Calling me back through the years

Born and raised in Black and White...

Over the last 50+ years, the Caringbah/Taren Point industrial area has been the nucleus for surfboard manufacturing for us Cronulla-ites; those who are the most southern of the south-siders [Cronulla].

I think because in surfing terms; the South side is basically considered to be anything South of the Sydney Harbour - that includes the stretch of beaches from Bondi to Cronulla. That stretch of beaches is broken with Botany Bay laying in-between. We never had a real central core like the Northside did with Brookvale, because the South side is fairly spread out and contains quite a few mini-industrial areas.

One of Cronulla's inaugural surf stars, red hot goofy-footer; Garry Birsdall clearly remembers that Graham Ferris was the first to hang out the business shingle by setting up the first original surfboard factory operation in Taren Point in 1959. Ross Longbottom can clearly remember that his very first surfboard way back in 1960, was a Graham Ferris balsa board.

About this same time frame, Brian 'Jacko' Jackson was making surfboards in the backyard of his mother's house in Bankstown, that was before he made the move to set up commercial production in Taren Point in 1961.

Taking Flight...

Qantas Flight Stewards seem to be attracted to the surf and the surf business. I was one, so was Norm Casey and so was Jacko's original partner; Ron Cansdell. In 1963, the Jackson & Cansdell Surfboard partnership moved from their first Taren Point factory into their current location on The Boulevard in Caringbah. Jackson Surfboards have been there ever since - 52 years in one location. I think that must be an Australian record for the surf industry. Just think how many boards and people have passed through those doors over those years.

In the early sixties, surfboard builder and Qantas Flight Steward, Norm Casey, who hailed from the Eastern suburbs, made the most of his paid world travels with Qantas. Norm was always coming home with latest in 'surf' everything. At the 1964 Sydney Royal Easter Show I was working for Norm Casey as a Sales assistant, we had a exhibition booth and among other unique surf items on public display we had a 7-stringer, hand-shaped, Phil Edwards Hobie surfboard and boy did it draw the crowds. In the Norm Casey Surf Shop we always had the latest in US magazines, stickers and t-shirts that no other surf shops had. Thank you Mr. Qantas.

Norm also had two of the Cronulla area's hottest surfers on his team. Frank Latta and Garry Birdsall. Garry started his shaping career by learning to shape balsa boards at Norm Casey's Taren point factory, while Frank was taught to shape by Californian, Floyd Smith of Gordon & Smith fame.

In the early '60s there were not many surf shops up or down the coast and all the surfboard makers employed local 'agents'. An 'agent' was usually a top surfer from a recognised hotbed of surfing and he [sorry girls] would be sponsored with new boards and then would garner new custom orders for a commission. This was long before professional surfing, sponsorship and the multitude of female surfers as we know it today.

Empire of the Sun...

Billabong founder Gordon Merchant
was a shaper at Jackson Surfboards
in Caringbah through the late sixties.
One shaper who spent some time at Jackos in Caringbah in the late sixties was a young goofy footer by the name of Gordon Merchant. He was a Maroubra local, but came over our way to shape and surf.

We all got to know him very well in those early days. He heard the call of the North and ended up moving to Southern Queensland in the late sixties. In 1973, Gordon with his then wife, Rena, started making board shorts and surf clothing. He called his individually hand-made products; Billabong... you know the rest of the story!

A couple of classic Gordon Merchant shaped Jackson boards are still on permanent display in the roof of Jackson's showroom in Caringbah. One classic Gordon Merchant shaped board I spotted of late, is on display in Queensland's Surf World Museum at Currumbin on the Gold Coast. Of further interest of recorded history, I have captured one wave of Gordon Merchant surfing Snapper Rocks on his backhand in my 1971 16mm surfing film 'In Natural Flow'.

Co-founder of San Diego based Gordon & Smith Surfboards; Floyd Smith moved to Australia in 1966 and started making surfboards. I don't know why Floyd chose Australia and how or why he ended up in Taren Point. [But I will find out]. Floyd moved back to the US in the very late sixties and these days lives up in Oregon and has long retired from the surfboard making business.

Over the last forty-five years the cream of Cronulla's surfing crop have had some involvement with G&S. When I was compiling the list of shapers and team riders alone - it appeared to be the longest list out of any Southside manufacturer. So many stories and adventures to tell there to. G&S had a few colourful owners over the years as well.

Nights I can't remember and friends I'll never forget...

When you consider the numbers of people and surfers over the past 50+ years there are [at a wild guess] thousands and thousands of stories to tell. About all the characters, the personalities and things that have happened. Some of it funny, some classic and some of it a bit sad.

The majority of all those characters have long since moved away from Cronulla and The Shire, some of them have risen to success, some of us are still here slogging away and of course; many have fallen by the way side along the way. Most of them still surf or are connected to surfing in one form or another. I have only just begun to scratch the surface here with their early stories.

In the late sixties the big Friday night gathering of surfers in Cronulla was fairly central; at the 'dance' or 'stomp' at the South Cronulla Surf Club, in their main hall. The night often started usually with a few beers or 'Dutch Courage' as we used to call it - downed at the nearby old Cecil Hotel [where the Cecil Apartments now stand].

The headline band at the dance was a local band called 'The Executives'. They were great at performing cover versions of contemporary 'Top 40' songs and also had a few hits themselves. 'My Aim Is To Please You' was one and 'Sit Down I Think I Love You' was another.

The Executives had a true sixties sound that resembled The Mamas & The Papas, The Executives were a polished sextet formed by husband and wife team Brian and Carole King who were from The Shire. I still think they live in the area and are still in the production side of the music business.

In closing, I want to thank so many old friends for their input, photos and notes, and for allowing me to rake their brains for fading memories of times gone by and what to us were; the good old days. Their invaluable contributions have helped me assemble this information for you.

In no particular order of rank and with my apologies if I have left anyone out - a big thank you to my life-long friends; Dave Wilson, Graham 'Syd' Cassidy, Alan Blyth, Ross Longbottom, Steve 'Griffo' Griffiths, Peter 'Simo' Simons, Michael Mackie, Graham 'Reno' Gillespie, Garry Birdsall, Mark Sorrenson, Robert 'Bonza' Conneely, Terry 'Snake' Bishop, Jim Lucas, Colin Eagle, Darryl Menzies.

Please enjoy reading the material, if you have anything to contribute, please don't hesitate to contact me. I would love to hear from you if you care to share your memories.

Steve Core

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