Midget’s second board was a 1959 EPS/Epoxy made from a Greg McDonagh kit. The nightmares of EPS/Epoxy were learnt at a very young age.
By 1960 Midget had shaped his first polyurethane board. Urethane liberated and accelerated the Australian surfboard industry into full time being, centered in Brookvale, NSW, Australia.
At age 17 Midget was working alongside Joe Larkin (see page bottom), Bob Pike and Barry Bennett. By age 18 Dave Jackman , Mickey Mc Mahon, Denny Keough and Gordon Woods were all people who figured in Midget’s industry education. Amongst these people were talented shapers, glassers, sanders, finishers and good businessman. Amongst them Dave Jackman and Bob Pike were great athletes who helped kick off the sport in Australia. Bob won an International Championship in Peru, partly run in big waves.
The 1962 balsa board shown in these two Makaha photos was 9' long and very straight, as were most boards of the time. This board would have been one of the last balsas shaped by Midget in the Keyo factory. The board won the 1962 Makaha International Men's Championships.
Early 1964 Midget shaped a 10' squaretail with four stringers at Gordon Woods' factory. The board won the 1964 World Contest at Manly.
1964 was all about urethane with lots of cedar stringers, doubles, triples and quads. Stiff boards with heavy 10 oz glass jobs. Wooden nose and tail blocks were popular. It was the D fin period.
Mid 1964, at age 19 Midget was making boards (start to finish) in a small factory on the bay side of the Palm Beach peninsular, NSW.
1965 Midget took all the wood out of his boards, relying more on the glass job (still 10 oz) to hold rocker and strength. This 'stringerless' period ran from 1965 to 1967.
1965 through to 1970 saw rapid design evolution transform the longer ‘malibu’ shapes through short, vee bottoms, to pintails, to twin fins, to ‘side slippers’ and then ‘down railers’.
The Australian Vee Bottom
The 1967 photo (right) by Dick Graham had great significance. Dick took the shot at the Palm Beach, Windansea vs Australia contest in November 1967. When Dick shot this image there was not another board even slightly similar to it, in Australia or any other country. By comparison surfers like Nat and McTavish were still riding 9 foot plus. Nat was still riding 'Sam', his long round bottom Woods board (see below). McTavish had never seen a vee bottom until November 1967. The board McTavish saw in November 1967 was made in July 1967 at Palm Beach, NSW.
The board is in the Dick Graham photo.
Midget's board was only 8 feet long by approx 22 inches wide. The bottom was heavily veed through the tail half, the nose was concaved and the fin was deeply cut away to allow tail drift. The board was specifically designed to ride waves less than head high. Gordon and Smith in San Diego made thousands of Midget's vee botoms. They were very well received on the east coast USA where wave height on average is below head high.
The California media of the day tried to suppress news of this design as local advertizers had thousands of very long boards in stock ready for the northern summer. Dick published an image of this board (above) being surfed on the cover of his mag and broke the story.
As good as the vee bottom design was in small waves it was a disaster in overhead waves. The tail was meant to facillitate slide, which was great fun in small waves, but a nightmare in large waves. View any footage of the design (copies) being used in Hawaii and you will see the riders losing control as they attempt the turn. The design had a fairly short life as longer, streamlined shapes (Dick Brewer) proved more versatile in all waves.
Whilst Midget may lay claim to an original, the 1967 vee bottom, a shorter board in a time of longboards, he denies any connection to the achievements of those who created the shortboard revolution of the 1980's. Time had yet to roll through all the outline, rocker and fin developments that led to where the multi finned boards emerged.
Midget's vee bottom design had nothing to do with the 'shortboard' or 'vertical' revolution. Simon's 1980's 'thruster' and Col Smith's vertical North Narrabeen surfing are what opened that door. The day that Simon won the Surfabout at North Narrabeen on his new thruster was the day the wheel really turned. Mark Richard's twin fin did not have the drive to take him up the face into the top of the wave for the re entry, cut back, as did Simon's 'thruster'.
Col Smith's backfoot surfing was unique for the times - had Col had three fins under that backfoot imagine where he would have gone on a wave!
Surfers today are able to get the rail to rail transition with what almost seems like acceleration (in the turn) to allow them to exit the wave (near vertically) perform their arial, then drop back into the wave. The combination of Simon's three fins and the 2000's concaved bottoms has allowed this to happen.
The past and current (2010) shameless hijacking of history has prompted the above. As surfers age and the real facts slide into the foggy past it is easy for the snake oil salesmen to hoodwink the public at large with books, dvds, mag articals and 'pop out' festivals. Those, with little or no talent are able to capitalize on designs created by others, present themselves as gurus, then lend their names to mass produced 'poop outs'.
