Author: Phil Jarratt
When I was growing up south of Sydney in the early 1960s, there was only one place in Australia where you could buy a custom or “shop” surfboard, and that was the hallowed precinct of Brookvale.
Brookvale was a relatively new industrial estate on Sydney’s northside, tucked in behind Manly and Freshwater beaches. It had been a market garden bounded by swamps and a creek, but its proximity to the beach and low real estate prices had made it a magnet for the pioneer surfboard manufacturers who were enjoying a boom that had begun with the introduction of lightweight and durable foam blanks to replace balsa at the core of surfboards. Surfing’s popularity had also grown at warp speed on the back of the surf-stomp craze that was sweeping the country, making stars out of teenage surfie chicks like Little Pattie, Beach Boys wannabe vocal groups like The Delltones, and guitar bands like The Atlantics.
Saturday was the day the manufacturers tried to clear out their excess stock by lining up discounted boards in front of their showrooms, so when I was in the market for my first new surfboard that was where I headed with older surfing mates who could drive a car, clutching an envelope full of cash from a year selling newspapers on a street corner.
We did a drive-by of the leading shops – Barry Bennett and Gordon Woods on Harbord Road, and Scott Dillon and Bill Wallace on Winbourne Road – before parking centrally and setting out on foot. Bennett’s was the first stop. The price seemed right but nothing took my fancy. Down the hill at Gordon Woods, one of the older boys leaned into me as we approached the lawn. “That’s him,” he whispered. “Gordon Woods.”
Gordon Woods was old like my Dad, but what distinguished him was his country club attire. He wore a golf shirt, Bermuda shorts, long socks and brogues. He seemed relaxed, although he didn’t strike me as a surfer. He said: “Young chap looking for a board? Let’s see what we’ve got.”
My first impression of Gordon Woods was that he was a thorough gentleman, and I still feel the same way about the man, now in his nineties, who has become a legend in surfing and a personal friend. On that Saturday morning I just knew I could trust him, and when he pointed to a poo-brown Nat Young model, I knew it was the board for me.
These were the golden years for the Brookvale Six, as the leading manufacturers became known, and the brown “Woodsie” was the first of many wonderful surfboards that I would own, and wish I still did. But I don’t think I ever felt quite the magic I did that day, buying a board from the master craftsman himself.
Image: Gordon Woods (right) with staff, 1966.