Yamba on crest of the wave
By MAX GODBEE
THERE is no doubt about it, Yamba is regarded as one of the finest body surfing beaches in Australia, deemed that way since the 1880s and particularly since the surf life saving club was formed there in 1908 to make it also one of the safest beaches.
Just down the coast apiece is Angourie, a mecca for surfers of the boardriding kind.
The Yamba Surf Life Saving Club shares the honour with Byron Bay of being the world's longest established country surf life saving clubs. Each has just completed its 98th year since operations began and are ready to celebrate the century mark in 2008.
Part of the tie-in history with Angourie began in earnest with some youthful members of the surf life saving club such as Ray (Daffy Duck) Moran, Cleat McGrath, Roger McLean, Brian Alford, Don Lee, Bob Banwell, David Baldwin and Geoff Solomon in the 1950s. They had been searching to find other beaches in the area suitable for boardriding and became the first to board surf Angourie and declared Angourie Point as the near ultimate surfing destination.
Some of the international boardriders of the time were invited up to try out the Angourie waves a year or two later and they too were impressed and the beach gained plenty of coverage in surfing magazines.
Sometimes in magazines those second arrivals were named as the discoverers of the beach, but not so.
Angourie, these days a blossoming and popular township, has a history of its own going back long before it became a mecca for boardriders, magazine writers and photographers.
Years before, construction engineers had been looking for suitable ballast (rocks) to build, strengthen and widen the Clarence River training walls at Yamba and found what they needed at Angourie.
Rock was blasted free and taken by train on steel rails from the Angourie mines to Yamba and this operation has its own history, including the origin of the famed Angourie crocodile tale.
One night returning to Angourie the train driver and engineer, reportedly sober but tired from a hard day's work, claimed they saw in the beam of the engine's powerful headlight a huge crocodile which they estimated to be at least 16-feet (5m) long. They said the crocodile crossed the tracks and slid into the darkness of the undergrowth.
As the days, then the months and years went by the Angourie crocodile grew in stature and legend.
Several adventurers, advisedly searching by daylight, claimed to have caught glimpses of the secretive monster and others saw what they argued be crocodile tracks, but nobody was sure and the monster was never caught or photographed but the story and legend continued and grew.
Anyhow with the blasting for the rock, two deep holes, described by some as bottomless pits, resulted. Eventually the rock gathering was halted when underground springs filled the holes with fresh water, covering valuable machinery deep down. Thus the Angourie Blue and Green Pools were born.
The Blue Pool in particular has been used over the years for recreation and swimming purposes. One of Yamba's greatest lifesavers and one of Australia's leading surf belt swimmers, Rex 'Tiger' Teece frequently used this pool for swim training. Much of his swimming was done towing behind him a drum three-parts filled with water to make the going tougher and give the already powerful Tiger added arm and leg strength.
Surf board riding had its beginnings in Hawaii and became popular in Australia when the Hawaiian Olympic swimmer and noted board rider Duke Kohanamoku visited Sydney with his redwood surfboards boards in 1915 to give displays of the art.
Earlier than that, back in the 1890s, a time when surfing in daylight on most Australian beaches was illegal, a native boy from the Marshall Islands was reported as thrilling onlookers at Manly with his boardriding skills, surprisingly on just a two-metre surfboard.
However, Australia's first boards in the years after the Kohanamoku visit followed his style, longer and heavy and some surf clubs added their own long board types for speed racing at surf carnivals.
For the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne Australian officials opted to hold an international surf carnival at nearby Torquay Beach as a local demonstration sport. Seven countries, Australia, New Zealand, Ceylon, South Africa, Great Britain, Hawaii and the USA sent teams and a crowd of 50,000 paid to watch events.
For the surfboard race the Americans turned up with their shorter, lighter balsa Malibu, or zip, boards, so much lighter and manoeuvrable compared with those of the other nations' cedar or ply longboards. That day an almost new and exciting sport was introduced. As balsa wood which came from South America was near impossible to obtain in Australia our first shorter and lighter boards here were of marine ply and often referred to as tooth picks. These boards became popular nationwide including among Yamba surf club members.
It was not long before balsa boards did become available and in turn were replaced by foam boards. Ray Moran recollects that to start his boardriding days in the 1950s he found a black and white ply surfboard under the Yamba surf clubhouse in the then boatshed.
