Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Surf Industry Veteran forced out by cheap imports

After 42 years making surfboards, original Emerald Surfboards founder Steve Griffiths is forced to quit the industry - why?

 Blackwidow Surfboards owner Steve Griffiths says Chinese imports are forcing local board makers out of the industry. Picture: Robyne Cuerel. Source: The Sunday Mail (Qld) - Feb 2011.
Sunshine Coast, Qld: Ex-Cronulla surfer, master surfboard craftsman and the original founder of Emerald Surfboards, Steve Griffiths has been forced out the industry he loves.

Cronulla surf icon, Steve Griffiths started shaping surfboards at Gordon & Smith in Taren Point in 1972 and went on to found Emerald Surfboards in Taren Point in 1978. He sold the Emerald business in 1982 and moved to Queensland's Sunshine Coast to manufacture Black Widow custom surfboards.

Here's the story courtesy of the Queensland Sunday Mail: Australia's iconic surfboard makers are giving up after a futile battle against cheap mass-produced Asian imports.

After 42-years in the industry, craftsmen like Steve Griffiths, from the Sunshine Coast, are closing their factory doors. An influx from China and Thailand in the last five years made it hard to etch a living, but the last year has been killer.

Mr Griffiths has posted a "For Lease" sign outside his Warana factory, Black Widow Surfboards, and may try medicine cabinet making. Industry insiders have warned this scenario is being repeated across the country also because of an economic slowdown.

Mr Griffiths said Australia was losing more than just locally made surfboards. "The thing with China and Thailand is there will be no innovation, only copying," said Mr Griffiths.

"All the innovation from guys who shaped boards in their backyards, and made boards better and tried new styles, all that will be gone." Surf shops are making huge profits on imported boards because of the massive mark up.

Mr Griffiths said a Chinese longboard was imported for about $300 and sold for about $1100 - an $800 profit. But the Australia version cost about $1000 to make and retailed between $1200 and $1400 - only a maximum $400 profit.

"The only reason people go to Asia is to make more money. You don't go there for a better product," said Gold Coast materials supplier Darren Burford. "(But) the end user doesn't see the better price. It's the guy selling it that gets more money."

Surf shop owner Neil Raaschou makes a point of supporting local craftsmen and stocks 90 per cent Aussie boards in his four stores. However Mr Raaschou does sell quality Asian-made beginner boards, like mini mals, because of customer demand.

"It does serve a purpose. Generally the beginner and novice market is driven by price because they don't want to fork out a lot of money," he said.

As a consoling tribute to Steve Griffith's years of fine craftsmanship and creativity, collectable Emerald Surfboards in good condition, bring high prices at surf swap meets and surf auctions across the nation.


Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Cronulla Point - A Gathering of Regals

Cronulla Point has seen a host of big-time, International surf stars tackle the testing reef wave location over the years. Even the prominent Pro Surf Contests of the eighties hit The Point. But it's the resolute group of hard core locals, that form the pre-'85 Cronulla Point surfers who have planned an assemblage for Saturday June 11th, 2011. It will be a time for some of the old gang to reunite their once puerile bodies and banter about the classic good old days.

The group of young 'old timers' are prepared to ride a wave of nostalgia when the
Cronulla Point boys get together again on June 11th, 2011. [Click photo to enlarge].
One of Cronulla Point's most enduring photos. Garry Birdsall
taken by Bob Weekes was featured on the cover of
Sydney based band - The Atlantic's 1962 album 'Bombora'.

Image courtesy of Cronulla Surf Museum
Looking back; the famous Hawaiian surfer, Duke Kahanamoko even took to the untamed waters off Cronulla Point during his 1915 visit to the Shire. So did the group of touring American surfers who came out during the Olympics in Melbourne in 1956. They impressed the pants off all the locals with their [then] modern fibreglass covered 10 foot solid balsa boards. Many heroes, villains and monster waves and come and gone in the years in between.

Localism ruled and strict pecking orders were an unwritten form of the 'chain of command' at all of Cronulla's breaks and each surf spot had its own homies. There were The Alley boys, The Shoe's Crew, The Wanda gang, Midway boys, and the various board riding clubs. The Point surfers had its gang too, with names like Popout, Rolf Rotten, The Bear and The Reptile, just to mention a few.

Over 100 of the lads, many of who have long since de-camped, will rally at Club Cronulla [formerly Cronulla Bowling Club] on Saturday June 11th to talk about tall tales and true from the legendary past. I've got a strong feeling there'll be some invention at the convention.

If you feel you qualify, a pre-paid cost of $95.00 includes at 3-course meal and some drinks and a collector's edition t-shirt artfully put together by Point veteran, Mark Aprilovic, the original founder of Cronulla Surf Design, now head honcho of the Cronulla Surf School. Enquires go to PO Box 149, Cronulla, NSW, 2230.

