November 3 - 9, 2019: Issue 427
Plaque Unveiled To Mark Phenomenal Surfing Revolution Commencement
L to R: all Avalon boys; Bob Head Life Member ABSLSC, past President original Avalon Boardriders Club, introduced Malibu boardriding to Britain 1960s along with Warren Mitchell and the other ABSLSC members who went there as lifeguards, former board manufacturer....was present at the 1956 Avalon Beach carnival, Dave Watson NASA representative and Beach Without Sand proprietor, and his other hand on shoulder of... Mick Dooley winner 1964 Bells Beach Surfing Championship, 2nd Australian Surfing Championship 1964, 5th place First World Surfing Championship Manly 1964, former board manufacturer, Roger Sayers ABSLSC Life Member, local boardrider, current State Champion SLSNSW Boardriding over 70s division, Alex McTaggart local boardrider (Clr), David Lyall, Bilgola SLSC Life Member, former board maufacturer, was present at the 1956 carnival, Rob Bain NASA representative, current World Surfing Masters Champion, ABSLSC member- One beach...one community. - photo by Annette Sayers.
The boys with the history marking plaque installed - photo by Michael Mannington, Community Photography, Nov. 2nd, 2019.
Alongside this tribute is another that marks the place where the first IRB trial took place to mark the 50th year of that step forward that has resulted in the saving of over 100 thousand people by surf life savers.
These significant historic developments involved your local surf club, Avalon Beach SLSC, and the Avalon Beach community and caused profound changes in surf lifesaving, surfing and beach culture in Australia.
The two plaques are long sought community projects, and are a result of and at the initiative of the surf club, Avalon Preservation Trust, Avalon Beach Historical Society, and in the case of the malibu plaque also with the support of the North Avalon Surfriders Association and individual local boardriders.
Birthplace of Australian Malibu Surfing 1956
Several notable events in the history of Australian surfing have taken place here at Avalon Beach.
Australia’s first significant public demonstration of malibu surfing took place on 18 November 1956, when Avalon Beach Surf Life Saving Club (ABSLSC) hosted an international surf carnival. After the carnival, the American competitors paddled out on their new style “short” surfboards at South Avalon.
“We all laughed, thinking they’d get smashed on the rocks. Everyone was amazed when they turned their boards and rode across the face of the wave in front of the rocks. Surfboard riding from then on was totally different.” - Max Watt, Life Member, ABSLSC.
The Avalon Beach international surf carnival was one of a number of competitions organised by the Surf Life Saving Association of Australia as it was then known (now Surf Life Saving Australia, SLSA), to provide the Americans with some practice in the lead up to a carnival to be held at Torquay Victoria, coinciding with the Melbourne Olympics. The day before the Avalon Beach carnival a smaller one was held at Cronulla, but SLSA’s Historian, Professor Ed Jaggard concluded in “Americans, Malibus, Torpedo Buoys, and Australian Beach Culture” Journal of Sport and History 2014, that the Avalon Beach carnival was the biggie and had the most significant impact, as the short “Malibu” boards as the Australians called them, were seen by so many local boardriders who immediately appreciated their manoeuvrability. We don’t mind if Cronulla shares the history.
Until then boardriders had ridden the unforgiving 16 foot toothpick style boards. Bob Head Life Member of ABSLSC was present on the day as was David Lyall of Bilgola SLSC. Both say they were mesmerised as the Americans turned their boards this way and that, manouevres which weren’t possible on toothpick boards. David reproduced the style of the boards in the only materials available at the time and constructed in the same manner as the toothpick boards. Other younger local kids sitting in the sand dunes watching the proceedings immediately changed their ideas on the kind of surfboard they wanted their parents to buy them. The local surfboard industry couldn’t keep up with demand.
The era of the toothpick hollow boards was over and that of the more manoeuvrable malibu, the forerunner of today’s surfboards, began. Events on that day and later developments revolutionised the sport of surfing, surfboard making and beach culture in Australia.
