|January 13, 2010. Torquay, Victoria, Australia
e-Mail and phone interviews based on questions by Bob Green
|Some introductory comments by Bryan.
in 1956, they had the Olympic surf lifesaving championships in Torquay.
That was the key to the whole thing because the Yanks came out with
three boards and I think they got first, second, and third in the board
race. They taught the Australians a few tricks because their equipment
was so much better and then they introduced the malibus. Greg Noll,
Mike Bright, Tommy Zahn, and Sheridan Byerly bought these boards out
that were 10’ long and they were surfing them on the point at Torquay
and the whole crowd’s gone “what the hells this all about.” Then they
were able to commandeer one of the boards, copy it and start making
them. Vic Tantau then got into it. That was the beginning of the start
of new thinking, new technology, new equipment, new product and that’s
where it all started. Bellyboards followed on from there.
Bryan making the drop at Winkipop, July 1970.
Photo courtesy of Bryan Hayden
|1. How did you get into surfing and when was this?
the early-1950's, after being taught to swim, body surfing and surfoplane
riding was the next thrill. Hanging around the Torquay Surf Life Saving Club led to
longboard riding and so on.
2. How did you get into bellyboards? Who was riding them at the time? Where was this?
the surf club guys had a crack at one time or another as it was
regarded as a tame but fun thing to do if you didn't own a 16-foot
board. Usually at Torquay, sometimes Jan Juc, Ivan Orbuck and his wife,
Shirley, were prominent along with the late Tony Johansen (Victorian
400m freestyle champ.) and Jim Bell who introduced the hand plane.
3. What were the boards like when you first started and who made them?
were belly board riders, men and women, at Torquay right back in 1920,
but the sport really stood still all those years. The 1956 Olympic
Surfing Championships at Torquay was the catalyst for all forms of
changes relating to surfing and surf equipment. The old turned-up
narrow ply boards prevailed until the 1950's, then with the introduction
of balsa and fiberglass things changed. Vic Tantau produced balsa
lamaroos - one well preserved one is in the Torquay Surf Club owned and
ridden by the late Alan Coulson. Not many were made as balsa was
scarce. Once Bell's Beach came into the picture they were tried but didn't
live up to performance.
4. I’ve never met anyone that has seen one of those old narrow turned
up nose boards ridden – were they able to be ridden out the back or
were they predominantly ridden in the shore break?
No. Definitely not out the back.
5. So you had to be able to launch them form the shallows?
well, I suspect the odd person in later years used flippers with them,
but they were really, for want of a better word, a woman’s attempt to
catch waves. They were of very little use in any respect as far as
modern surfing was concerned. They just didn’t perform.
6. Had Bells and Winki been surfed on bellyboards for long before you started there? When did you first surf Bells and Winki?
first surfed Bell's on a borrowed balsa board in 1962. Winki really
didn't feature until 1964, as the boards couldn't cope. I kept surfing
all styles, board, body, ski, belly right through. Bellyboards became a
logical winter option when the swell got large as without leg ropes you
did a lot of swimming in freezing water, or you didn't venture out at
7. You were pretty hardy guys?
you understand the whole surfing history of Victoria the embryo of the
whole thing is the Torquay surf club. Because, with the difference
between Sydney, Queensland and Victoria, is that Victoria’s waters are
so cold that you just can’t be a body surfer in the normal sense
in the way you would have been in Sydney or Queensland, 12 months of
the year. All the rugby players in Sydney all bodysurfed during winter,
but you couldn’t do that here because the water is so cold and so, what
happened was the surf club was the haven for any winter surfing. It
didn’t develop elsewhere in the state until probably, I suppose, the
earliest winter surfing here of any real renown was 1956-57. It didn’t
sort of really take off anywhere else in the state until well into the
1960s. So the information of that early history is all contained within
that group of older people that hang around Torquay and there is still
a few of them alive.
surfing in almost every respect goes back to the Torquay surf club. In
winter, you couldn’t body surf because there were no wetsuits. You’re
talking very cold water. What you did, you rode boards in a footy
jumper, tee-shirt and a pair of footy shorts. That’s how we cut our
teeth at Bells, in footy jumpers.
to a degree, you always got to remember there’s a percentage of surfers
who go to the mountains in winter so the numbers thin out pretty well.