Steve Core


Monday, June 6, 2011

Memorial Service for Russell Hughes planned for Toronto, Canada

A more recent photo of former 60's and 70's
surfing great Russell Hughes.

Photo courtesy of the Kew Gardens Tennis Club,
Toronto, Canada
As we now well know, former legendary Australian surfer, Russell Hughes passed away on May 25th, 2011 at his home in Montreal, Canada.

He is survived by his wife Monik Roy and son Kokee.

Apart from his surfing abilities and love of the ocean, Russell was a keen and fit tennis enthusiast. As a lover of the game, Russell was a long time member of the Kew Gardens Tennis Club in Toronto, Canada.

The good folk there have posted their kind thoughts on how much they will miss their fellow player and dear friend.

If you would like to send flowers, cards or condolences to Canada, you can address them to:

4 Avenue Du Berri
St-Lambert, QC J4S 1H8

A celebration of Russ's life there in Toronto is being planned by his Toronto based Canadian friends. Date, time and details will become available as the finer details are worked out.

If you have any questions, thoughts, or suggestions, please direct them to Bryan Prettie in Toronto at 416 710 0644 or by email

As a long time Kew Gardens Tennis Club Member and friend to many, Russell will be sadly missed.

Steve Core

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Russell Hughes - Fashion fades; but style is Eternal

A Shane Surfboards Ad, highly symbolic of the era,
from the back cover of Surfing World Magazine
featuring emblematic figure
- Russell Hughes.
Image courtesy of the PT Collection.
Fashions fade - but style is eternal... so I have to thank life-long friend, and former '76 ASP World champion - Peter Townend for providing the scanned image of Russell Hughes here.

In direct reference to this very photo, PT stated this week from his home in Huntington Beach, and I quote - "when I was a grom and I saw this shot of Russell Hughes on the back page of Surfing World magazine, I immediately wanted to run down to the Mens Wear store in Coolangatta [no Surf Shops in those days] and get a shirt exactly the same. Russell was all about style".

This is an Ad for Shane Surfboards in the late sixties where Russell had just introduced his new 'Crystal Vessel' model. Few photos of the era convey such a strong sense of arrested time as this.

In the Ad, a handsome young Russell in his early twenties, has embraced the flower power culture [flowers were the chief metaphor for the peace movement] and he is posing in absolute sartorial elegance, modelling a San Franciso, Haight-Ashbury inspired floral piped, Nehru-collared hippy shirt. Set with matching heavy, wide wale, brown corduroy trousers.

But folks; it's important, please don't get 'Style' confused with fashion. 'Style' is an expression of individualism mixed with Charisma. Fashion is something that comes after style.

Notice a very important aspect of the ad shot? What's missing? No surfboard in the frame - the man and his 'style' carried enough weight in 'sell' to make people want to invest in a new 'Crystal Vessel' surf board.

In those days, most icons had to be manufactured by the surfboard builders themselves. The advertising and results were unsophisticated, but so were the faithful. Style is a magic wand that turns everything that it touches to gold. And in the photo above... Russell Hughes is in gold.

Steve Core

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Surfin' USA - Where did the lyrics really come from?

The cover of the 7" single Surfin' USA released
on March 4, 1963. A very young looking band

 [minus Al Jardine] pose in their Pendleton Madras
long-sleeved woolen beach shirts.
My good friend Damion who is the ingenious driving force behind the Board Collector blog [a great regular read I highly recommend] raised a very interesting subject this week regarding the surf spots named in the lyrics on The Beach Boys famous surfing track ‘Surfin’ USA’.

Damion, an ex-Deus employee from Sydney, recently moved to California and wrote this week about how he loves discovering all the surf spots in Southern California that he became familiar with by listening to The Beach Boy’s ‘Surfin’ USA’ song when he was a 10 year old grommet.

I have to admit doing pretty much the same thing on my early visits to California as the song was indelibly impressed into my brain too as 13 year old grom from Kogarah.

Damion’s fanciful thinking imagined the creative Brian Wilson driving along the California coast in ’62 looking for lyrical inspiration and picking out surf spots to include in the smash hit song’s lyrics.

After a little CSI Surf work by me, it turns out that the stark truth of the matter is a ‘cold war’ developed between Chuck Berry and The Beach Boys. Berry claimed that the song plagiarised his song ‘Sweet Little Sixteen’. The Beach Boys song was clearly set to the same melody as ‘Sweet Little Sixteen’.

The original 1963 pressing of the record gave credit of the lyrics to Brian Wilson. But in a secret deal, struck behind the band member’s backs, Brian’s father Murray – who was manager of the The Beach Boys at the time, after a lawsuit was raised, inked a deal that relinquished the credit and some royalties to Chuck Berry. Ever since, Berry has had sole or shared credit for composing the song.

Brian Wilson subsequently claimed at the time the song was merely influenced by Chuck Berry and Chubby Checker’s similar ‘Twistin’ USA’.

