Next month the History Channel explores the fascinating story of the birth of the Australian surfing boom with the premiere of Men of Wood & Foam.
This exclusive one-hour documentary uncovers a golden decade in surfing, starting in 1956, when surfing was transformed into a sport and culture with its very own music, movies, fashion and heroes.
Underpinning this exciting transformation was a small group of artisans who started out in the 1950s making wooden surfboards in their backyards along Sydney’s eastern beaches, before eventually moving to Brookvale where they experimented with “blowing foam” to make lighter and more responsive surfboards from plastics.
These pioneering artisans, Barry Bennett, Scott Dillon, Denny Keogh, Greg McDonagh, Bill Wallace and Gordon Woods became known as ‘The Brookvale Six’.
The transition from long wooden paddle boards, known as “tooth picks”, to the modern “Malibu Chip” surfboard first began in 1956, when American lifeguards arrived in Australia for an international surf carnival being held in conjunction with the Melbourne Olympics at Torquay in Victoria.
As soon as the Brookvale board builders saw the surfboards the Americans had brought with them, and the manoeuvres they could perform, the race was on to secure one of them to use as a prototype. Gordon Woods jumped in his car and drove 600 miles to make an offer.
By 1958, Bennett had formed the core of The Brookvale Six, building Malibu Chip boards from balsa wood – and by the start of the 1960s, surfboard riding really began to take off when the Brookvale pioneers produced the first lightweight foam boards, kicking off a huge Australian surfing boom.
Soon, Australia had its own surf champion in Midget Farrelly, its own stomp craze with Little Pattie, The Delltones and The Atlantics, its own surfing movies (Midget Goes Hawaiian, Surfing The Southern Cross) and its own surf magazines.
The Brookvale Six had not only supplied the entire country with surfboards, but also made design breakthroughs that put Australia at the forefront of the sport for decades to come – inspiring a never-before-seen evolution in Australian surf culture.
“Surfing is integral to the fabric of Australian lifestyle,” said Brian Walsh, Foxtel’s Executive Director of Television. “This fascinating documentary captures the heart and soul of a colourful chapter from our past”.
“We tend to associate surfing with the contemporary stars of today’s competitive pro circuit, but this unique perspective demonstrates what a rich history we have in one of Australia’s favourite past times. Men of Wood & Foam takes viewers on a sentimental journey through the changing years of the sport and brilliantly tells the story of the pioneers who shaped it. I am delighted that the HISTORY Channel continues to tell our stories, Australian stories and this is a very special one,” he said.
Featuring in-depth interviews with all members of The Brookvale Six: Gordon Woods, Bill Wallace, Scott Dillon, Danny Keogh, Greg McDonagh and Barry Bennett, leading surfers including Layne Beachley, Nat Young and the late Midget Farrelly, famous faces from the time including Patricia ‘Little Pattie’ Amphlett; as well as rare archival surfing footage spanning seven decades, Men of Wood & Foam explores a truly iconic time in Australian sporting and cultural history.
Following Men of Wood & Foam the HISTORY Channel will also premiere the 1971 classic surf film Morning of the Earth at 8.30pm AEDT.
Men of Wood & Foam is produced by Backbeach Pictures and Panga Productions and will premiere exclusively on Foxtel’s HISTORY Channel Wednesday December 14 at 7.30pm AEDT.