Fifty years of shaping haven’t dulled his alacrity for learning. “I still love it,” he says, stating the obvious but not at all hackneyed.
Speaking of alternative crafts, McTavish is currently working on five spoons–kneeboards. Custom-ordered in candy colors. This afternoon, he’s shaping another 1966 copy as a gift for a friend. Tomorrow, he’ll work on “a couple of unusual pintails.” They’re designed for a woman his age who’s been having trouble catching waves and wants “a nice, loose board.” Really, McTavish (like all good shapers) is a fixer. A problem solver.
“There’s always something new on the cook,” he says. “Always.”
McTavish rides different boards all the time. He claims to have lost his “performance edge” by not sticking with a single style of boards–for instance, neglecting his nose riding with lighter boards. When it comes to surfing subterfuge, he’s still very much in the game.
“Crowds put me off, of course,” he says. “I’ve got to surf without crowds to study my boards, so I do surf unusual spots. Every time I show up [at the ordinary spots], people go, ‘Oh, Bob’s here!’ I’ve been surfing every day; they just don’t see me. I usually go 100 miles down the coast with my wife. I rode 40 waves on Monday by myself on this beautiful right-hander. She probably rode 10,” he laughs.
McTavish and his wife, Lynn, have been married for 40 years. They met at the Noosa pub. “She was driving around Australia with her mate in a Kombi. We met and she never got ‘round Australia,” he says. “We were married a year later. No regrets at all. We’re very happy. We’ve been through a lot of ups and downs–especially financially. We went broke twice.” Once venturing into windsurfing, once at the rocky start of molded surfboards.
“I ended up owing 100,000 bucks,” he says. “[With] five kids, moved into a rental house. It was punishing, but my wife stuck with me. We rented a house right on the beach and started a new era. Everyone surfed right in front of the house at Lennox Head. It was wonderful.” That’s when Ben’s big M came along and saved the family business.
McTavish transparently relishes the opportunity to work with his son. “He’s a quiet guy. More like my wife,” he observes. “He sees trouble down the line and knows how to steer around it, whereas I just charge headlong into it. That’s how I surf, too. I’ll tackle any bowl or anything; I just charge.”
“Have you ever charged into production of a shape that flopped?” I ask.
“Absolutely, you bet I have,” he says emphatically. “There was one called the McTavish Classic.” Of all things. “It was hastily ordered, hastily delivered, and it was a dud. It was a retro design when no one wanted retro, super lightweight when along came Joel, with his super heavies. It was a real loser.” Chalk it up to bad timing. “It would be a cool board now,” he concedes.
For the most part, McTavish expertly pinpoints market holes and demands.
“I think right now, there’s a market need for that ‘60s trimmer, but with faster reaction, because the surf’s crowded,” he says. “To surf old school in crowds, it’s far better if you have the ability to make a quick change. To avoid running over someone.”
Crowds are probably the most critical hindrance to agreeable sessions these days–especially in Oz–so, McTavish foresees boards that will further thin the pack.
“I think one of the greatest inventions ever was the boogie board,” McTavish confides without a hint of irony. “When Tom Morey invented that, it liberated and doubled the surfing population–which is okay. Everyone wants to enjoy the ocean. It allowed junky surf to be ridden and it allowed super deadly shelves and rock ledges to be ridden. He opened surfing’s potential way up.”
“I think the next big invention will be a surfboard that allows you to surf green water and skip way on the shoulder,” he says. “I don’t think the hydrofoil is the right board. It does do that, but I think there’ll be a practical, easy-to-handle product that will surf green swells.” Unsurprisingly, he’s already got a couple of ideas for how to get there.
“So yeah, that’s my story,” Bob McTavish concludes. “I still love surfboards, still love making them.”