Sunday, April 30, 2017

Talking Australian: Surfies, Roof Racks, the Stomp and Uggs

By the 1960s Australians had embraced town living and for the affluent middle class leisure was an integral part of their life style. The beach was regarded as an Australian treasure and advertisers wasted no time emphasising the suntanned, healthy, handsome beauties you might find there. Life was for the living or so the advertising copy went and blue skies, sunshine and sandy beaches were emblems of the good life in the Lucky Country.

In truth despite being the biggest island in the world where some of the best beaches can be found, Australia was then, and now a nation of people who mostly can’t swim. The nasty stingy things and fish that bite kept most people out of the water with sea swimming banned during daylight hours. So back in the 19th century the lure of the waves attracted only dare devil types who wanted to flaunt the rules and play in the waves. By 1903 beach bathing became legal and after numerous accidental drowning the new beach savers clubs were formed. Wave larrikins and life savers became sworn enemies.

Hawaiian swimmer Duke Kahanamoku came to Australia in 1914 and brought with him his long surf board. His magnificence on the waves captured the imagination of the beach crowd who naturally wanted to acquire the same skills. Who could afford to spend time perfecting surfing were the well off and the beach culture then was a middle class preoccupation.

The first Australian (long) board riding champion was Claude West (1924), a few years later Australian surfers participated in the 1939 Pacific Games in Hawaii. The sport got a real injection when in the mid-fifties the US Lifeguard team touring Australia demonstrated smaller surfboards which allowed surfers to turn and manoeuvre. Not long after an Australian invented the roof rack. Surfing became a cult and like Rock’n’Roll, everything from the US (the epi-enter of surfing) was copied exactly.

Surfing had its own codes and the best surfers got the best beaches and the best girls (beach bunnies/babes or surfie chicks). The best beaches were often near or adjacent to the better living areas and these were jealously guarded (and still are). Surfing became a male preserve and unwanted visitors to prime surfing areas (cockroaches) were frequently threatened with physical violence. The new Rockers (mainly working-class kids) took a serious dislike to surfers and the ensuing rumbles in the sand were legend.

By the time of the Vietnam War (1962), more kids were tuning in and dropping out and beach communes became very much part of the counter culture with sex drugs and rock’n’ roll the mantra. Surfers now came from all walks of life and were generally bound by their intense love of the sport. Gradually the surf culture changed for the good as the sport grew and more success came in surfing championships. Whilst the language of surf is mainly American there are some Australian terms which have slipped into the lexicon. Bombora, of course describes a big wave isolated by deep water and breaking over submerged rocks (sometimes called a bombie or cloudbreak). If a sole surfer managed to ride that tube (inside formation of the wave) then he would be well stoked (delighted). A new surfer (jake or grommet) to the club (a cubbie) might problems to others on the surf and would be called a Barney. All in the sea have eyes are ever vigilant for Noah, (rhyming slang Noah's ark) a shark.

Somewhere along the line a group of entrepreneurial Australian surfers began backyard businesses making wetsuits, surf gear and board shorts. Soon Australian cottage industries like Quicksilver (1969), Billabong (1973), and Rip Curl had become household names quoted on the stock market.

A couple of jackeroos from Victoria and working here in WA crafted a pair of makeshift sheepskin boots with linoleum soles and used them to keep the feet warm on cold mornings. Slowly but surely UGG Boots became the footwear of choice across the surf crowd in the Big Brown land. They were taken to the US and became a worldwide sensation.

Australian surf culture had its own surf music with the best known example The Atlantics’ Bombora (1963).

Not only that it had its own dance craze called the Stomp.

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