For some reason, we all have a great fascination with surfing back in the day. In the same way, everyone was drawn to the two hippies on the last episode of the Amazing Race we all seem to be drawn to the black and white photos of beatnik beach boy throwbacks, riding 9 footboards on 2-foot waves. In today’s media age of surfing hype, these guys would not get a look in. For some reason, we have replaced those grainy black and white images with crystal clear shots of today’s surfing heroes riding bigger and better waves on shorter boards while getting paid truckloads of cash for their efforts. But in doing so have we lost something of the soul of surfing? That sense of being at one with nature has been replaced it with the need to conquer it. That is where our fascination with longboarding stems from – it’s a side of surfing that makes up the roots of surfing; those fun, cruisy summer days, the layback attitude, the soul of surfing.
Back to the future – a little bit of history…
By Paul Mantis (was originally from Curl Magazine)
In the 1950’s and 60’s the most common length board at the beach was in excess of nine feet. These boards were heavy due to the materials at time and were generally anchored with a large single fin. Surfing swept worldwide like a phenomenon, beaches were packed with surfers hooting and generally having a ball.
Towards the end of the 60’s the focus of noseriding (hanging 5 and hanging 10) was shifting towards a focus of speed, maneuverability and ultimately getting vertical. To achieve this it was soon realized that boards were going to have to “downsize”. The average board size dropped from 9’6” to 6’3” and under overnight. Waves that had previously deemed difficult to conquer were now the stomping grounds to a new form of surfing that was constantly pushing the limits. Longer boards were deemed a thing of yesteryear and lineups were now filled with surfers riding shorter boards.
Through the 70’s and 80’s there were plenty of developments in surfboards but mainly in the finer ties like 3 fins, lighter boards, removable fins and so on. Surfing had become a sport/past time that was not that easy to learn due to the equipment designed for “high performance”. Due to the equipment on offer although a lot of people gave surfing a go, few carried on, as it became something for the “too hard basket”.
In the 90’s however, a resurgence of boards longer in length began to build. Manufacturers introduced the Mini Mal, typically 7’0 –8’0” in length, wider and with a fuller outline. This suddenly offered people learning to surf; older surfers or people who wanted to make the most of smaller conditions on offer an outlet to achieve. These manufacturers suddenly realized they could expand the market they catered for by offering a full range of boards and sales rocketed! Surfing contests began to offer longboard divisions and people’s minds began to open. People who had surfed through the 50’s and 60’s but given it away with advent of shortboards found a new “lease of life” and began to head back to the water on longboards.
We fast forward to today and lineups are filled with a diverse range of boards from the high performance lightweight shortboard to the retro based 1960’s styled Longboards. To me the largest progression in surfboards has actually been the reintroduction of longer boards as it gave the sport accessibility to a broader range of peoples therefore increasing people surfing. Sure the introduction of 3 fins and lighter materials etc gave higher performance, but that didn’t increase numbers of people surfing.
Longboarding has taken off across the world with women surfers in particular and many are out performing the guys and adding a feminine style and panache to longboarding. Although the numbers of women longboarders in NZ is increasing we are yet to catch up to the rest of the world as far as percentage of women riding longboards in the water. We have some great women longboarders such as Pauline Pullman, Nicky Murden, Jo Moore, Anna Jolly just to name a few and I’m sure we will see many more in the next few years!!
There are a number of Longboard clubs throughout NZ along with a national longboard contest circuit so there is something for everyone and who knows you could be the next Women’s world longboard champ in the waiting…
Joan Atherton – A legend of her time
By: Fiona Pinkernell (A proud Far North surfer woman)
About the time Gidget was taking off at Malibu, across the other side of the Pacific, the Far North’s Joan Atherton was doing likewise at Shipwreck Bay. Joan who was born in Te Teko, near Whakatane, moved up north in 1956, after meeting up with her future husband Bob at a bike race on the North Shore. They set up home in Ahipara, where their son was born in 1957. Around 1960 Bob and Joan were given a surf magazine where they saw pictures of people surfing and an advertisement for a plan on how to build a surfboard. Bob, who came from a family of boat builders, was fascinated with the idea to make his own surfboard. After much searching for materials they finally sourced catalyst and foam, and Bob made a miniature 3-foot board just to see if the construction and the materials worked alright. It did and so he made his first real surfboard, a 9’6” longboard.
Bob and Joan were living directly on Ninety Mile Beach but had never seen a surfer before, so they tried to learn surfing out of a book! This is well before surf schools existed and also way before surfing became a popular sport. There was nobody there that they could watch and try to copy. So Joan would stand on the beach with the book and show Bob pictures of what he should try next in the waves. They both had a go and began to master the basics of waveriding, so that after a while Bob decided to make Joan her own board, a 9’ nose rider.
In those days they were among only a handful of resident surfers in the Far North and Joan was definitely the only woman who surfed. She was looked upon as a freak, going out there to surf. People shook their heads and usually commented with: ‘One day the sharks will get you!’ Joan and Bob often went surfing at Shipwreck Bay, Ninety Mile Beach, Rarawa, Taupo Bay or Tokerau, which was their favourite beach.
One day in 1966 they arrived at Shipwreck Bay and witnessed Bruce Brown filming Mike Hynson and Robert August for the most classic surf movie ever made, The Endless Summer. They were not aware that they were viewing an historic moment in surf film history, they were just surprised to see these strangers at their beach! In an unobserved moment they checked out the surfboards that the crew had brought from the USA, and were amazed by the flash equipment they saw lying on the beach.
Joan, a pioneer of women surfing, was not really aware of this fact at all until Luke Williamson wrote his book Gone Surfing, about the early surfing history of New Zealand. He did comprehensive research to find out that there was only one other woman who surfed regularly at that time, and that was on the South Island.
Joan and Bob and friends, like Neville Masters and Ken Clarke, enjoyed blissful times of uncrowded surf on both coasts of the Far North. They surfed from 1960 through to about 1979, when they began another ocean adventure by building a large trimaran. They reluctantly stored their surfboards away as they took on the new passion of sailing.
Last year Bob died and Joan spread his ashes at Tokerau Beach where they had the best times of their lives, noseriding endlessly on beautiful long and gentle waves. Joan hasn’t forgotten about the special moments surfing gave her and she told me that she might have a go surfing again, just to see if she can still stand up, at 73 years of age! You go girl!
We, the surfer girls of the North and throughout the country are proud to follow in your footsteps, Joan! We’ll keep the legacy alive!