Even getting into the mid-1960s, the wetsuits weren’t all that good – they
were cumbersome, thick things, the sort of things Rip Curl started-up
making, it was like being in a strait jacket. It was a big effort.
8. Who were the other people you remember bellyboarding with? Were you all riding similar boards?
developed here in line with the equipment. The equipment was the thing
that allowed surfing to develop. The will to do it was always there.
before we had balsa surfboards we used big long toothpicks, and they
were used at Bells, and you had 16-foot surfboards being used at Bells in the
very early days. You certainly wouldn’t use them in very big
surf. However there was a fellow named Paddy Morgan, who now lives on
the Gold Coast, who used to ride a cut down 16-footer at Bells, and that
was well into the 1960s. He surfed a board that I reckoned was about
14 to 15 feet long,
summer of 1966, there was some body surfing and hand plane surfing at Winki,
but only in small to moderate surf. After that, bellyboards of faster
design came in, and in the big surf we had a ball as there was no
competition. None of us could cope with Winki due to no leg ropes. If
you lost your board it got smashed, maybe never seen again. So the
circumstances were perfect for the development of this new concept.
9. Bells and Winki are quite different waves. Did you have different
boards for these waves, or just the one board? Did these waves require
a different approach?
boards. In big surf Winki has a great wall and the thrill is in making
all sections until you literally run out of water, and you are never
really far from shore. Bell's is a heavy wave when big and if you make
it to the bowl you are in for a thrill, as long as you get through.
10. What do you remember of the day featured in the 1996 book on the Torquay SLSC by Ken Pollard?
can’t say I can remember that day specifically. They were my photos.
They were taken either by Cam Seward or John Duffin, and they were
taken off a movie. The movie is still available as far as I know but it
certainly wasn’t the best of the days.
11. Any waves or surfs still stand out for you? What was the attraction of bellyboarding?
was fantastic, Bell's and Winki. August 1970 was magic. The attraction
was the friendship, the fear, the challenge to have a crack at
something scary, that magic when you hit top speed. The best day we
ever had, or the one that stands out in my memory, was in August 1970,
that was a sensational day.
12. What was special about that day?
it was clean, it was big, it wasn’t stormy. It was just a thumping big
groundswell. You were able to get from Uppers through Lowers, right
into the bay. That was the big challenge at Winki to get through a flat
spot between each of those and you were absolutely flying. When the
tides right, and the swells right and the winds right and everything
else happens. Winki is pretty well hard up against the cliff and the
wind doesn’t play as big a part of it perhaps as it does at Bells. But
if you get the perfect conditions there it’s a hell of a long ride even
though most of the time you are just 50 metres from the shore.
13. What’s the biggest waves your boards would go in?
comes in along the reef and sucks into a very shallow reef. If you
really got into trouble there you’d just get swept down the line and
probably get in all right. But at Bells it’s a different story. If you
get caught at Bells you’re in serious trouble because you’re heading
toward the headland but you can’t land there, you have to get the hell
away from it. That doesn’t happen all the time. In fact, a very, very
well known and well-loved surfer by the name of John Pawson was killed
on that headland.
Winki is really big, sometimes you can jump in at Bells and follow the
drift around but if you don’t make it, well you’re in trouble – then
you’re hard up against the cliff.
a subjective answer really. We reckoned those waves that we had there
were 15 foot. But what the hell is a 15 foot wave these days?
14. When you are lying down they look bigger.
That Kit Carson, he was the guy who really set the pace. He knew how to
handle those boards. The key to it was not to try to pick them up on
the outside because you were actually at a disadvantage. The further on
the inside you could get the more instant speed you’d have and although
it’s frightening at the takeoff, he was an absolute hero. He would put
himself over anything and he proved that the principle with those
little boards – we would kick off in the take off and then immediately
after you got the momentum you’d push the board right back under your
thighs, so you weren’t lying on the board at all. What you did was
catapulted your body beyond the front of the board so where you were
holding the handle, you pushed that back so that would be back where
your hip was, your hand was holding onto the board with the handle on
the nose of your board back underneath your hip and you’d arch your
back. If you were going to the right you’d put your right arm out
directly in front of you so as to get as much weight out as much as
possible and they would absolutely fly. Your whole body was
cantilevered out over the front of the board and you were planing on a
surface that was akin to your navel down the board.
