A collection for the board room
The surfboard is now a symbol of the 1960s and '70s in the same way as muscle cars and electric guitars. This explains why baby boomers collect them. This also explains why just about every ad for retirement funds - or funeral insurance - features one.
Prices of classic boards have increased steadily over the past decade, although not as dramatically as GTS Monaros or Fender Stratocasters. You can still pick up a longboard for about $1000. It may not be great to ride, but these boards have taken on a new life as interior decoration.Many are bought expressly to hang on the wall of the family home or beach shack, a constant reminder that its owner was once a peroxide-haired surfer dude (or wanted to be).
Collectors classify boards as "riders" or "hangers" depending on condition.
Mick Mock is a Sydney pioneer of the surf memorabilia scene. Until recently he held an annual auction in Manly that attracted visitors from the US and Japan. He also ran the Little Dragon surf shop in Palm Beach, now closed while he looks for new premises.
He says the most popular boards at his auctions were early single fins by noted manufacturers such as McCoy, McGrigor, Bennett, Hot Roc, Energy (Simon Anderson) and Gordon & Smith. The most desirable are those by pioneers such as Joe Larkin, Scott Dillon and Midget Farrelly, with a premium paid if there's proof that they actually shaped the board.
Midget usually indicated this with a "Shaped by Farrelly" sticker - equal to a Picasso signature. "Only about three or four of those come up for sale in a year," Mock says. Michael Peterson was another legend who made boards under his own name.
You'll pay around $3000 for a genuine Farrelly, even more if it can be verified that Midget rode the board.
Mock has heard that the surfboard Midget rode at the Australian titles at Torquay in 1966 or 1967 sold in 2003 for $20,000. It would be worth a lot more now.
The first fibreglass and balsa Malibu longboards were brought to Australia by American lifesavers competing at a demonstration event at Torquay beach as part of the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. This sparked the first serious surfing fad in Australia. Boards up to 10 feet (three metres) long were used until the shortboard revolution in 1967, which saw length decrease by 40 per cent. In 1981, Simon Anderson invented the three-fin thruster and won the Bell's Beach classic on one.
The modern lightweight thruster emerged on the scene in 1994.
Boards marking these landmark eras are all considered important, so research is essential.
"You've got to know your stuff," Mock says. His suggestion is to start by reading Surf-o-Rama, the 2008 book by Lorne-based collector Murray Walding (published by Miegunyah Press).
Surfboards can be bought online, but Mock recommends caution. "You've got to touch it, caress it, feel the weight of it," he says. "See if it's got a twist in it."
The soulsurf website (soulsurf.com.au) is worth a look. There's a range of vintage boards for sale, from $500 "hangers" to rarities such as a 1966 Bing David Nuuhiwa noserider, priced at $2950. But as Mock says, try to give it a cuddle before you buy.
There are some prolific collectors in Australia, with 50 to 100 boards kept in storage units. One is a solicitor who prefers the timber boards that predate 1956 malibus. Some of these are museum pieces.
A few collectors are starting to see boards as potential investments.
"They look at it as a form of superannuation," Mock says. "I can understand that way of thinking."
Values have increased since the screening of the ABC TV series Bombora in 2009. The Surf City exhibition at the Museum of Sydney in 2011 also touched a nerve, and showed how many boards are out there waiting to be discovered.
"Found this old battered McGrigor Board under a house," writes Steve on the Surf City blog. "Had all 21 dings fixed, fitted a new fin and it's ready to go."
Steve's board sounds like a genuine classic. It was shaped by Barry King at the original McGrigor factory in Brookvale, the epicentre of the early Sydney surf scene.