“I’m not much of a talker.” The icon of Australian shaping is working away out the back of Island Surfboards. He’s been living on the island for over 30 years, but his history with the place goes back much further than that. Rake-thin and weathered by a life in the ocean, he warms up conversationally, focusses on the delicate timber inlays in the longboard he’s sanding. “I only do a few these days, for friends…” he mutters. Three stringers, nose and tail blocks like nineteenth century parquetry. “Smell that,” he says as the sanding block passes over the inlays. “Cedar. Nice, huh?”
Terry built his first surfboards at home in about 1959, in his mid-teens. He lived in the industrial suburb of Newport, in Melbourne’s inner-west among the power stations. But the two most distinctive features of the place, the enormous chimney and the sweep of the Westgate Bridge, didn’t even exist yet.
There was a Lifesaving Club in nearby Williamstown. Terry was a good swimmer, so they put him in the surfboat at carnivals down the coast. He quickly figured out that the summer easterlies favoured the island. As far as he remembers, over something like 55 years, there were “a couple of locals” surfing on Phillip Island, and that was about it.
The island was a faraway place, joined to the mainland by an old wooden bridge that was built back in 1939. There were a couple of strips of bitumen down the middle, but everything else was gravel and sand. “I’d go to Cat Bay, take the order book with me on a Sunday, have a surf and pick up half a dozen orders each time, sitting there in the back of the panel van,” Terry explains. Meanwhile, the surfing population boomed. Right place, right time.
Terry and Reg Bell went into partnership in about 1964. The boards from this era with the KlemmBell logo are now prized collectables, though you’d never hear it from Terry. Greg Hogan remembers a bloke who found one – the classic mintcondition masterpiece gathering dust under a house. Breathlessly, he took it to Terry Klemm to hear about its history, but Terry just shrugged, claimed he couldn’t remember. It was only later, after the crestfallen collector had left, that Terry and Hoges opened a beer and Terry recited every tiny detail of the board’s construction.
Terry says it was Matt Ryan and Tommy Tyrell who shaped the first commercial boards on the island, somewhere around 1970, but there’s no doubt the Klemm-Bell shapes were there too, given Terry’s long familiarity with the place. Over time, Terry moved into and out of a marriage, became a father, worked on a fishing boat for 10 years through the ‘80s and ‘90s.
The fishing introduced him to far-flung places like King Island: everywhere he went, he says, his wave radar was pinging. It’s hard to imagine the Bass Strait coast as a frontier, as a place full of secrets, but those years existed, and Terry Klemm lived them.
Charles of The Sea
In 1963 a meeting was held at the Isle of Wight Hotel in the island’ s main town, Cow es, and a Board riders’ Club was formed. The pub later burned down, but year after year the PI BC goes from strength to strength, having produced knee boarding world champs Neil Luke and Jethro Cooney, world no .17 surfer G lyndon Ring rose, ACC winner Simon McShane, and the van Dijk siblings, Nikki and Joe.
In 1969, the island hosted Australia’ s first-ever professional surf comp: a tussle for a hundred bucks, taken out by legendary west-coaster Charlie “Charles of the Sea” Bartlett. Around the same time, a fledgling surf photographer named Ted Gram be au was travelling from inland to shoot Matt Ryan surfing barrel son the island’ s reefs. Such was the precision of the wave’ s impact and Ryan’ s line that he barely had to move.
The Alan Oke Memorial comps, held between 1976 and ‘86 in memory of Oke, who was a PI BC president, held a unique place in the international surfing calendar. For a relatively small, remote surf comp, it somehow pulled in the cream of the world’ s surf stars, probably because it was held just before the Bells Easter Classic. Rabbit, Shaun Thomson, Reno A bell ira, Rory Russell, Lopez, Michael Peterson, Mark Warren and Cheyne Ho ran all made the trip to surf it at various times. In 2002, the World Juniors were held on the island, heralding the emergence of Parko and Mick. But maybe the pinnacle of the island’ s contest history was in 2005, when the Bells Easter comp was stricken by a run of easter lies and had to be re located to Wool am ai. Suddenly, the world’s top 44–among them Slater, Andy, Occy and CJ–descended on Blokes’ Island. Oddly enough it was an under dog, Trent Munro, who took out the title.
A History Written In Foam and Fiberglass
Island Surf boards, founded in 1969, is the commercial main stay of island surfing. Others have come and gone: I slant is, at the Wool am ai end of the island, was home to prominent shaper Russell Francis. There’ s Outer reef and Full Circle, and deceased Sky hooks front man Shirley St ra chan even had a surf shop called‘ Beach Street’ near Wool am ai, but no-one’ s come near to the longevity that Island Boards has. Founded by Matt Ryan, who still works in the business and live son the island, and Tom Tyrell, who did most of the early shaping, the store is one of the few left which offers a shaping factory out the back, a rack of home grown boards in the front, and a surf school at the beach down the road. Nowadays th es ha pin g’ s shared between former CT competitor Glyndon Ring rose and veterans Terry Klemm and Greg Hogan and the place in spires fierce loyalty, having sponsored many of the island’ s talents, particularly G lyndon Ring rose, Simon McShane and Sandy Ryan. As Greg Hogan put sit ,“they mightn’t be household names but they’ re fucking unreal.”
Left: Shaping guru, Terry Klemm, has a good story for every salty whisker on his face.
Middle: Sun-bathed bitumen artery.
A thick-lipped, blue marble curl that draws you in deep.