15. You just didn’t go in straight lines – you mentioned climbing and dropping?
is that wave – when you make one section and get through it, then you
say, “righto, if I’ve got to make a flat spot here I’m going to have to
plane straight through.” But it was always just making sure that you
had the highest elevation at the critical time and you could always
beat the drop. At Winki, if you took the drop at the appropriate time,
you go down and just go underneath and come out the other side. It’s a
fantastic wave, it really is.
16. Was there much cross-over between bodysurfing and bellyboarding technique?
steeper the takeoff the more likely you would survive, if the takeoff
was flat you would not get through 'lowers.' With bodysurfing you don't
get the opportunity to climb and drop to the same extent. The sheer
speed and acceleration on the board
17. It was all about speed?
is what counts, not the tricks used in body surfing.
is all speed. We were hooked on speed. That was the key to it. When you
hit the water doing that you would find your speed. That Kit Carson
was absolutely brilliant. He was a Queenslander. Kit was pretty good
and his mate, Jeff Callaghan, was good too.
18. You previously mentioned Dennis Hall, a Kiwi.
was a funny bloke, very insignificant, almost a timid sort of fellow.
You’d get to Bells early in the morning and he’d get nervous and
stutter – “it’s a bit big for me today” – but he’d always go in.
19. From those first boards was there much progression in the designs
or did you stick with a basic shape and design? What worked best for
and Ian experimented but kept coming back to what produced the most
speed. Large fins were a failure, small twin fins were best. Boards
were best kept short, dead flat, with one only extra large handle to
protect your knuckles.
20. I’m curious about how the handles protected your knuckles.
Close-up of the copper handle.
Photo by: Bob Green
they were little door handles. You’d hold onto those – the clearance
between your knuckles and the board itself would maybe only a
centimetre. What we found if we took a tumble or got into real strife
that your board would be all but ripped out of your hands, flipped over
it would tear your knuckles on the board.
what we did, Ian Seeley designed it, what he did was get copper pipe,
he designed a handle that would be about 3” high and 4” long – instead
of being low and curved shape, it went up, across and down.
21. How long and wide were your boards?
clearance between the top handle and the board was enough for your
whole wrist, fist to swing around, so if the board got flung, your
knuckles would clear the board. We learned the hard way on that. We
always had bare knuckles.
other thing that we found about it, we were able to hang onto our
boards better. Because we used copper pipe 30 mm thick so you could
actually grab onto it. The previous ones were little thin chrome door
handles and they were too thin to hang onto, to really get a grip on,
they’d rip out of your hands.
I’ll tell you, I have got a couple here. Three feet long. At the rear it’s about
15 inches wide, rounded at the front the actual width would have been about
17 inches. 3 ply.
22. So it was wider at the nose than at the tail.
Ply boards ridden in the Torquay area
|Bryan's original twin fin, deck view.
|Bryan's original twin fin, bottom view.
|A later single fin. Note where the twin fins
have been removed.
| Bryan with his two boards, July 2010.
Photographs by Bob Green.
23. Parallel rails and about 6mm thick – what’s that in inches?
handle was at the front on the left-hand side. The reason for that was
because they were all right hand breaks down here. You used your right
arm to throw out as far out in front of you as you can. I have one here
the handle would be 2” high and 4” long. I’ve got here one with two
small twin fins, that was the best one I ever had and I’ve got one here
with a larger single fin.
24. That is an intriguing part of the story – your experiments and tinkering
The twins were better than the singles?
wouldn’t hold. That’s why we made them bigger and bigger. We tried
everything with single fins, bigger and bigger single fins to get them
to hold, but the thing was they slowed them down. What we had was two
small fins barely 3” long and 1.5-2” deep. Having twin fins you’d hold
with the right hand fin.
of Bryan's board
Photograph by Bob Green.
must admit that I wasn’t sort of scientifically-minded in those days.
