The town where ev­ery­one rode chan­nels, thanks to one man.

Tracks - - Contents - By Ben Mondy.

I was re­cently asked by an Europe web based publication to come up with a list of the best surfer shapers of all time. My­self and the editor were throw­ing around the long list that in­cluded Reno Abel­lira, Wayne Lynch, Terry Fitzger­ald, Ben Aipa, MP, MR, Simon, Gerry Lopez, Mr X, Col Smith, Richie Collins, Tyler War­ren, Dy­lan Long­bot­tom, Tomo and Ryan Burch.

“Col Smith from Narrabeen?” was the in­evitable re­ply. “No, from Red­head, New­cas­tle.” I replied. It was, to be fair, an emo­tive pick. Col Smith grew up at my lo­cal and be­ing the only pro­fes­sional surfer from our beach, then, and still now, he had right­fully been ac­corded Zeus like sta­tus.

Nick Car­roll re­cently de­scribed him in Beach Grit as hav­ing “short dark hair, crinkly smil­ing eyes, per­fect teeth, and one of the most fan­tas­ti­cally grace­ful surf­ing styles I’ve ever wit­nessed. That was surf­ing at the time, when a small, poor NSW ex-min­ing town at the end of a pot­holed coast road could pro­duce some­one who was the surf­ing equiv­a­lent of a rock star.”

Now by the time I had started surf­ing Col had re­lo­cated to Mar­garet River, be­fore trag­i­cally dy­ing of can­cer at just 31. I never once saw him surf my lo­cal break, but it didn’t mat­ter. His in­flu­ence was ev­ery­where. There was the ephemeral stuff; the older guys talk­ing in rev­er­en­tial tones through plumes of bong smoke. Hang­ing around the Surf Club court­yard any wave was seen in terms of what Col would have done on it. Plus any new tal­ented surfer was com­pared, un­fa­vor­ably, to the le­gendary grace and style of Smith. In fact the only surfer who ever came close to mim­ick­ing Col’s rad­i­cal and smooth ap­proach was his son Rique, now based in West Oz. We also had footage of Col, which ev­ery­one from groms to his griz­zled peers would play end­lessly. His sec­tion from the movie Fan­tasea, fea­tur­ing Smith’s suc­cess­ful first trip to Hawaii on his Jim Pol­lard shaped chan­nel bot­toms, I must have seen over hun­dred times. That sec­tion also showed Smith rip­ping at our lo­cal Se­cond Creek, the nar­ra­tor com­par­ing the four foot beach­breaks to Pipe­line. My heart still swells with pride at the, to­tally in­ac­cu­rate, anal­ogy.

But his great­est in­flu­ence came with the very craft we rode. Smith was the first pro surfer to take chan­nel bot­toms to the main­stream and in our small pocket of the surf world, it was un­think­able that you would ride any­thing else. In Red­head Col first worked un­der Martin Lit­tle­wood (now of Delta De­signs) who had taken the hard chan­nel idea from the clinker hull of wooden boats. Af­ter Lit­tle­wood, Smith later worked with shapers such as Sam Egan and Phil My­ers. Plenty of lo­cals all had Col Smith hand­shapes (Col’s unique chan­nels were long­est in the cen­tre of the board) in­clud­ing a se­ries of way-be­fore-their-time asym­met­ri­cals, and these boards were rid­den well past their due by date be­fore be­ing passed down the food chain to us groms.

When Col’s death stopped the orig­i­nal sup­ply we swapped to FreeF­lights and Al Byrne shaped “chan­nelys”. The Red­head chan­nel con­nec­tion con­tin­ued with lo­cal shaper Wayne “Pommy” Stod­dart whose Krackas (yep, now the fa­mous club­bie brand) were al­most al­ways chan­nel bot­toms. In the late 80s it was to­tally nat­u­ral to see six, 15-year-old groms walk­ing down to surf three foot slop all armed with six or eight chan­nel pin­tails. Our world was very much a con­vex one.

Those 15-year-olds are now 45 and with­out a doubt every one of them, in­clud­ing me, has al­ways had a least a cou­ple of deep grooved chan­nel bot­toms in their quiver. It’s in our DNA. It is part of our surf­ing iden­tity. Now in the end Col didn’t make the short list of our six best surfer/shapers of all time. His in­flu­ence was cur­tailed by his early death and maybe his fairly rad­i­cal de­signs. Yet in our small ex-coal min­ing town, his shadow still looms as large as the mas­sive ochre coloured bluff that pro­tects the beach from the nor’easter. And for that, I’m eter­nally grate­ful.

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