Living in aChYld’s Dream: The History of Mid-length Surfboard Riding is Now
Living in a chYld’s dream! In spring 1967 the surfboard rider and shaper BoB Mctavish was eking out a spiritual existence living in various houses Sydney’s Whale Beach on a diet of r&b, psychedelic music, Mary Jane and LSD. Warumfff! As though the summer cricket season had come early, he had the vision to put vee bottom contours like the back of cricket bats onto increasingly shorter, lighter and thinner surfboards. Initially the boards were otherwise like the involvement style logs born in Noosa (where they still prevail) and exhibited some hang-ups in 9 foot proportions. But the George Greenough tuna fish inspired flex fins had begun to permit the rider to steer and gain speed from the one position on the board, eliminating the need to trip to toward the nose so – informed by a quite quick testing, shaping and refining regime – the new ‘shortboards’ became more moderate with respect to bottom contours, and shorter overall. Turned-on by red wine and curry one evening Bob cut 2 foot off of an unfinished board to make it 7’6.
Zwump! The new Plastic Machine – arguably the first dedicated shortboard to go into production – arise! Shortboards had appeared elsewhere and at other tymes, and the history of board riding generally is far broader than is acknowledged (the pre-colonial era has only just started to be respected for instance). But, as a colourful obsessive explosive new movement in tandem with a countercultural shift of cosmic proportions, the shortboard revolution as ignited by Bob Mctavish and the other barefoot beats including Kevin Platt in the shaping bays at Brookvale, the McTavish shortboard odyssey is particularly compelling. The boards were hugely popular in the variable punchy waves of Sydney and spread from there, still copied in the USA in 1969. The film the Fantastic Plastic Machine shows the mood. Spin-out in Hawaii! Nat Young the Animal breaks a fin in a power tyrn! Snap! While the Easybeats were contemplating their next hit following global hit phenomenon Friday On My Mind, Bob was contemplating the bottom of his boards, and the need for moderation. The vee was reduced. Then taken away altogether. Dick Brewer donated the pointed noses of his guns. Double-enders engendered one of the greatest surf fylms of all tyme, Evolution, which shows the mid-length notion in full flight, particularly at the gorilla hands of teen-god Wayne Lynch. The Hawaiians turned the rails down, twin fins and tri-fins pushed the limits further.
It is at this stage the corporations really pounced, realising that the new speed and performance shapes would more readily excite the buyer, generate bigger competition, and sell more and brighter clothing. Typically, what had started in defiance of the dominant powers had been sucked back into the darkness. Certainly, the resilient spirit of expression and unlimited being can still be seen in all types of board riding - long, short, 1 fin, 2 fins, 3 fins. The mid-length surfboard would emerge again in the 1980s, (amongst the scarcity of bigger blanks) as a longboard. Fed on Evolution, Joel Tudor revisited the Wayne Length double ender in the 1990s. But there is something compellingly pure and powerfully delicate about the position of surfing in Spring 1967, and into 1968, in Australia. Just as in the music, the youth rebellion, and the art period; the freedom of movement which accompanied the shortboard revolution in the late 60s represented a search for Truth, a breaking of conventions and release from capitalist deceit. The summer of love. Revolution. A rare shared glimpse at the other-side.
Ladies and gentlemen and children of the sun please be assured that that position is still readily available to YOU in the present era! Not as nostalgia but as a continuous thread of insight to be tapped into in any decade, by anyone who cares to see through the deception, through the idea that there is any one truth or means to expression, in surfing or otherwise. Presently the mid-length with modified vee or no vee at all is resurging, driven by the Back shed producers and light industrial longhairs making non-typical surfboards in Australian post-corporate back roads. The log revival is in full force - involvement is here to stay. All sorts of short boards abound, from those that hang like carcasses from main street retail surf shops, to weirdie peanuts and mini-Simmons made in mum and dads house or on sunshine coast estates. But the mid-length remains one of the purest forms of expression, with still untapped potential for the practitioner to show those skills developed along the breadth of the short to longboard continuum – wild tyrns, vertical manoeuvres, trim, nose-riding! Reflecting the present make-it-yourself ethos. Side-street makers. Honest individuals becoming themselves. On the water. In the streets. In the endless horizon. In the spirit of 67 but thoroughly now!
The ceremony continues.