Worse still, Australian schools and museums are treating the hijacking as fact. Australians and then those who follow (around the world) are parroting a nonsense as reality, on websites that espouse surfing history. Mainstream print media play up this nonsense and align it (authoritatively????) to a small group who manipulated the sport in the mid to late 1960's.
At about the same time Midget was looking for ways to enhance his small wave designs, mini gun pintail shapes were surfacing in Hawaii. Dick Brewer compressed big gun shapes in 1968 to come up with what is still a reasonable base for today's big wave boards. The pintail could be configured for large and small waves just by altering widths through the mid to rear section. The pintail dominated the 1968 World Contest in Puerto Rico when overhead waves arrived for the finals. The pintail was the kiss of death for those designs that were promoted as all conquering Fantastic Plastic Machines.
Rolf Aurness rode a pintail to first place in the 1970 World Championships at Bells/Johanna. The extra length (some Aussies were on 5'8'' and 5'10'') in Rolf's 7' pintail gave him a huge advantage, even though he surfed backside for the whole event. Rolf was able to cross flat sections and then develop down the line speed.
The late 1960's and early 1970’s settled into short down rail shapes with single and then twin fins. Down rails (Mike Hynson) made smaller boards more efficient, they planed sooner, had less drag and rode bigger waves. With gradual refinement down rails and tucked edges (Gordon Merchant) brought the rails of a surfboard alive.
The 1980’s were rocked by Simon Anderson’s ‘thruster’ fin set up. Suddenly back foot surfing had arrived. Some would argue that it arrived with Col Smith's 1970's vertical goofy foot attack. Back foot surfing meant that less surface area could be employed to make a board plane. The significance of the transition from front to back foot surfing cannot be underestimated. Simon's low drag, high rotation fin set up was the key. The concept has been adopted right accross the surfboard design and size spectrum. Today sailboards and SUPS utilize Simon's concept.
The sport started to bottom out and shrink in the late 1980’s. It was perceived as a young, male, ‘surf nazi’ sport. Most boards were clear with black carbon stripes and black logos.
It was time for longboards to reappear. Though short (8 feet) at first, they were long enough to catch waves easily, so recreational surfers could participate again.
Lengths shot up to 9 feet and more in the 1990’s. Now the wiggle, flick, bounce of shortboarding was being complimented with trim, pivot and carve.
Look in the waves of today and the variety of craft is stunning. The blinkers are off. Short, long, fish, hulls, eggs, finless, 3, 4 5, and 6 fins. Anything goes – anything that works - that is.
Over the decades, when not making surfboards, Midget made and flew hang gliders in the 1970’s and sailboards in the 1980’s.
Like surfboards, each of these craft required good handling qualities. Gliders needed to be controllable in rough air, sailboards needed to stay attached to the water at high speeds.
While Midget’s shapes may appear conservative, they are made to handle a variety of conditions with ease.
Exceptions are the pig and very short, fat designs that are small wave specific.
Midget loves pretty much everything that moves on waves. He keeps looking at shapes that stimulate, doesn’t matter how short or long.
The most influential shaper/surfer duo Australia has ever seen? Freshwater's Joe Larkin constructed an 11' balsa gun for local boy Dave Jackman in 1960.
Joe dressed rough Equadorian balsa logs, then glued and clamped the balsa into a blank on a rockered jig he had made. Joe then crafted the square shape into a long pintail gun.
The goal was for Dave to ride the Queenscliff Bombora on the biggest possible day. That day came, Dave paddled out by himself with no rescue back up and rode three waves.
The board that Joe had designed and built performed perfectly. Dave was able to paddle into some very thick water, take the drop and make it to the channel.
History was made (front page national newspaper). The sport and the industry knew that it was possible to ride big waves similar to those being ridden in Hawaii.
Eighteen Australians booked sea passage to Honolulu and rode Oahu's north shore the following November.
On a return visit one of those Australians won the Makaha International Championships. The year after that the official World Championships was created. That same event still exists to this day, running in many countries around the world.
Joe's board making skills and Dave's guts were the sparks that ignited Australian surfing internationally.
When the above image was shot at Manly in 2004 Joe was making beautiful 10' wooden hollow okinuis with multi laminates of cedar and ash on the rails. Dave had flown to Sydney from Auckland where he lives on the west coast beach of Murawai.
Nat Young 'Power Surfing' his 'New Era' 9 foot plus, round bottomed Gordon Woods board at Lorne Point March 1967.
All three surfers in the above image were riding 9 foot plus longboards, wide hipped with big fins.
Australian Championships March 1967 - Bells Beach , Victoria
See Rennie Ellis's photo of the finalists' boards in Blasts from the Past