Assistant Editor, CoastalWatch
1960 Dee Why Point

Surfers at Dee Why Point in the 1960's. Photo: Ron Perrott

The Inertia

Surf City tracks Sydney’s evolution through amazing period of social upheaval, post war optimism, prosperity and kaleidoscopic cultural frontiers that shaped prominent surf culture.

Curator Gary Crockett takes retrospective look at Sydney’s surf culture, conceiving the idea for the exhibition after a friend showed him the iconic surf film, Morning of the Earth. As a surfer of late ’70s himself, it struck Crockett as an important time in Sydney’s life and a story that had never been told.

Crockett illustrates the period from the arrival of the first American Malibu’s in 1956 that set the new culture alight, and the explosion of surf culture becoming the look and feel of Sydney in the early ’60s through to the ’70s.

“You can encapsulate the period in a really discrete way,” he says describing the arrival of performance focused surfing and the exponential growth through design innovations and big money surf contests, and the arrival of the Thruster in 1981.

How does Surf City interpret the evolution of surfing and surf culture?

“I framed the exhibition between the arrival of the Malibus and the arrival of the Thruster, because I think in that period there was still an innocence, a rebelliousness. Surfing could really be described as an amateur pastime rather than a profession, and after 1981 there was thousands of people surfing and it took on a much more high profile, visible, glamorous dimension.”

“I focused on five sections. In the grey days after World War II Sydneysiders were returning to the beaches and surfing long hollow wooden boards called toothpicks. Generally ridden by lifesavers, it was a very conservative, macho, rule ridden world of the beach. Gradually there was breakaway from the old guard in the lifesaving scene, coinciding with the arrival of the Malibu’s in 1956. In the few years after 1956 there was a trickling in of American surf culture images, giving surfers an idea of what they could actually do on these boards.”

“In 1960, polyurethane foam fiberglass manufacturing processes became available. Board makers from Bondi and Bronte, who were making timber boards, moved to Brookvale to set up new factories building fiberglass and polyurethane surfboards.”

“In 1961 an Australian started producing a surfing magazine and a year after that Surfing World and Surfabout hit the streets.”

“Lifesavers were cranky about the amount of Malibus clogging up the beaches and hurting swimmers so they implemented a system of board registration. You paid five shillings and put a sticker on your board and if your board didn’t have a sticker it was impounded. The lifesavers cut themselves off from surfing culture and the rift between surfers and lifesavers didn’t really heal until the end of the ’70s.”

“1964-68 saw an explosion in commercial interest in surfing and at the same time Sydney surfers were starting to surf differently, being a lot more expressive. The term was ‘involvement’. They wanted to ride ‘in’ a wave not ‘on’ a wave, to be involved in the experience of surfing.”

How was this expressed?

“The board design in Sydney during that time led to the development of the first vee bottom shortboards. Nat Young, Bob McTavish, Midget Farrelly, Gordon Merchant who was working with Jackson surfboards, were all working independently but there was obviously a zeitgeist of design that was sweeping through the board making shops of Sydney. This was not happening in California or anywhere else.”

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