Bob McTavish knows the surfing history of the Bay. He should, because he’s a major part of it.
McTavish’s own philosophy reflects the underlying ethos of this weekend’s Byron Bay Surf Festival, where it’s not about competition but about the culture of surfing.
The connection to nature. Being in harmony with the environment.
It’s about having fun.
Bob first came here in 1956. He moved here in 1969, the Summer of Love as they called it back then, and this elder statesman not only pioneered the shaping of boards, but also of Byron Bay.
What was to become McTavish Surfboards was the first building on the industrial estate.
‘It was 1971,’ he laughed, ‘and when it rained you couldn’t get to work because the Belongil was flooded and there was just a little timber bridge across it.’
Byron Bay history
Byron was a very different place back then.
‘You knew everyone; every surfer knew every surfer,’ says Bob.
‘There was the Aquarius Festival over in Nimbin and it was peace love and happiness, but the surfers had been living here and suddenly the hippies hit town… they were taking all our hot spots; before they came the surfers had it to themselves!’
‘We Queenslanders got onto Byron in the very early 60s. We heard about The Pass. The Pass is unique. To find anything like that you’d have to go to Mexico. It’s amazing.’
And it wasn’t long before this quiet little seaside town was in the biggest international surf magazine.
‘In ’62 at Easter there was a big convergence here. We did a thing where we crammed into a car – it was an old car with running boards and open top – we put 27 people and boards on the car and rolled down the hill to The Pass and submitted it to the American Surfer magazine and won!
‘That was the launch of Byron Bay as a well-known surf spot. There were a couple of American adventurers here at the time. The famous one was Derek Beckner; he was the first Yank to settle in Byron. We are painting his photo on the wall of our showroom right now; it was a photo that Yvonne Pendergast took of Derek surfing!’
Although he’d been a competitive surfer, Bob lost the passion for it and found it in shaping boards instead.
‘I had a competitive career through the 60s but I became anti-contest. With all the peace, love and happiness going on, competitions were jarring and teeth-grating.
It was a changing world and the idea of non-competitive gatherings got great traction; ‘It put professional surfing on the back foot,’ says Bob, who believes the Byron Bay Surf Festival and the McTavish Trim event that he is sponsoring ‘are the essence of what we were trying to do in the 60s and 70s’.
For this event, The McTavish Trim – Furthest Up The Beach, it’s about who travels the farthest up the beach in one wave. ‘I run along the beach with a flag, and it’s a clear winner. It’s how far you can go. I will be the 72-year-old nipper running along with the flag!’ laughs Bob.
‘There is also a body-surfing event, which is great fun. There is an event called Freestyle where you get to see how many people can surf the same wave…’
Although Bob moved here during the ‘shortboard’ revolution that killed off the longboard for almost 20 years, these days the longboard is back with a vengeance.
‘This afternoon I am shaping for Jarred Mel – he is a Californian modern-day hero in longboarding and I am shaping him a board this afternoon to take back to California. It’s an Australian-style log, a heavy flat board from the 60s. ‘Logging’ has become very very popular! It will be pure 1966!’
Digital v vinyl
‘It’s a bit like digital versus vinyl,’ says Bob. ‘The longboard is the most elegant beautiful surfing; it’s not aggressive surfing; it’s elegant surfing built around aesthetics and grace and flow.
It’s my preference now; it suits me down to the ground.
‘We are going back to the 60s materials – polyurethane foam cores with timber stringers, then glassed in a heavy boat cloth called volane cloth. It has a distinctive greenish look. It takes a lot of skill to work these old materials. It’s like with printing where you had to lay out the pages. It’s exactly like that. They’re not plastic moulded. They’re made by hand.’
The Trim will take place on Sunday during the Byron Bay Surf Festival. The festival runs from Feb 24 till 26 around Byron’s beaches.
For more info visit byronbaysurffestival.com.au.
My family might have owned the car mentioned, anyone got the photo?