Terry Klemm

Tracks - - Phillip Island Views -

“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.

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