“With over 30 people, and as many surfboards on the sand, we dove deep into experiencing surfing’s diversity,” said Dave Rastovich. Photo Justin Crawford

Best of 2023 | Finding The Fall Line: One Autumn Morning, A Century of Surfboards

A clear blue wave unfurls around a green headland, fringed by black rock and haloed by soaring white gannets. Sinuous clouds dance in the sky above and myriad fish dart between the surface of the water and the sand rippling with ribbons of light below. In all directions our eyes are enthralled by diverse curves and shapes. Then we see a human on a white foam surfboard skim across a wave. The wave behind reveals another human on a white foam board. They lift and fall in the same way, angular almost jagged lines that feel strangely repetitious in this curved space filled with variation. We may note that the uniformity of the surfing humans seems odd in the wild turbulence of the surf.


If we have enough sun lines on our face, scars on our feet and red in our eyes, our next thought may drift back to when surfboards and surfers were as colourful, varied and diverse as the waves. If we are younger than that, have we had many opportunities to develop that kind of scope? Is the modern surfer missing one of the central charms of surfing by riding one way all the time?


Maybe. What happens to us surfers when we shake modernity’s pervasive push to homogenise? What happens to us when we reach back through time and learn from yesterday’s surfers and the less industrialised world they lived in? Could surfboards be a type of talking stick to open up communication, between ourselves, the water, and each other?


I like thinking these kinds of thoughts.

I personally crave opportunities to do this and love dreaming of ways to share our diversities with my surfing circle, to have fun with friends of all ages and persuasions, and to also stay true to the rightness of surfers holding up a middle finger to the mechanisms of uniform thought. Our surfing family tree has deep roots and branches heavy with exotic surfboard fruit.

And so, it felt right to act on the feeling and hold a gathering of surfers of all stripes, surfing their way through the last century of surfboard design. Feeling for ourselves how skilled the ancient surfers were to ride alaia, olo and ‘toothpick’ boards. Or how much skill and enthusiasm it takes to ride and keep afloat an Occy or Andy Irons-style shortboard. Along the way I hoped we would remember how fun it is to play and stretch ourselves to the point of feeling something new in our surfing lives.

Thanks to our local community’s generosity and the shared idea that boards are for riding, not hanging on walls as decorations, we gathered a board from every decade going back a hundred years. Ancient paipos and Alaia. A 16-foot long olo and ‘toothpick’ shaped by Tom Wegener. Gordon Woods longboard. John Peck Penetrator. Lopez single-fin. Peter Crawford kneeboards. Tom Morey boogieboard. Michael Peterson single-fins. Rusty’s ‘80s Occy board. Skip Frye and Dick Van Straalen fish. Andy Irons’ Arakawa. Dane Kealoha twin-fin and all manner of shortboards and of course surfing’s embarrassing outcast – the goat boat.

“Just like some of those surfboards, us humans get dinged up and bashed around on the journey of life,” offers Josh Slabb, “but in the right hands and a part of the right community we can be repaired, and appreciated, and our ability restored to continue to bring joy to others around us.” Photo Justin Crawford

We chose a bluebird day of three-foot surf, light offshore wind and sun to warm the bones. With over 30 people, and as many surfboards on the sand, we dove deep into experiencing surfing’s diversity. Our buddy, Connor at the Sunday Sustainable Bakery fed us all before we dove into the heritage part of the day, riding the finless toothpick, olo, paipo and Alaia, all mastered by ancient surfers around the world.

For me the toughest decision was what to ride first. Though we had Michael Peterson single-fins, a Tommy Peterson Fireball fish, a Skip Frye fish and many other rare jewels to ride, I had to choose the goat boat first to honour my late father’s spirit. I needed to know why he would choose this type of wave riding over everything else.

Dave Rastovich contemplates the historic enormity of the olo, while Tom Wegener (left) paddles out on the toothpick and Ari Brown grabs the alaia. Photo Justin Crawford

As a grommet in the ‘90s, my dad would on occasion be in the lineup with me on his beloved goat boat. You may think this is sweet and healthy to share a love for the ocean with a family member, and though he may have felt that I certainly did not. As soon as we hit the water I would do my teenage best to speed away from him in the lineup so it never appeared that we were in any way connected. He would dig deep with his fluoro paddle, white or bright green zinc on his face, flat top haircut in no way relaxed by sea water, every muscle on his huge militant body shining and bulging for the whole lineup to see due to his choice of tiny budgie smugglers barely covering his nuts. The only thing rivalling the embarrassment of his personal look was his way in the water. He would shout across the heads in the water, “Go Dave-O! This one’s yours mate! Look at this beauty! Don’t worry about these guys, GO! GO!” Even though I was nowhere near the wave and was at least 10 to 20 people away from him.

I would cringe as he faded people already surfing… oh yeah, I forgot to mention this was at the point at Burleigh or Snapper Rocks. He would zoom straight down the face and lean hard left then hard right while pushing masses of air out his mouth and still the goat boat would just go straight, like when you see tiny kids wiggling hard to turn a board too big for them. Well, my dad was big enough for his goat boat, he just didn’t have the skill!

