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Bob McTavish and the shortboard revolution

Bob McTavish © Ron Stoner



Surf History

McTavish a key figure in the 1967-launched shortboard revolution

Surfersvillage Global Surf News, 25 December, 2013 : - - If Jack Kerouac had lived in Australia, On The Road would be about Bob McTavish. He’s our first ever career beach bum who rejected Menzies suburbia and the straight life, surfing up and down the coast, stealing petrol, shaping boards, utterly free.

"Nobody seems to have gone harder or travelled lighter than Bob McTavish" said Tim Winton. "As a raw youth, armed with nothing more than a board, a grotty t-shirt and a case of Texan knacker rash, he hitched and scammed and sweet talked his way across oceans, consumed by an unrivalled passion for walking on water."

It's impossible to picture Australian surf history without Bob McTavish. One of the first Australians to adopt surfing as a lifestyle, McTavish worked to surf, hung out with legends of the sea and turned himself into a household name. Now in his late 60s and running a successful board business in Byron Bay, he still surfs daily.



To get the history on McTavish we dropped in on the Encyclopedia of Surfing

Cheerful Australian surfer and surfboard designer; inventor of the vee-bottom surfboard, and a key figure in the 1967-launched shortboard revolution. McTavish was born (1944) in Mackay, Queensland, the son of an accountant, and began surfing on a 16-foot plywood paddleboard at age 12, not long after moving with his family to the south Queensland city of Brisbane.

At 15 he dropped out of high school, and two years later he moved to Sydney and began shaping boards; he eventually worked for most of the major Sydney-based board manufacturers of the period, including Larkin Surfboards, Dillon Surfboards, and Keyo Surfboards.

Although McTavish later became one of the first surfers to renounce competition, he was Queensland state champion in 1964, 1965, and 1966; finished third in the Australian National Titles in 1965 (behind national surf heroes Midget Farrelly and Nat Young); and was runner-up to Young in the 1966 Nationals.

Small and barrel-chested (5'5", 140 pounds), McTavish was a fast, dynamic, arrhythmic surfer, keeping board and body in motion at all times. "Because there's so much going through his mind," former Queensland champion Russell Hughes said, "the guy is never still on his board."

McTavish and Young, along with California-born kneeboarder-designer George Greenough, had formed the core of the "involvement" school of surfing by mid-1966, and were all looking to ride more actively in and around the curl.

As the garrulous McTavish explained, the idea was to "use the power part of the wave, [and] to maneuver really fast without any loss of speed." The average 9'6", 25-pound board, McTavish knew, was far too bulky to allow this kind of riding. What Greenough was doing on his low-volume kneeboard—that was how McTavish wanted to ride, but standing up...


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