From Andrew Crockett

This interview, while long, is absolutely worth reading. Joe Larkin nailed one good talking point after another...

Remembering Joe Larkin
From an interview with Joe... rest in peace mate. 
28.6.33 – 24.07.2017
John Michael Larkin – Joe Larkin

Surfboard building pioneer; Joe Larkin surfboards (Kirra).

Worked for Billy Clymer, Barry Bennett, Gordon Woods, Danny Keyo before establishing himself in one of the first surfboard factories in Queensland. Mentor to the ‘coolie kids’ (MP, Rabbit and PT) Gordon Merchant worked for me doing repairs. He took over the repairs and made me more money than I was making out of boards. He made us both plenty drinking silver.

1) If you think about surfing in the 60s and 70s and you look at it today, do you like what you see?

Larkin : It is chalk and cheese. We lived the dream. We were the luckiest people in the world. I mean that. Lucky enough to be in that era where it started, everyone was laid back and importantly, everyone was a beginner. That was the beauty of it. You couldn’t big note yourself because we were all learning together. Some learnt quicker than others, but that didn’t matter. We thought we were a fraternity of Kings, but no one was the big king.


2) How do you think competitive surfing changed the evolution of surfboard design?

Larkin : Why would you want to sell a Kelly Slater board to a beginner? That is what they are doing, trying to sell that sort of shape to a kid who has never ridden a surfboard. It is crazy. If there was no competition you would have no Kelly Slater model and you would say to a kid ‘here have this one, you are a beginner, it is a bit fatter a bit wider…get out there and learn on it.’ They are giving kids and beginner boards that the average good surfer couldn’t even ride!

3) How do you feel that your experiences in theocean  affected your life on the land?

Larkin : Every morning I got up and I look at the Ocean. Now, as I have got older and I cant get down for a swim I love to just sit there and look at it. Apart from the surfing, I grew up on the beach at Freshwater (Sydney) I used to, as a 5 year old, just wander around on the beach by myself. I was happy as a pig in shit, just going in on the edge and then come out and lay in the sand. I remember it like it was yesterday. Crawling on the hot sand, I loved it and that is the same I still am.


  4) Of all the characters in surfing (particularly in the 1960s) can you tell me a memorable story about one of them? (I am trying to get at the characters in the 60s and how that era was so free and so loose, it is something we dont have today - well not in America or Australia - perhaps in Mozambique!) 

Larkin : We all went to the head of the surf life saving movement, when the shortboards came in, to explain to them that you didn’t have to have a metal hook on the back of the board, because if you fell of it was gone, there was no way you could grab it. With the 16 footer if you fell off you had that much of the board behind you, you would put your hand out and you might grab it and save the board from washing in. With the ten foot boards, you fell off and the board was gone, so we told the surf life saving people it was very hard to put a metal hook on the balsa. They didn’t listen, instead they demanded that all surfboards have hooks on the back. All the top kids, Nat, Midget they were all in the surf clubs and they all left. They left because they couldn’t leave their surfboard there at the club. They started leaving them at friends houses by the beach. These young kids were all happy in the surf clubs, they were happy to leave their boards there, happy to sleep there. It was very hard in those days to get around with a ten foot board, no one had cars and the surf club was great. So these smart bastards at the top of the surf life saving tree basically destroyed the surfclubs with that silly decision.
Everything I ever learnt was through the surfclubs and the older blokes who had been through the mill. They passed on their knowledge about the sea, when you are in trouble what to do, how to deal with a dumper. What happens today when someones legrope breaks, can they even swim? In the Philippines there are people out there surfing and they cant swim a stroke, not a stroke.


5) Are you a fan of contest surfing and do you like watching it these days?

Larkin : Not really. You get these modern dvds and you look at them and there is no background. It is all close up. All you see is a close up of a surfer, it could be anyone, doing the same thing for an hour. The old surf movies had exploration going into places, you had a little bit of a travelogue, a lot of jokes and then you had some beautiful surfing…but it had the mountains in the background and some sort of crude storyline. You watch these modern dvds and you got no idea where they are surfing and if you are not regularly paying attention you have no idea who the surfer is. What they are doing on the wave is magnificent, but there is something lost.
When we were kids, there was no chance of going overseas. I didn’t go overseas until I was nearly 60. I loved looking at the palm trees, the beaches and the different areas, it was marvelous, I loved it…as well as the surfing. 


7) Can you describe one of your ‘peak experiences’ while surfing, where was it and what made it so memorable?

