The legend who shaped a sport
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
"IT WAS AN HONOR TO BE MENTORED BY BD AND SHOWN THE TRADE OF SURFBOARD SHAPING BY SOMEONE WITH SO MUCH SKILL AND EXPERIENCE. HE WAS A GREAT MAN AND IS SADLY MISSED BY MANY. SOMETHING THAT STICKS IN MY MIND IS HIM TELLING ME TO MAKE OUT EVERY BOARD YOU MAKE IS FOR YOURSELF." (Wayne Lowen)
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.