The leg­end who shaped a sport

New Zealand Surfing - - Introducing -

It is with­out any sense of doubt, that had a young bloke named Bob Davie not trav­elled to NZ back in 1963 that surf­ing as we know it here on these shores would not have ever been the same. The all-round self­less con­tri­bu­tion to the sport from its in­fant years through to the pro­fes­sional era was se­cond to none, and ear­lier this year the NZ surf­ing com­mu­nity mourned the loss of one of its fore­fa­thers. While Bob came here a young Ozzie boy, he left us a proud kiwi who gave far more than he ever re­ceived.

It was in 1963 on his 21st birth­day that a young man from Cronulla set his sights on a hol­i­day over the ditch in NZ, so along with his good mate Bob ‘Arab’ Steel the two landed in Auck­land and im­me­di­ately headed out to Piha, the first break of choice for visit­ing surfers back then. There they met up with Peter By­ers and Peter Way who sug­gested sam­pling Raglan. The dis­cov­ery of clas­sic New Zealand waves around this time had spread back across the Tas­man, and the ozzies came flood­ing in; one of those clas­sic set-ups that was rid­den for the first time only two years ear­lier be­came one of Bob’s first places to visit. Even as a young­ster Bob showed the char­ac­ter that would pave his way for fu­ture years as a man with a plan, and he had shipped across his own car and after spend­ing all day get­ting the ve­hi­cle re­leased from cus­toms in Auck­land they headed down to Raglan sleep­ing in the car and wak­ing to score Manu Bay to them­selves. On this sup­posed work­ing hol­i­day Bob, who was a qual­i­fied fit­ter and turner, had in­tended to make boards to get by, so he im­ported a mould he had built back in Aus­tralia and he be­gan work­ing in Auck­land sand­ing boards for Peter Way be­fore he and Arab went out on their own and set up a small fac­tory in Pt Che­va­lier, shap­ing boards us­ing blanks blown by Peter By­ers. This only lasted a short while when the two de­cided an­other surf ad­ven­ture was on the cards and they headed off to Taranaki where they spent four months. With money su­per tight Bob did a stint in Taupo Pos­sum trap­ping to raise gas money and ended up in Gis­borne where he fell in love with the lo­cal surf and planted his feet. At the time surf breaks were be­ing dis­cov­ered ev­ery day up and down the coast and it was a great era to be in­volved in. Bob set up a fac­tory and soon had a strong cus­tomer base. At the time, most boards were close to 10’ and Bob came out with these 9’6” mod­els which im­me­di­ately grabbed the at­ten­tion of the top surfers Wayne Parkes and Al­lan Byrne, both young in their early teens. Even this early on in his ca­reer Bob had the vi­sion to take the role of men­tor, a po­si­tion he con­tin­ued for well over 30 years, and he is cred­ited with giv­ing both AB and Wayne their first tips in surf­board man­u­fac­tur­ing. AB at the time was the Na­tional Ju­nior Champ and Bob took the grom un­der his wing, driv­ing him to con­tests and shap­ing his boards. He taught AB the ins and outs of surf­board con­struc­tion which lead to a job as a shaper. Recog­nis­ing the tal­ent AB pos­sessed Bob even dipped into his own pocket to get AB to the World Surf­ing Champs, as only the win­ner of the Na­tional Champs, Wayne Parkes, was paid to go by the Surfrid­ers As­so­ci­a­tion. Af­fec­tively this launched AB’s in­ter­na­tional ca­reer, Bob had the vi­sion and AB had the tal­ent. With the con­stant qual­ity waves of Gis­borne of­fer­ing the per­fect test lab, Bob’s shapes were go­ing from strength to strength and he was well ahead of the pack in de­sign through his links with leg­endary Aus­tralian shaper Bob McTav­ish. McTav­ish brought many of his de­signs over to Gis­borne where he could work on in­no­va­tions away from the glar­ing eyes of the Aus­tralian in­dus­try, and his time spent in the Bob Davies Fac­tory is cred­ited as the pe­riod where short­boards were born. It was all fall­ing into place for Bob, his shapes were in de­mand and in 1965 he was also crowned the NZ Na­tional Champ and was NZ Prone Pad­dle Cham­pion sev­eral times. Bob could have stopped right there, he was the Champ and his shapes were be­ing cred­ited as the most ad­vanced in the