Larkin : In the 16 foot era (around 1950-1951) at the Fairybower the sun was shining and the water was crystal clear and Bobby Evans started singing ‘you lucky old sun, you live all day in the midday sun’ and that was it, we were all laughing, the waves were absolutely perfect shape for 16 footers, which meant they were no good for shortboards. I was about 18 then. No drama, no giant waves or anything, everything was soft and mellow.
Five used to be a huge crowd at Schnapper or Currumbin. I mean, huge crowd. But there was five of you and we were all best mates. If one of us got a bit uppity and wanted to get every wave, we would pull him into gear. It was like a bloody radio station out there with 5 or six blokes all bullshitting about the girls they had last night and how many beers they drank.


8) Your generation has been through so many era’s of surfboard design; from timber to balsa to fiberglass to shortboards and fashion boards, there is so much accumulated knowledge. Have you any desire to pass on your knowledge to the next generation?

Larkin : I am a bit too old. I was so used to riding a 16 footer. I had a 8mm film, shot at Freshwater of five blokes all on one wave, riding plywood Okanui’s. In the film, everyone of them stepped off the back, they were trying to get away from nose and they just stepped off the back. When you are riding a 16 footer you have 10 foot out in front of you and 6 foot behind you. When we got on the ‘Okanui’s’ we had 6 foot in front of us and that was too short, so everyone was stepping back. I wish I still had that film, 5 blokes all stepping off the back of the board and falling off. It was a tough transition from 16 foot to 9 foot. You got no idea what it was like in the early days with the Okanuis, there would be 20 or 30 blokes all riding one wave, some trying to corner, some just trying to stand up. No one knew what they were doing, I mean, we hadn’t done it before. All us old blokes were so used to riding 16 footers, the Okanuis were like riding an unknown monster. We watched the yanky films and slowly but surely we picked up the technique. We were dependent on the yanks for quite a few years, until around 1962, when we started thinking for ourselves.
Once the foam and the lightness came into surfboards, it changed everything.
1966-67 was the cream of the cruising boards. They were the most beautiful boards to ride, they would cruise but everything was smooth. They were so heavy you couldn’t do really heavy fast turns you had to cruise into them. But they would trim and run so beautifully. You find a board from 1966, one of Wallace, Woods, Bennett they are all very much the same…rolled bottom. Everyone says ‘you cant have a rolled bottom’ I don’t know. They were heavy and there was a lot of style around. Those board brought out the style. It looked good, you know?
I hate the modern longboard that looks like a bloody banana. Kids are doing incredible things on them, but it looks bloody awful. Watching these long boards flapping around I really hate it, if you want to surf like that, get a shortboard. It is two different things, like a sportscar and a cruising car…you don’t want to be going up to the shop in a car you feel every bump through your arse and through your brains because the suspension is so rough, you want to get into one of those old yanky things that are nice and cruisey. Two different machines, for different reasons.
It was marvelous when they put out the boards with no stringers. You didn’t have to cut them, sand them and then get them joined … it saved us so much money. The thing I hated was the three finners. When they first came out, you know you had three fins to put on instead of one. That is a hell of a lot of work. They have templates and things now that hold everything, but in the old days you did it all by hand, you had to mark them out, then hold them up with bits of wire…it was a bloody nightmare. I could have killed whats-his-name for inventing them! I said ‘what are you doing to us? It is three times the work!’ It is a pity that they worked like a dream.

9) Of all the things you know about surfboards, planshapes, floatation, bottom curves, rails, fins and functionality – which bits are the most overlooked by modern shapers?

Larkin : The bloke on top. The person riding the thing. It is the ability of the person riding it that makes it work. The very worse surfboard that was ever made in the history of surfboards was made at my joint…but I wont tell you the name of the guy who made it (it was Peter Drouyn). The nose went down, there was bumps and lumps all around it …he glassed it, but I wouldn’t let him put a sticker on it. He went out there, among all the top surfers and he shit on them. He made them look like beginners, while riding the worst surfboard that has ever been made. In my head I thought ‘it has nothing to do with us (the shapers) it is the guy on the top, riding it.’ That board and what he did on it was a testament to what a great surfer he was. I also say, if you love it then it is your board and it is perfect for you. If you are happy with that board, you are going to surf better on it. As long as you are happy it is going to work for you, to the best of your ability. Once you get a board you love, stick to it. There is no need to change the board every three months, I mean your ability is not changing that much, just get a nice cruisey board and stick with it.
No surfboard is going to make you a Kelly Slater. Why is he so brilliant? Because of his ability. Most of us have nothing like that ability. Selling surfboards, half of it is marketing. They put a little curve here or a gimmick there and they say ‘oh it works’. Why do you need four fins? Really? It was bad enough with three! What’s wrong with one?