It was all done for me. Ian and Kit were the leaders, they would drag
me along as a young bloke, and they said, “get into this, we’ll teach
you a few things” and they did, they were very good.
25. They were a bit older than you.
proficient surfers. They were absolute animals on big waves. They just
made me throw myself over the front. You only got to do that a couple
of weeks in a row and you say, “Where have I been. That’s fantastic.”
They were the ones that got me to do it.
I’m now 63, and they would both be 70.
26. Those very small boards and a decent sweep – you’d really need some power in your legs to move yourself along.
won an Australian title with Kirra in the early days – surf life
saving. Ian was the same but I don’t think at the same level. They were
both fantastic swimmers and water polo players.
you’d hold them out in front, like a trainee swimmer with a kick board
in a pool. You hold them right out, as far as you can. What you are
doing is elongating your body and you can pick up a swell fairly
quickly. Your body is twice the length it normally would be. When the
moment you are on it, you grab the handle and pull yourself on. The
moment you got anything like the drop, you’d slide it right back
between your thighs. You cantilevered out, like a yachtsman leaning
right out front of a boat.
27. That’s explains why in one of the Pollard photos you can’t tell if you are on a board.
Nothing is touching the water except that planing surface.
Yes, you’d never see the board.
28. Did you travel much? Did you come across many other bellyboarders in Victoria or elsewhere?
we did move about, but did not meet many others. Winki was our spot and
as we had little competition we were happy. Once leg ropes became
popular that finished the party.
29. When did you and your mates stop surfing Bells/Winki? Why was this?
Did you move to other waves or did bellyboarding die out in the area?
went overseas in winter 1972, then when I returned I started racing
surf skis. We did use small wave skis at Winki and Bell's but that was
not popular with the other surfers. Legropes and smaller faster boards
really finished our reign at Winki as it became crowded.
30. Preserving the film footage is important just so guys could see how
you rode waves because no one is likely to ride waves like you did. You
would be lucky to get a wave now.
the surf got over a couple of metres we had Winki to ourselves. Because
the first time I surfed Winki it was 1964, on a board that was 10’6”
long, you had to really be careful. I surfed there with Peter Hayden,
Terry Wall and John Gudgeon. If you lost your board you were going to
the factory straight away to get it fixed. That’s what happened to
them. If you lost your board that was it.
31. No one would have the same experiences these days because it would be packed.
of the lack of legropes and it wasn’t until the 1970s that legropes
became very,very popular that Winki really kicked on. By then the
boards got shorter and better techniques and everything else. That was
the end of us. When they got into the mid- 1970s, we could no longer treat
Winki as our own. We had Winki to ourselves once when the swell got
difference is when a body surfer swims out through the break. A big
wave comes and he just goes deep and stays down until it goes over him
and pops up and keeps swimming. We could do that with a bellyboard,
it’s only about 10 mm thick [Note: greater than 3/8 inch but less than 1/2 inch]. You didn’t do what you would normally do.
What you’d do is kick out, kick forward, before the wave got anywhere
near you, much earlier than a body surfer would do it, when the wave
was a good 20 metres before you, you’d burrow down. These things would
completely sink, you could stay down kicking underneath and when the
wave went past, you’d finally come up and keep going. The board riders
just couldn’t do that. They couldn’t get out. We would have gallery
watching us. There was only a small number of us and we’d get a wave
each – it was fantastic. We always went together. It was too dangerous
to do on your own. We were pretty strict on that - we always had a
minimum of 3 fellows with us.
32. When did you last ride a bellyboard?
Probably about 1977.
33. I've heard Fred Pyke, Vic Tantau and Jamie Farfor (from Portsea)
made bellyboards in Victoria. Did you ever ride any of these
commercially produced boards? I'm interested in anything you can tell
me about these boards or other manufacturers.
