The Foam Plastic
Everybody was crazy about balsa boards and few thought that they could be improved.
One of the few was Greg McDonagh of Freshwater, who developed an interesting theory which he soon proved.
McDonagh found that he could make a board out of fibreglass covered foam plastic, which was half the weight of balsa.
The foam plastic is called "Coolite", and is a refrigeration insulation put out by the Hardie Rubber Company.
The density of Coolite is two lbs. a cubic foot, while balsa is 10 lbs.
The totaI weight of a Coolite board before fibreglass is added is less than eight pounds.
In comparison with this, the lightest pig board, owned by Bob Evans, weighs 19 lbs., this being about as light as a balsa board can get.
Several people before McDonagh had attempted to make Coolite Boards but had failed because they had found nothing which would ...

Page 78

... seal the foam plastic from the chemical action set up by the solvents in the fibreglass resin.

Photograph: With the crest curling over his body, this rider displays good style and calm determnation.

McDonagh found a sealer for the Coolite (see "Build Your Self a Foam Plastic Board" on page 19). Early winter 1958 saw his first board launched.
It was an 8-footer and floated very high in the water, its total weight being about 12 lbs.
CooIite is much more buoyant than balsa, the eight-footer floating much higher than a 10 foot balsa board.
But this extra flotation, whilst having its advantages, also made the board harder to control, for it jumped around on a wave, particularly if conditions were choppy.
A fallacy about surfboards is that the higher they float, the better they are.
While a high floating board is easier to paddle, it is harder to control.
A sinker, once on a wave, is stable and not subject to interference from wind and chop.
The first foam plastic board had a wide nose, and this was also a disadvantage, for it made steering very difficult.
But Greg, and his father, Army McDonagh, were convinced they had discovered a good substitute for balsa, so they persevered with more boards - each one an improvement on its fore-runner.
They found that they could make a board only 6 feet long which could support a 12 stone man.
The six footer became an instant success.
It had a few drawbacks but it was very exciting to ride, for the wave had to be caught rigt at the death, when it was cresting over the board.
Once it got going, this tiny board streaked across the face of the biggest wave, hanging right in the top of the crest in an easy position to manoeuvre.
Paddling a board so small is very tiring for it floats just under the water until the forward motion of the wave lifts it.

The McDonaghs kept building 6, 7, 8 and eventually 9 ft. boards.
By mid-winter, foam-plastic was on the minds of all keen board men.
Some raced in and got them quickly while others hung off to see what would happen when the first big seas came up.
The theory was that a nine ft. foam board would float too high to control on a big wave and the extreme lightness would let the wave take control.
But the McDonaghs turned disadvantage into advantage and put the saved weight to good use.
A 9 ft. Coolite pig board was about 8 pounds lighter than its balsa equivalent.
The average balsa board weighted 21 lb., so the McDonaghs put extra fibreglass over their product and brought the weight to 19 lbs.
At 19 the foam board weighed ...

Page 79
... slightly less than balsa, was a better performer and was twice as strong.

The key word in, the success of foam boards is strength.
Balsa, a perfectly satisfactory medium for cracking waves has never been able to stand up to constant collisions with other boards; almost any balsa board you look at will have patches and cracks in the fibreglass armour.
But the McDonaghs developed their medium so that it performed as well as balsa, yet had twice the impact strength.

Having beaten the "too light" bug, Army and Greg McDonagh went on to build and design completely successfUl foamboards of all sizes.
Foam they proved to be as good a performer as balsa, but very much better in, one important factor - strength.

A Growing Awareness of Increasing Dangers
Surfboard riders, and many spectators of big sea surfing, have something on their minds.
The chances of a surf rider being killed, never slight, have increased to such a point that many surfing sages say it will happen before the end of this summer.
There have been plenty of near misses, some serious, others not even noticed.
A seven inch fin passing over a just sufIlciently submerged head; a surfboard, coming down out of the sky and piercing the water near an unprotected body.
Or just a graze, causing stitches, concussion or broken ribs.
One broken neck so far, at crowded Bondi, when a board rider "bailed out" on to a shallow sand bank.
Surfboard overcrowding is the worst it has ever been.
Considering this, and the number of risks involved, the casualty list has so far been light.

In their quieter moments, board riders are thinking - will it be me; perhaps one of my friends; will it be my board passing over someone who has ditched in front of me?
Where will it happen? A
t my home beach, or at one of the big sea beaches like Long Reef or on the crowded peninsular at Bluefish Point near Fairy Bower?
Could it happen at the unpredictable north end of Newport, or over the reef at the south end ot Bilgola?
Around the point at North Bondi's Ben Buckler?

Those concerned are serious about it.
Is it inevitable?

Sitting on the beach, protected from the wind with stacked surfboards, waiting for the wind to change or the tide to ebb, talk follows a predictable pattern. Waves are compared verbally, and increase in size with each telling.
The effects ot wind and tide are discussed endlessly, the virtues and dangers of many beaches mentioned, fin shapes criticised; should sIdes be sharp or rounded; tails wide or narrow or pointed. Will the surt come up or are we wasting our time waiting ... here comes the darn westerly. ... a man may as well take up tennis.
But the conversation finds its morbid way back to who might be killed by a flying surfboard this summer, next summer.
Sometime, maybe never.

This article contributed by Mick Kershler, with many thanks, October 2008.

Renwick, Ross: Boom in Board Riding.
Australian Outdoors
November, 1958, pages 8 to10 and 76.

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home catalogue history references appendix

Geoff Cater (2008) : Ross Renwick : Boom in Board Riding, 1958.