10) Do you think we will ever see a mainstream surfboard that is 100% environmentally friendly in construction?

Larkin : Who gives a shit? Environmentally friendly, what do you mean? We wouldn’t even get to the beach. We got to use petrol to get to the beach. Start from the beginning with all this crap. Without fossil fuels, where does all the resin come from? The foam is from fossil fuels. Environmentally friendly, you cant even have a pushbike because someone has to weld it together, make the tyres. What, you got to walk and not wear clothes. You got to go right to the beginning, otherwise it is all bullshit. I don’t want to do anything wrong, but I am not going to go jumping over the moon about it. I mean the shit we are throwing up in the sky with rockets and what have you, what is one little surfboard going to matter? Eveyrone says you start with the small things and then get to the big things, but how about living and enjoying life. Have a few beers and laugh, have a bit of a giggle with ya mates. …you know, chasing each other around the beach, throwing sand at each other. That’s living. Forget about the other crap.


11) Who are the most under rated surfers in our surfing history?

Larkin : Dave Jackman died a little while back. Who is Dave Jackman? A lot of guys wouldn’t have a clue. He was the first guy ever to surf the Bombora in Sydney. He went over to Hawaii and surfed in his speedo’s (budgie smugglers) taking off on giant waves, wiping out. He was only a little fella too. I think he went over with Bob Pike, Nipper Williams and a few others around 1960. Bob Pike won, what was referred to as the first World Titles, in Peru. Have you ever seen the trophy? It is massive and absolutely magnificent. Things like that, you don’t really hear about. The Peruvians put that on, they brought people over from Briton, Australia and other countries.
Bob Pike was a manic-depressive, you were battling to get a word out of him. I remember going on surfari with him up north in the late 50s and I tell ya, you wouldn’t have got ten words out of him for a book. It was like Michael (Peterson), you couldn’t have a conversation with Michael. He’d put his head down and mumble a couple of words and that would be it. He worked for me for a fair while there, two years or so and I don’t rekon I got more than ten words out of him the whole time. He had nothing to say unless he was asking for money. I would say I never had a conversation with him, ever. With Peter Townend and Rabbit he was yacking, but I have no idea what they were jabbering about.
"I felt like I'd discovered where my umbilical cord was connected to," Pike later said of his introduction to the tropics.
There are great surfers in every era, just watch them and enjoy what they are doing.

When you were teaching Michael Peterson how to shape, had he had anyone teach him before you?

Larkin : No I was the very first. He came in with his mother (Joan), he was an apprentice bricklayer and he hated it. He asked me for a job and I said ok. We got him doing all the shit jobs first, but he was that keen we just let him go. He was pretty ordinary to start with, but no one does a first surfboard that is perfect. With foam it took me over 100 boards before I could say ‘that is perfect’. You train your eye…I have a fabulous eye, even now. Anything that has a bump in it, I can pick it up from a mile away. That comes from training, from experience and you don’t get it straight away. (Michael also learned under Laurie Hohensee) 

12) Who are the most under-rated shapers in our surfing history?

Richard Kerin, his original name was Roger Duck, he changed his name by deed poll. He had some great ideas in the 50s when balsa first came out, his boards were pretty rough, but I would say he was one of the first to make Balsa boards on our side of the harbor in Sydney.
There was a million kids putting bits or rope and socks and things around their legs, no one knows who ‘invented’ the legrope. In the old days if you were a beginner you fell off and you swam in then carried your board around the point again. It created monster crowds. If no one had legropes now, there would only be proper surfers out there.


13) When you think of the shortboard revolution, which shapers and surfers instantly spring to your mind?

Larkin : The kids that I knew and I saw. You think of Michael (Peterson) and Peter Townend. Their brains were wizzing around and everytime I saw them, everyday they were saying ‘we gotta try this’. It was like everyday they had a different board. They just kept experimenting for themselves and eventually they got a good board for everyone. They would come in to the factory and go straight to the shaping bay with some new idea.


14) Do you agree with George Greenough that the pointed nose on many modern surfboards serves no functionality at all and is purely there to make the boards ‘look cool’.

Larkin : I was over in the Philippines and I saw this ugly board with a square nose with no kick in it. They were catching waves on this reef, a few dumpers and you could hurt yourself. The guy took off on this funny looking square nose board and he went for miles and a hundred miles and hour, never seen a board go so fast. . . except maybe the finless boards. He had a ball on it and when he came in I had a look at it…it was nearly flat, now, I don’t know if it had 8 fins of 4 fins or 1 fin or what because I didn’t get to look at the bottom, but there was hardly any banana in it. It was fast and it didn’t need a pointed nose. What do they call those things? I mean someone is making them, on purpose.


