Photo above: Madeleine, Coolangatta Beach, April 1965. By Barrie Sutherland
How has the sport developed since you first started?
Riding a surfboard over 50 years ago was a simple process. The longer and heavier balsa come foam Malibu style boards were not high performance. The manoeuvers were basic. You paddled into a wave, stood up, turned slowly to track along the unbroken wave. If the wave slowed you cut back into it to regain wave power. It was essential to ‘walk’ the board, cross stepping towards the nose to increase speed and hold a trim line. Of course you had to reverse the process and walk backwards, which could be tricky to learn. Favourite manoeuvers were the hang five or ten nose rides, and drop-knee turns.
With the demise of longboards focus shifted to high speed turns and carves on open face steeper waves, tube riding, going vertical, re-entries and floaters. These manoeuvers were developed and perfected over since the late 1960s. Surfboard design is now more complex with significant emphasis placed on the optimum integration of plan shape, profile, rails, rocker and fins from the accumulated knowledge and experimentation over the past decades.
The game-changer for greater risk and hence development of the manoeuvers we see today was the invention of the leash. Surfers no longer had to be concerned about losing their board and the often long and sometimes challenging swim to retrieve it, or the board being badly damaged on rocks.
The contest scene existed from the beginning of surfing as far back as the early 1900s when surf life-saving was in its infancy and boards were part of the repertoire. In the 1960s contests were a means of the beach tribes competing against each other. Competition created continuous change and still does today but at much slower rate. Professional surfing now supports a life style we dreamed about.
Where do you see the sport headed?
To progress as a truly international sport as in say athletics, tennis, swimming, golf for example, surfing has to move beyond the ocean. The ocean has too many variables for consistent predicable waves that are needed to support time constrained contest surfing. Live television requires that sort of predictability for audience participation. Surfing can’t move beyond its present ocean coastal boundaries and many nations have no coastline or coasts that are wrong angles for swell attraction. So the future is already here with wave pool constructions in place that can take the sport anywhere dependent on just two variables – low cost water and power.
Have surfers’ attitudes changed since the 60s?
In many ways yes. However there is still a way to go in the culture of maturity. Take for example the respect and treatment of elders in sport and community in many non-western cultures. The baseline for surfing is the Hawaiian culture of elder appointment and therefore automatic respect. In Australia there is generally little respect; behaviours are abrupt, demeaning, patronising and intimidating. Elderly Australian surfers have a use-by-date and are often simply cast-outs.
Tell us about Gudgeon, Wood and Brooks the surfers you took a photo of at Winky Pop
In May 1966, I decided to try some water shots (using my Nikonos camera) from my board during a small but good day at Winky Pop. As there were only the five (Terry Wall was there too) of us in the water it wasn’t difficult getting in close to the action. Sitting on my board on an overcast day with a light NW wind was cold. The wind chill factor quickly kicked in once you were stationary, however this shot is an old favourite of three nice guys sharing a wave together. It was worth the discomfort.