Interview: Owen Ravenscroft and The 45 Year Reincarnation of a Barry Bennett “Pig”
Big Sky Wire
By Michele Lockwood
A lot of people bag social media but being an ex-pat with bad communication skills and lots of friends and family all over the world I must say I am a proponent. Only recently this fact has once again been reconfirmed when I was electronically reunited with my very first Australian friend, Owen Ravenscroft. O, as he is affectionately called, and his lovely family, housed me and a travelling companion for weeks while we got a grip on Australian life in and around the peninsula of the Northern Beaches of Sydney. I dare to mention he knew neither of us prior to arriving at his doorstep all those years ago.
We recently (don’t gag) “friended” each other and that is when I got to witness O’s journey of restoring an old balsa board from its last job as a tool rack to its original pristine watertight condition. The story of this Barry Bennett is a sweet tale of a family’s life told through the migration of an old pig.
"The story starts back in 1968. I’d been surfing by then and got my first board in 1967 which was a ‘Dale’ vee bottom which was the board of the time, ‘Plastic Machine’ era. And as any 11 year old who starts surfing, it takes over your life and that is all you really want to know about. Anyway, we had relatives who lived in the country, some cousins and an aunt and uncle who we used to go out to their place in Gunnedah. And each Christmas they’d rent a place at Whale Beach for their summer vacation. We went round to their holiday house at Whale Beach that particular year, 1968, and as I was talking to my uncle I remember looking at this old balsa board up against the side of this house. The board at the time was probably 10 years old already; timber was dead, long dead. And as far as we were concerned it was only good for bonfires. And it was pretty beaten up and from memory I think it cost them $15, which I thought was a rip-off. New boards back then were probably around $89. I was looking at this old balsa log and tried picking it up and it was heavy as hell and they wanted it for their son to ride who was the same age as me, it was just junk.
But I do remember checking out the old decal on the board. It was an old dome topped, geometric shaped, yellow and black, Barry Bennett Surfboards, Harbord… And I don’t know why but ever since I started surfing I’ve always been interested in surfboards but I had a particular fascination with decals and sticker and their artwork. While other surfers at school were drawing waves and surf scenes, I was copying decals that I liked. And I had this memory of this Barry Bennett decal in my head it was one I hadn’t seen before. And I had that in the memory bank. And that was that and never thought of that old balsa again.
So last year we took a drive out to Gunnedah to see the extended family and we had a couple of days out there and one day I was walking past the big old machinery shed and I could see this board up on the wall of the shed and it was what they call a ’shadow board’; where you hang tools. And the first thing that caught my eye was, “Gee, what a beautiful plan shape.” And I went to have a closer look and I realized I was looking at the board back to front. I could see where the fin had been and I thought- this is an old pig with all of the area in the back.
Where they had put the tools, the fibreglass had been stripped back and it had been painted and I looked at the rear of the deck and even though the sticker would have been destroyed and removed when they took that glass off the deck there was still the outline of where the sticker was and I thought, 'Oh, wow this is that old Barry Bennett that they had at Whale beach 45 years ago!'
I went back into the house and said to the aunt and uncle, 'What are you going to that board you’ve got all the tools hanging on?' I knew they were going to try to eventually sell their place, considering their age. And they said they were just going to drop it in the tip. And I said don’t throw it out, depending on what condition it’s in, I’d like to check it out and it’d be a shame to destroy it if it can be salvaged. And it’s probably worth some money and that piqued their interest. And so I got a call from them a couple of months later saying, 'If you want that surf board you better come and get it because we’ve got the place on the market.'
So I went and grabbed it, took all the tools off and pulled all the nails out and brought the board home; not really realising what condition the board was going to be in. Most restored balsa boards you see these days have pretty severe water damage. And as I peeled all the delaminated glass off I realised the condition of the balsa was really good. And I carefully got all the glass off and sanded all the white paint off the deck where they painted it and filled all the nail holes with some putty and all of sudden I had a really nice, relatively clean balsa blank. I thought all the kids around here would like to take it to the timber yard and have it spilt into about eight Alaias.
I thought, 'What am I going to do with this?' And after doing some research on the internet to see who would be the best person to restore this, I had one of those light bulb moments and thought of this guy Sean Wilde who lives just around the corner, his factory is at Mona Vale. So I went down and saw Sean who is a low-key but very nice guy. He is a very good craftsman, shaping, glassing. He is under-appreciated and therefore an under-utilised shaper, his shaping theories and ideas and his practicalities are very interesting but Australia being what it is, as you know, there aren’t enough people around to appreciate what some people do.
I knew he would be sympathetic to the cause and his place at Mona Vale is the ultimate man-shed. When you make surfboards Michele, as you well know, you’re working with toxic chemicals, possibly carcinogenic, and what we end up building is something environmentally unfriendly; but still, there is no bigger charge than going into a surfboard factory. It is so foreign to the spirit of surfing what’s going on in there; if you don’t get a charge walking in there, you are not a surfer! Sean’s got a great set-up down there, there is a whole room set up in the front of his factory with banks of amps and guitars and drums. It gave me a great excuse to go down and hang out down there.
Sean was great to work with; he helped with the concern of getting a replica decal made, got in touch with Bennett’s and then the guy who we got to do the decal got the go-ahead from Bennett to remake it. It was a guy from a place called, ‘Surfdecals’. We found the old decal on the internet from an old board and he was able to use that.
After glassing the board we were talking about a fin. I knew they weren’t D fins on these boards, because this board was from anytime between say ‘56-‘58 and D-fins were a Malibu fin, a bit later on. I had a particular half-oval shape in my mind of how some of the fins were. I remember them coming to a point on the end and the reason why I remember that was because these boards were called “Pigs” and the fins were called a “Pig’s Ear”.
Sean got on the internet and was searching fin shapes and was able to pinpoint a shape and so he laid up a panel and cut it out and that is what we came up with. I am not sure if that fin 100% authentic but I reckon it is pretty close. I didn’t go to Bennett’s factory because laziness might have come into the equation (laughs).
We finished the board and it came out pretty good. It still had some gnarly bits in it that looked like it had been lived in but I was pretty pleased with how it came out. Then the question was, they want to sell this thing but as I understand, the vintage surfboard market at the moment, isn’t as buoyant as it could be. I sent my aunt and uncle and my cousin who the board was really for, some photos and they loved it so much they wanted to keep it. So that is a nice end to the story.
Will it be ridden? Well, the perfect end to the story would be if someone did take it for a surf. And the board is still here in my garage and if you were still down in Sydney and wanted to take it for a surf, I wouldn’t tell anyone because you would look really good riding this surfboard. I might just take it out for a little paddle, it is such a nice flat day today, it might jus be the day to do it."
Big Sky is the property on which Andrew Kidman and Michele Lockwood live with their two children in Northern New South Wales. Once a week they speak to writers, photographers, surfers, artists and musicians for Coastalwatch's Big Sky Wire. To follow Andrew Kidman's film celebrating 40 years of Morning of The Earth, head to the Spirit of Akasha blog and to check out Michele Lockwood's blog click through here.
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