This is a story of surfing history. It’s about vintage surfing in Australia, in particular, but it covers other parts of the world.
For almost 40 years I’ve had a three-inch (75 mm) stack of tabloids on the top shelf of my office cupboard.
They’ve occasionally been dusted off for research. Like when the local Reef team needed some background for a court case on past use of the name Ugg (Ug, Ugh etc) boot. The court was deciding if it was a generic term following claims that the name had been ripped off and used by an overseas’ manufacturer.
When we decided to post the four-decades-old magazine online, I turned the page on our first edition of Breakway magazine. It’s dated December 1973, has a 25-cent price tag, and features a classic cover shot of Alan Atkins doing a top turn at Bells. The first advert inside the cover was for Oke Surfboards. The Okes were a great supporter right through to one of the last ads of our final edition in January 1978. Today the second generation is in charge at Oke’s and still pumping out a range of sweet surfboards. And the range is really diverse.
The current crop of young rippers are riding all sorts of different equipment, and many have an old ‘70’s surfboard in their quiver, or one inspired by that era. Even current surf fashion has more than a hint of ‘70s flavour. Although the basic tee, boardies & thongs has remained the same since the ‘50s.
Oke is just one example of a number of manufacturers that started back then and are now being run largely by the kids. Bennett’s, Surfblank’s, Burford’s and McTavish to name a few.
As I scanned over the pages of issue one, I noticed a piece from Alan Hunt, relating a trip the Narrabeen boys had done to the legendary “Box” on the northern side of Pittwater, taking Al’s Dad’s fuel injected Volvo. Alan was our regular NSW contributor for many years. I’d met him along with other Narra surfers like Brian Whitty, Colin Smith and Terry Fitzgerald, when Paul Trigger and I pitched a tent next to theirs in the Margaret River camp ground during the 1973 National Titles. I was introduced to the ‘crazy eights’ card game by those guys, but rarely won.
Fitzgerald’s casual looks back into the tube on the Margaret rights had me awestruck, as did Smith’s powerful backhand attack on small waves near Dunsborough, when we hunted down a free surf in a strong south westerly blow. But Richard Harvey was the deserving open men’s winner that year, ahead of PT and Peterson.
Alan Hunt went on to become ASP tour director for 18 years, and has a gazillion surfing magazines in his collection.
I also met Tom Blaxell in WA that year and he became our regular correspondent from that area.
By the second issue of Breakway, we had a bunch of people come on board, who offered their contributions and became the nucleus of the magazine. Paul Harris’s (where are you Paul?) fabulous artwork and cartoons are featured for the first time. SA champion, Kym Thompson, provided an informative design article, with diagrams and dimensions – a picture is featured with Kym surfing the new design on a wave at Bells with no-one else in the line-up. In late 2014 he was enticed into crowdless rights again by Mornington Peninsula legend, Mick Pearce, while on a Mentawai boat trip with Damien Oliver, Alan Green, Brian Singer and others. It’s no wonder he’s head of surfboard production at Cobra, a world leading manufacturer, based in Thailand.
Greenough’s Crystal Voyager is advertised for a screening on 20 February at the Brighton Town Hall, with an accompanying photo of George and Nat about to start a surf session from the stern of Morning Light.
Radio 3XY DJ Rod Stone’s inaugural music column gives an insight into “Summer means fun” by ‘The Legendary Masked Surfers’, which was a compilation of old taped sessions by Brian Wilson, Leon Russell, Jan and Dean and other notables. Google it and have a listen; just for fun.
Sparrow’s (John Pyburne) 1969 photo of Fledge (Greg Hill) at Bells is a classic. No wonder he took out the Victorian title that year. I caught up with Sparrow recently in the depths of Ripcurl’s Torquay headquarters, making a subtle change to a steamer pattern. He’s on a 6ft7in SUP now and experimenting with foiling kite boards.
Former Maroubra surfer and runner up for the Vic Title in 1970, Charles Bartlett, had just changed his name to Charles Ofthesea and given up on surfboards. He is quoted, after ripping apart six to eight feet powerful Gunnamatta waves on a finless coolite kick board, that he didn’t want to make it too easy for himself. His iconic Bells sign “Don’t destroy what you came to enjoy” was to be immortalised by the ASA Victoria (now Surfing Vic).
There’s a letter about localism by John Witzig (co-founder of Tracks magazine), rumours of bizarre specs for an Australian Standards Association surfboard design, an interview with KKK and more.
The 1970 World Titles was a pivotal event for Victorian surfboard riding. Sprint Walker’s display at Portsea in 1926 was inspirational, the ’56 USA Olympic Surf Lifesaver’s and their Malibu boards prompted a huge popularity in Australian board riding. Peter Troy and his mates also stimulated things with their inaugural Bells Beach Board Rally in the early sixties. But Tony Olson’s untiring effort to bring the World Titles to Bells is what ushered in an explosion of design, fashion, life style and innovation to a sport with modern roots barely 50 years old.
Forty five years on, and much of what evolved during that decade is relevant all over again. In the four years that Breakway was published it captured a unique perspective of surfing which was coming to grips with professionalism, localism, affordable travel and a gradual acceptance from the wider population.
To open the pages now, and read interviews with the likes of Stacey Peralta, Gerry Lopez, PT, Midget, Simon Anderson, Tom Carroll or Peter Drouyn (now Westerly Windina) is a rare chance to get a glimpse of what inspired their surfing. For the interviewees who have passed, like Eddie Aikau, Stan Couper, Chris Crozier and Frank Latta, it is a fitting tribute to their surfing lives.
Breakway is now available in single issues or the complete set of 47 monthly magazines published over four years. You can now download pdf scans of the original pages and read the magazine as it was read by hard-core surfers four decades ago.