One of the original US Team members, legendary big wave surfer Greg Noll revisited Avalon in 1998 and was happily reacquainted with the surf club.
L to R: Greg Noll and Roger Sayers - photo by Tim Hixson, 1998
A few years on, the first Australian Malibu Surfboard Riding Championship was held here on 27 and 28 May 1961, organised by Bob Head, President of Avalon Board Riding Club and member (later Life Member) of Avalon Beach SLSC. The first meeting of the Australian Surf-Riders Association, the forerunner of Surfing Australia, was held at Avalon Beach SLSC in 1963.
Around that time some members of Avalon Beach SLSC, Warren Mitchell, Bob Head, John Campbell, John Fuller and Ian Tiley decided to travel to Old Blighty to work as Lifeguards in Cornwall. On those beaches they worked alone, so did not have the manpower at their disposal as in Australia to man rescue belts and reels, so they often used their Australian made Malibu surfboards they’d taken with them to do rescues of swimmers who had gone out too far and couldn’t get back.
When not rescuing people, Bob Head started making surfboards in England and a small troupe consisting of Bob, Warren, Ian, and John travelled around giving surfing exhibitions. No one had seen a Malibu board there before.
The Avalon Beach SLSC boys are acknowledged in the book “A History of British Surfing” (R Holmes, 1994) as the beach boys who introduced Malibu or modern surfing to Britain. Its impacts on locals who were interested in surfing were the same as in Australia.
While on lifeguard duty at his beach in Cornwall Warren was told by concerned parents that their child was missing at the beach. A large search was organised and unfortunately the child was found drowned next day, having fallen from a cliff. While it was no fault of Warren’s and he had done his best to find the child, the tragic event nevertheless weighed heavily on him. He began to think about ways in which life savers might be able to patrol beaches and rescue people in faster more efficient ways than those in current use, that were safer for the patient and the rescuer. He discussed his ideas with Bob Head and developed them further on his return to Australia, which resulted in the first successful trial of the IRB for surf rescues.
Enjoy your surfing . . . enjoy your history.
Life Member of Avalon Beach SLSC, and Surfer
The unveiling of the plaque by Bob Head and NASA's - photo by Michael Mannington
Local Appreciation - photo by Michael Mannington
Early Pittwater Surfers: Avalon Beach I
1956: The Carnival That Introduced The Malibu Surfboard And Being Able To Surf Across A Wave Face
They paddled their boards out in front of the rocks at South Avalon and we all laughed thinking they’d get smashed on the rocks. Everyone was amazed when they turned their boards and rode across the face of the wave in front of the rocks. Surfboard riding from then on was totally different.(the late Max Watt Life Member Avalon Beach SLSC)
"I was one of the Warriewood SLSC members attending the Avalon Beach SLSC carnival of November 1956. We saw the making of surfing history that day with the Americans. After the competition was over late in the afternoon, the Americans took out their boards and their bodyboards. The waves were quite big and they simply zipped across them, leaving all of us with gaping mouths. A long board guy, Windshuttle, tried to show that the long, hollow board was just as good. It wasn’t. He caught the wave in the old traditional style and came off.
The show that the Americans put on that afternoon was amazing. One of them was Tommy Zhan from Santa Monica, California who later starred in a couple of films.
Sydney took to the new boards, with Northern Beaches' Gordon Woods making them from moulded ply (beautiful craftmanship) and a bit later, Roger Keiran making them from foam blanks. My brother and I bought one of the first Wood’s boards.
Fittingly the first Australian Malibu Surfboard Riding Championship was also held at Avalon Beach on 27-28 May 1961, organised by Bob Head President Avalon Boardriding Club and Life Member Avalon Beach SLSC. - Roger Sayers
Adrian Curlewis, circa 1930 doing a headstand at Palm Beach - photo courtesy Philippa Poole (nee Curlewis), daughter of the 'Father of Surf Life Saving'.