15) As an elder of surfing do you have any advice you would like to share with the readers out there about surfing, lifestyle or anything else??

Larkin : I always say, when I am giving advice to anyone that I know they wont listen. You are young and you have to follow your own way. I was told so many things not to do and I immediately ran away and did it and got myself into all sorts of shit, but, that is how you grow up isn’t it? Getting kicked in the arse all the way along the line. This bullshit about getting wisdom as you get older, that is a lot of crap, I am still as silly as a wheel.

The pioneers of foam in Australia?

Larkin: Greg McDonaugh and Barry Bennett. They all had a go at it but Barry Bennett persevered. Before Barry had a factory, we were working under his house. He mortgaged his house and everything, went to America to Dion chemicals and he pursued it to the last cent. He cracked it and his foam was by far the best of anyone in the early days.

What would you say would be Barry Bennetts legacy in Australian surfing?

Larkin : In the early days when everyone was struggling and you know, Winter came and you had no orders, Barry Bennett was Mr credit. He was our bank in the Winter time, we all got our blanks from Barry and we all owed him money. A lot of blokes put a lot of shit on Barry, because they still owe him money. To this day they still owe him money and I am talking some big names. Barry probably doesn’t need it now, but I bet he needed it back then. When my business caved in (1978) all the owings of $2 and $3 it all added up, I went through the books and I was owed $3000. All the backyard shapers, the guys that used to work for you they were getting the business. You would be out of the shop and someone would come in to order a board and one of the shapers would take it home and make it for them. That is how all the bigger names crumbled, Gordon Woods, Billy Wallace, Danny Keyo, Scott Dillon, they all went down, they all closed their shops in the late 70s.
Billy Wallace and Gordon Woods they were the board makers of the 16 foot era. So was Barry Bennet and I made a couple too, but Wallace and Woods were racing theirs and winning surfclub contests. Billy Wallace was just a character and the most laid back bloke I have ever run into in my life …he is still the same you know. There is only one Billy Wallace.
Gordon Woods and Barry Bennett are businessmen and Scott Dillon is a scallywag, but he tells some marvelous stories.

How would you rate Peter Drouyn as a surfer?

Right up there. Right right up there. IN 1966 we had the Australian Titles at Coolangatta and he was a junior. He made everyone, even seniors like Nat Young, look like beginners. He just absolutely bew everyone out of the water. IN that era, he was head and shoulders above. He got mixed up in bloody publicity, whinging and crying, rather than doing what he could do beautifully. But lets face it, he was the first bloke to bring on man to man surfing. Look at what he has done. Forget about what he is doing now, as a surfer, particularly as a junior, he was as good as you could get. As good as I have ever seen. He was before Michael (Peterson) and he was brilliant. He was also a very complicated young fella.


Random quote

I don’t like funerals. I don’t mind a wake though, a good one. I don’t like those weepy ones though. I had a wake for myself a few months ago, I thought you know piss up and all that, I don’t want to miss out! They are the best party ever, so I paid for my own. When they told me I had the ‘old mans cancer’ (prostate) I thought stuff this I will have a wake.
When the goon show came on radio we used to stop drinking and go upstairs and roll about laughing. That is how good it was, it stopped us drinking.

Erin Ashley

Aka "Worm," she's usually depicted on the nose. Not this time. A classic hull bottom turn.

Malibu, August 2015.

"Come On Out For Tranny Night"

Looks like the millennial surf media is having a laugh at "our" expense. Yuk Yuk.  
Details here...

Wave Pool Updates


Slater's Lemoore Ranch and BSR Waco pool now with Surfline "surf report" and cam, respectively...not sure how long they've been there.

Here's a good overview of the Lemoore Ranch wave from Nick Carroll. Worth the read.

Also, pricing for Waco...

Mick and Francesco


Two interesting articles popped up recently, both dealing with the equipment restrictions professional athletes face. One relates to surfing, the other golf.

The difference is that golfers want to expand their club options to get better, while pro surfers are afraid to think outside the box for fear of being scored lower. (Ask iconoclasts like Tommy Curren and Cheyne Horan about that.)

What's interesting about Mick Fanning's transformation into an "experimental free surfer" is that pro surfing has presented itself as the undisputed leading edge of surf design for decades. And, at times, that's been true. But pro contests have long ago de-evolved into a cookie cutter factory of both boards and riding the point where judges are judged by their ability to agree with the consensus of the other judges. Not exactly a petri dish for progressive thought, is it?