Legends ride retro wave

By Shaun Gillham

SURF’S up “old-school style”  this summer in Nelson Mandela Bay where a  project to re-introduce 1970s style surfboards with the backing of an international surfing legend is set to make waves.

Following a current international trend in surfing hotspots like California in the US and in Australia, where old-school boards, clothing and music are  now the new school, three South Africans are riding the retro wave to South Africa by re-introducing the style of boards which helped write former Port Elizabethan and global legend Gavin Rudolph on to the front pages of surfing history.

A former “Fence” and Humewood local, surfing pioneer Rudolph can not only claim to be one of the very first people ever to surf the world-renowned Super Tubes break in at Jeffreys Bay, but, in 1971, was also the first South African to win a professional surfing title outside the country.

Then totally unknown and aged just 18, Rudolph unexpectedly made the finals of the Smirnoff Pro/Am in 12 foot surf at the daunting Sunset surf break in Hawaii and just as unexpectedly perpetrated one of the best known upsets in professional surfing history when he snatched victory from the world’s best surfers.

The PE project is the brainchild of cameraman, Super Tubes history buff and former Eastern Province cricketer Mike van Vuuren, who joins Rudolph and leading Port Elizabeth surfboard craftsman Greg Smith in the initiative to re-introduce the Gavin Rudolph branded surfboards.

Speaking from Cape Town, where he now lives and still surfs, Rudolph, 59, said he was very excited about the project which aimed at taking surfing “back to its roots” and back to “soul surfing”.

“This is pretty interesting and exciting. The idea is to craft the boards in authentic ’70s style. We hope to do this in tandem with the current trend which is a return to retro,” he said.

“Modern surfing is heavily focused on aerials and getting as much air as possible. So what we are aiming to do is bring back boards for the older generations who are more into simply riding and enjoying the wave.”

“Another nice aspect of this is the idea of producing boards that are durable and built to last, just as they used to be made.”

Accomplished Summerstrand-based shaper Smith is equally thrilled to be involved.

“I have known Gavin for decades. As young surfers, we idolised Gavin, so it is very exciting to be a part of this. I will be shaping the boards in the same manner they were shaped in the 1970s. They will be short boards as opposed to long boards and will be made using the basic tools used back then,” Smith said.

“For one example, we will be putting pigment into the resin for the colour, as opposed to spraying the boards as they do these days. The boards will be flatter and will all be single fin boards, but they will also be able to perform.

“We aim to produce boards which will not only be collector’s items but also surfer-friendly, each custom made to the specifications of each surfer,”  Smith said.

Van Vuuren said  the idea for the boards occurred to him after viewing old footage of his friend, Rudolph,  walking near Super Tubes with an old 1970s square tail surf board.

This is a shortened version of an article that appeared in the print edition of the Weekend Post on Saturday, October 20, 2012.

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