And how did Brian come up with the names of all the beaches and surf spots when he was not a surfer himself? The answer is simple...

The Surfin' USA title album reached US Gold Album
status [1 million in sales] and peaked
at #2 in the
US Top Ten Album Charts in 1963.
When the song was written, Brian Wilson was dating Judy Bowles. Her little brother, Jimmy Bowles, was an avid surfer. Brian thought "what about doing surf lyrics and mentioning every surf spot in the state? They're doing it here, there, in this city and that, like Chubby Checker's 'Twistin' U.S.A.'.

According to Brian Wilson in later interviews; "I asked [Jimmy] to make a list of every surf spot he knew, and by God he didn't leave one out".

Damion also raised the question why they threw in a mention to Australia’s Narrabeen into the song specifically titled ‘Surfn’ USA’. Good question. Don’t know really. International sales maybe? Global presence? For the final logical answer, one day I guess we’d have to ask the exquisite Mr Surf Music guru, Brian Wilson his self.

In an odd twist of poetic license, the lyric for Narrabeen in the song is pronounced by The Beach Boys as Narra-BINE, and not Narra-BEEN. Definitely indicating they were not locals, or had even visited, as that would be frowned on in Sydney’s Northern beaches. The reason they enunciated BINE instead of BEEN? – simply to rhyme with the preceding second line of ‘Ventura’s County Line’.

And International sales? As a single in 1963; ‘Surfin’ USA’ only made it to Number 3 on US Billboard’s Hot 100 Singles chart and only to Number 9 on the Australian singles chart. A lackluster Number 34 in UK where the Brits were planning their own musical assault on the world.

Did 'Surfing' USA' ever reach No.1? – yes , would you believe in snow-covered Canada of all places. Eh - those crazy surf-loving Canuks - go figure.

Steve Core


Russell Hughes - RIP

A surfing magazine Ad from circa '66/'67
when Russell Hughes had just signed
to surf and produce a model for Shane
Surfboards. Back when Shane Stedman
was still based in Eastwood in Western
Sydney [prior to moving to Brookvale].
Another great legend of the early longboard days of the glorious sixties era of surfing in Australia has passed away.

Sad news this week beginning to filter in as we learned that sixties and seventies reclusive stylist, Russell Hughes, has ridden his final wave.

After several battles with Cancer over the years, Russell aged 64, passed away this past week in Quebec, Canada, the home country of his surviving long time French Canadian partner, Monik Roy.

Originally from Brisbane in Queensland, Russell started his involvement with surfing and love of the ocean with the Surfers Paradise Surf Lifesaving Club.

Russell was a smooth wave rider and a true master of style. What Ernest Hemingway referred to as; "grace under pressure". He was a pathfinder and a bona fide Aussie surf pioneer in every sense of the word.

Attracted to the multiple point breaks, relative seclusion and clean living on the Northern NSW Coast in the late sixties, along with Bob McTavish, George Greenough, Nat Young, Chris Brock and the cutting edge crew, Russell was one of the handful of gifted surfers to be spearheading the avant-garde transition from clumsy longboards to modern responsive shortboards.

Always exhibiting style both in and out of the water. Who can forget Russell's classic floral Nehru-collared shirts during the flower power hippy era of the late sixties?

Researcher, biographer and curator of Cronulla's surfing legend; Bobby Brown, Queensland's Andrew McKinnon has penned a great exaltation on Russell's surfing history and achievements, as well as his recent past. I direct you to Pacific Longboarder's website to read a nicely written tribute:

To read Andrew McKinnon's veneration of Russell Hughes in Pacific Longboarder Click Here

One of my fondest memories of watching Russell Hughes surf, is that I was standing with a thrilled crowd on an offshore day at City Beach in September 1967, in Newcastle, NSW to see Russell take out one of his very rare major surf contest wins at the '67 Mattara Surfing Contest - in true contemporary style.

Despite his sparse list of contest victories and few podium finishes, he was regarded by all of his peers as one of our greatest surfers of his time. He was one of the headline surfers featured in Paul Witzig's 1967 breakout surf film 'The Hot Generation'.

Tributes are now beginning to pour in, not only from surfing's anointed royalty who shared many wondrous times over the years with Russell, but from a host of ordinary people who were simply touched by just knowing the this gentle and kind human being.

God bless you Russell, you will always be remembered in Australian surfing's folklore and your legacy of images will live on for many years to come. Time to join your old surfing soulmates Bobby Brown and Kevin Brennan who have been waiting in the line-up over that far horizon for some time now. I am sure you will be doing a beautiful, impressive, soul arch turn as you glide magically across the glassy waters in the straits between heaven's gates.

Steve Core

Below: See Russell surfing from George Greenough's Innermost Limits of Pure Fun

To watch a trailer for 'The Hot Generation' Click Here