This board didn't appear to belong to anybody in particular so Ray started using it and soon there were plenty of clubmates obtaining their own boards. These members surfed Main Beach and then Pippi Beach when Main Beach was too crowded which was pretty often.
"I remember the Donovan twins, Henry and Ted, bought the first local balsa board from Sydney," Ray said.
"Its weight was just 30 pounds (about 14kg) and cost 28 pounds (around 56 dollars).
"I bought the club's first foam board, a second-hand MPI foam from the Gold Coast. Soon there was mixture-type of boards around and we endeavoured to surf every nearby surf spot, Lovers' Point, Pippi, Flat Rock and Dump Beaches, Green Point, and eventually Spooky Beach, Angourie Point and Angourie Back Beach."
Because of the popularity of the smaller, lighter and more manoeuvrable Malibu surfboards, many Australian surf life saving clubs were losing members to this new fad.
Not so, however, at Yamba where surf club membership actually increased substantially and the boardriding members were some of the best workers.
For years the club had held a weekly handicap surf race at Yamba for the Carl Schaeffer Trophy and I remember as club captain at that time adding a weekly handicap Malibu board race each Sunday with Gerards Store in Grafton donating a shirt to the weekly winners.
Strong fields competed and Ray Moran and Cleat McGrath were generally the backmarkers.
The club also added Malibu board racing to its annual club championships for the Daffy Duck Trophy which was named after and Ray 'Daffy Duck' Moran and The Duck obliged by winning the first two titles.
Ray and good mate Cleat McGrath went on surfboard safari surfing every beach from Yamba to Woolgoolga and came to the conclusion that Angourie Point was absolutely the best. Other board specialists such as two of the greats, world champions in their day, Midget Farrelly and Nat Young, backed up the assessment.
Ray, after being a prominent member of the Yamba Surf Life Saving Club in patrol duty, competition in paddling and march past, money-raising, joined the Manly Surf Life Saving Club, one of the original Australian surf clubs
There, as at Yamba, he has been a dedicated and busy club worker, competitor and instructor as well as featuring in other facets such as a member of the Manly malibu and long board clubs and a heritage trustee with the Manly Surf Museum.
He still recalls those days at Yamba when blond hair was the only sort of hair for a boardie to have.
"It was tough for other club members to find the Ajax or lemon juice products in the kitchen or to find peroxide in the first-aid room," he said.
"The boardies were continually using these goods to whiten their hair until Fred Hall found out why this stuff was continually disappearing and in no uncertain manner put a stop to it."
There was a time later when Ray at Manly went on an Endless Summer Safari spending two years in South Africa and then further time surfing the waters around the English Channel Islands.
Cleat, who won a branch and combined northern branches malibu championships for Yamba, was in winning R&R and march past teams and pioneered the use of the IRBs, (rubber duckies) at Yamba.
He remembers vividly that day he, with a few other Yamba lifesavers, first turned up to test Angourie Point for boardriding.
He was thrilled by what he found and has never tired of extolling the surf's virtues.
Roger McLean says that when he and other surf club members started surfing at Angourie, amateur anglers fished the beach with jewfish, the main drawcard.
The only two buildings belonged to professional fishermen who had huts on the hill's southern side.
"After driving the dusty, bumpy corrugated road to the outskirts of Angourie we had to carry our boards along a rough stone-strewn track and through the undergrowth and trees to the ocean," he said.
"Duck Moran was the first to catch a wave followed quickly by Cleat and myself and then Brian Alford and Don Lee and after that we stopped counting and just lapped up the conditions, one rider to each wave and working long runs from the continuous good waves."
Brian Alford tells that after a few trips to Angourie the group started to make access easier to the beach.
"There were plenty of red stones about from the quarrying days. We used pick and shovels with sweaty work over a number of days to dig and spread these out more evenly and thinned out some of the bracken, trees and rocks until we could drive vehicles down to the current car park area," he said.
Another of the originals, Don Lee, a strong boat rower, swimmer, R&R and march past competitor, told of others, members such as Noel (Tojo) Warr, Jim McDonald, Greg Cox and Colin and Robert McDermid, who would also do a lot of body surfing there after spending time on the boards.
"When the wrong wind was blowing for the Angourie Point to function at its best we sometimes switched to Angourie Back Beach on the other side of the hill but that didn't have to happen too often," he said.