coun­try, yet he had the fore­sight to be­come in­volved in de­vel­op­ing the sport even fur­ther and was in­stru­men­tal in launch­ing the Gis­borne Board­rid­ers Club and help­ing run con­tests. In 1966, while Bob loved the waves that the Gis­borne re­gion of­fered, for growth in his busi­ness he closed down the fac­tory and moved to Mt Maun­ganui where he set-up a proper fac­tory, rather than work­ing out of old houses, a stream­lined man­u­fac­tur­ing set up en­abled more turnover and with ac­cess to a big­ger pop­u­la­tion and be­ing more cen­trally lo­cated to places like the Coro­man­del and Raglan, Bob Davies Surf­boards grew in strength. At the time At­las Woods in Auck­land was the big­gest man­u­fac­turer in the coun­try and Bob wanted a piece of the ac­tion so he ex­panded op­er­a­tions and went into part­ner­ships with Mike Court in a su­per fac­tory in Auck­land. Dur­ing the next cou­ple of years Bob Davies Surf­boards opened up a se­ries of smaller fac­to­ries/shops in the greater Bay of Plenty/Coro­man­del area and em­ployed a staff of 25. This would make Bob one of the orig­i­nal shapers to branch out into the con­cept of ghost shap­ing at dif­fer­ent out­lets that is pop­u­lar with the big­gest la­bels in the world to­day. Know­ing that he could not han­dle the work load as the main shaper and want­ing to spend his time on in­no­va­tion rather than sim­ply churn­ing foam, Bob taught the likes of Rod­ney Dahlberg, Mark Ogram, Tony Water­house and many years later top ju­nior surfer Wayne Lowen, to shape un­der his guid­ance. All these shapers later went on to win ac­claim un­der their own la­bels and credit Bob for their start and guid­ance. By 1974 Bob had been so busy build­ing up his em­pire, when he re­alised there was more to life than be­ing cov­ered in foam dust 24/7, he had also met Mary and the two had mar­ried sev­eral years be­fore and they wanted to set­tle down a lit­tle and work on hav­ing a fam­ily. So Bob sold out his shares in the Auck­land fac­tory, closed down the Mount fac­tory and moved to Whanga­mata where he pur­chased a lit­tle shop on the main road and launched Salt­wa­ter Surf­boards along with Pete Mitchell. While Bob was still im­mersed in the surf­board busi­ness, liv­ing in Whanga­mata was more of a life­style move, and Bob had brought a lovely house with four acres where he would later raise a fam­ily of two boys and find sanc­tu­ary till his last days. After close to ten years build­ing the Salt­wa­ter la­bel, rais­ing a fam­ily and spend­ing plenty of time out on the Whanga Bar when it turned on, Bob and Mary de­cided to take an ex­tended over­seas hol­i­day where they spent their time di­vided be­tween Aus­tralia and Bali, very pre­cious years and where the two sons both learnt to surf. Re­turn­ing to Whanga­mata Bob launched Whanga­mata Surf­shop and re­turned to craft­ing boards un­der the Lip­sticks and orig­i­nal Bob Davie la­bels with Mark Ogram as his part­ner. Through his as­so­ci­a­tion and re­la­tion­ships across the Tas­man he picked up the Aloha and Byrn­ing Spears la­bels. 20 years on his re­la­tion­ship with Al­lan Byrne had come full cir­cle, Al­lan had learnt the craft from Bob and had worked as a shaper for Bob, now Bob was shap­ing his prodi­gies boards. With more time on his side and not be­ing com­pletely snowed un­der as he was in the 70’s and 80’s, both Bob and Mary ded­i­cated many hours of their time to the de­vel­op­ment of surf­ing, coach­ing and men­tor­ing. Mary launched her brain­child ‘The Na­tional Scholas­tics’ and Bob be­came the Pres­i­dent of Surf­ing New Zealand which both Mary and Bob be­came Life Mem­bers. In 2001 Bob was in­ducted into the Surf­ing New Zealand Hall of Fame and was un­til his fi­nal day be­stowed the great­est hon­our of all as a pas­sion­ate and proud surfer in his role as Pa­tron of Surf­ing NZ. In 1999 Mary trag­i­cally passed away and Bob was lost for a while with­out his part­ner in life, his shap­ing had dwin­dled down yet he still picked up the planer for a few es­teemed col­leagues and the surf shop kept him busy. Bob even­tu­ally sold the surf shop in 2003 and spent the rest of his years en­joy­ing his time on the golf course across the road, out fish­ing around the Coro­man­del and spend­ing time with his grand­kids and part­ner Vicki. Till his last day Bob kept in con­tact and up to date with what was hap­pen­ing in the surf in­dus­try and the achieve­ments of the modern day surfers and was su­per proud of what surf­ing had be­come in this coun­try, and so he should have been, he was the man who had paved this path more so than any other. While he was a one in a mil­lion guy in a coun­try of four mil­lion there was only one Bob Davie. May the waves be long and wally on the other side! R.I.P Bob.

LEFT: There were no wet­suits back then so surfers had to stay warm some­how. RIGHT: Bob and his young charge Al­lan Byrne Gis­borne 1965

TOP TO BOT­TOM: Bob and his team of crafts­men at the Mt Maun­ganui fac­tory. (L-R: Tony Water­house, Skin­ner, Des Burn, Bob Davie, Kerry Don­avon) Fad­ing back with style at Manu Bay mid 60's Bob took care of all facets of pro­duc­tion early on, here he glues up a blank. Bob and Mary on their wed­ding day, Bob un­der the thumb now! Bob fell in love with Mako­rori Point in Gis­borne.

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