Though all this sent my teenage cheeks bright red with embarrassment, there was one part of his surfing life that I deeply respected. He never pulled back. Ever. Even down the sandiest black pit spinning down the point, he would plummet. Sure, he lacked wave knowledge, etiquette and style, but no matter how late he was or how big the wave was he would go and I absolutely loved it. I would never look away, and I loved seeing how stoked he looked when he eventually Eskimo rolled back upright gasping for air.

So on that autumn morning, I grabbed that goat boat and my worst pair of budgie smugglers and tried to feel what he felt. I made one out of three waves, and it felt surprisingly good to scoot down the wave face and out into the flats. I felt no awakening however to the secret magic of the goat boat, which is probably a good sign that I am relatively sane and not yet ready to become one of those crazy, goat boat folk any time soon.

(Left) The gathering was a shaka-rich environment. Elise Trigger takes out a classic Michael Peterson single-fin. (Right) Ozzie Wright with the ’84 Occy replica, while Ari Brown grabs a classic Peter Crawford kneeboard. Photos Justin Crawford

Everyone was a winner on the day. All smiles, stoked for each other and more keenly aware of surfing’s colourful roots and how skilled the surfers before us must have been. We had the good fortune of riding boards from yesteryear and enjoyed feeling perhaps the same sensation of controlled ‘lala’ slide on the alaia and olo that the Duke felt when sliding finless on timber. When riding the toothpick we tapped into that same fall line as the first wave of European surfers here in Australia over a hundred years ago.

This day of putting a century of surfboards where they belong brought our surfing circle a little closer together. These hand-crafted boards delivered us to the magic of the moment and also illuminated the diverse lineage of surfers before us that have lived lives devoted to the marvel that is surfing.


Tommy Wegener, who shared his alaia, toothpick and olo: “The ‘fall line’ is always there, on every wave or swell. In modern times we have been obsessed with the steepest, most critical fall line with our finned polyurethane surfboards. The ancients were equally focussed on excitement riding the most powerful waves with their thin alaia surfboards, but they also had an appreciation of riding gentler, longer, cresting waves. Perhaps the ancients’ fall line started with riding swells in their ocean traversing canoes, riding down the slight fall line for tens of kilometres at a time. The kings surfed their long olo surfboards in waves slowly curling far from shore. The joy is there. This day helped us appreciate how decades of boards found their own line. One surprise was many of the surfers connecting with that ancient Hawaiian kings’ fall line. They surfed old style boards designed for the unbroken swell – the 16-foot long, 100-kilo olo, 16-foot hollow plywood toothpick and two 9’3” wooden alaias. The excitement was taking the time to feel the long fall line gently gliding to the beach, and the skill that’s required to do that.”

Gary McNeil, shaper: “I got more out of that one day in terms of shaping inspiration than the last few years! Being able to ride the Tommy Peterson Fireball fish and the Dane Kealoha twin-fin and feel what those boards do directly through my feet was all time! I took both boards into the shaping bay straight away and blended them together with so much stoke and appreciation for what those guys were doing with board design in their time. Every surf community should do this kind of thing regularly, all ages together and all boards. No winners or losers, just everyone smiling and stoked for each other.”

(Left) Rookie holding a cosmic, sawn-off Ellis Ericson edge board. (Right) Christian ‘Wispy’ Barker with a classic Larry Bertlemann Town and Country twin. Photos Justin Crawford

Christian ‘Wispy’ Barker, surfer: “I think for me riding the toothpick for the first time was something special. As soon as I got on it a perfect little peeler came straight to me and I managed to ride it all the way to the beach. The best part was the high fives from Tom after. He was as stoked as I was! Tom puts his heart and soul in every board, especially something like the toothpick which is so labour intensive. He has a real relationship with them. Sharing that stoke with Tom summed up the day for me. I’d like to think the shapers of all the boards that day would have had the same feeling when seeing their crafts revisited and surfed again!”

Josh Slabb, Bundjalung surfer: “Surf craft come and go but community always remains. To be reminded of the communities around the world that have imagined and sustained each of one of those waveriding tools was something special. Each craft came from a person who was part of a community. Just like some of those surfboards, us humans get dinged up and bashed around on the journey of life, but in the right hands and a part of the right community we can be repaired, and appreciated, and our ability restored to continue to bring joy to others around us.”

(Left) The two resident legends, Rusty Miller and Chris Brock provided the origin stories of several of the vintage boards lying on the sand. (Right) Little Woodland feeling out the bottom curve. Photos Justin Crawford

Lauren Hill, surfer: “I liked that everyone was willing to put seriousness aside and step into a childlike beginners mind because of not knowing how any of the boards would ride. Being able to laugh together at each other, at ourselves, was a really enlivening experience. Remembering that surfing is meant to be fun and playful, and doing that with friends of all ages really felt right. It really felt right to be together with intergenerational friends too.”

“With over 30 people, and as many surfboards on the sand, we dove deep into experiencing surfing’s diversity,” said Dave Rastovich. Photo Justin Crawford