I rode them but they don't compare. Those boards were harder to manoeuvre, heavier, and slower,
and can be dangerous in big waves. Fred and Vic both made them but not
in large numbers. I believe Jamie Farfor used one Easter, 1965, at
Bell's, but I can't remember what type. I talked to a couple of fellows
tonight and they reckon the number of lamaroos that were made you could
count on the fingers of two hands. The best example of one is in the
ceiling of the surf club at Torquay, it’s a ripper.
34. Do you know where the name bellyloomer (the name of Vic Tantau's bellyboards) or lamaroo came from?
will try to find out. Mals were called okanouis and belly boards were called lumeroos. I’ve just spoken tonight to Dick Garrard, his memory is
pretty good and he seems to think there is a bloke named Brian Trist,
who I remember was involved, but I’ll have to follow that up because
the lumeroo has us absolutely buggered, we’re not sure. I’ll follow
that up for you. We’ll get to the bottom of it. If you’re going to get
to the bottom of it anywhere, you’ll get it at Torquay.
35. Any other comments, observations or stories you'd like to share.
a pretty avid historian in other respects, and not just about surfing,
and I’m really, really conscious that if you’re talking about these
things and don’t get it right, you are actually perpetuating something
that is going down in generations incorrectly and you have to get it
right and know it is right, before you put it down in print.
Fortunately there are 3 or 4 guys down here who feel the same, unless
you get it right, don’t write it down because you are going to actually
perpetuate it forever.
try to find some photos of females on them. Because when we were all
surfing, the females were all using little bellyboards and things to
sort of keep in touch with the male contingent because they were not
into the mainstream of surfing. So in actual fact the women probably
had a part to play. That Shirley Orbuck that I mentioned, she’s still
alive today, I’ll tell you what - she wasn’t frightened - she would take
off on anything.
more recent times the most prominent Torquay names include Chris
Carey (third generation local surfer), Lee Slaven and Mich DeScasio.
Bells Beach, ca. 1969a
Ian Seeley cracking a ripper.
Bryan Hayden: Kit Carson is on the inside and me on the outside. Note
my board pushed well out in front before takeoff, Kit's well under his
hips with right arm protruding to try and get his weight forward.
Pollard, K. (1996). History of Torquay Surf Life Saving Club: The first
fifty years, 1945-1995. Torquay, Vic: Torquay Surf Life Saving Club, page 137, and retrieved from pods for primates: a catatogue of surfboards in australia since 1900, http://www.surfresearch.com.au/1995_Pollard_Torquay_SLSC.html, on April 10, 2010.
aBryan told us the photos were shot around 1969. Pollards book states ca. 1970.
|Bryan Hayden making the drop at Winkipop, July 1970. Bryan says, "probably the best wave during the best session for that year as I
others surfing that day were Ian Seeley (ex President
Torquay SLSC) and Kit Carson (ex Kirra SLSC,Qld ) who in my opinion
were the greatest of all the early “Bell’s’’ body surfing group. We
used ply boards, dead flat, small twin fins seemed to work best. Ian
and Kit were regarded by the Torquay surfing fraternity as courageous
surfers and when the swell got really big we usually had ‘Winkipop” to
ourselves due to the extreme drift and other difficulties experienced
by the surfers. Many a day we launched at Bell’s on dawn and took the
drift to Winki as the sun came up, taking off at’ Uppers’ through
‘Lowers’ and into the bay only to suffer the painful battle to get back
to the take off. The boards were hand made by Kit Carson and Ian
Seeley based on those used at Kirra and Snapper Rocks introduced to Kit
by ”Belly Board Bob’’ Robert Mc Dermot (ex Maroubra). Experimenting on
design was always interesting and on-going, but to quote Kit, ‘‘for
across the wall speed’’ the boards used are unsurpassed. The other
bellyboard big wave junkies of the time included George Greenough
(USA), ’Rocky’ Dennis Hall (N.Z.), and Big Jeff Callaghan (ex-Kirra ).
Each week we would nearly freeze to death in a little fibro Jan Juc
shack and braced the winter water temperature as low as 8 degrees centigrade (46F). Jeff
later did a stint in Antarctica where he is said to have had the odd
accidental dip. It was great fun and excitement and a privilege to be
with this ‘Universal’ group of guys, all of whom are still living.
Other references: TBD.