Recreating surf history
By ED SOUTHORN
ANOTHER summer, another thousand or more kids and adults riding surfboards on the Tweed Coast.
Very few of them know that a genuine link with what is probably the very first "real" surfboard made in Australia lives at Cabarita.
Joe Larkin, 73, one of Australia's pioneer surfboard makers, yest-erday recalled riding Hawaiian Duke Kahanamoku's famous sugar pine solid timber board at Freshwater Beach in Sydney.
This was the board, hand-carved by surfing's first global ambassador Duke, which introduced surfing to Australians in the summer of 1914/15.
It is now displayed at the Freshwater Surf Life Saving Club, believed to be insured for at least $1 million.
Mr Larkin's father, Joe Senior, met Duke at the Boomerang holiday camp near Manly in 1914.
Young Joe got his first surfboard, a solid timber board a bit like Duke's, when he was nine, in 1942.
Over the next few years, he often took Duke's old board out for a surf. Duke had left it behind.
In those days, the Duke board was a prized possession but not so highly valued.
It was so heavy, Joe used a small cart to lug it down to the shore.
But it was too weighty for him, and without a fin to provide stability, he struggled to control it.
"Yes, I rode Duke's original board, or tried to, but I really had no luck with it," Mr Larkin said.
When Duke returned to Australia in 1956, aged 65, with a team of American surf lifesavers, he showed local surfers that he had lost none of his phenomenal wave riding ability.
"Duke took his old board out at Freshwater in '56 and rode it like he was a teenager," Mr Larkin said.
"I couldn't believe it."
Mr Larkin, a carpenter, had been making hollow boards before Greg Noll and Tommy Zahn from the American surf lifesaving team demonstrated the latest manoeuvrable malibu balsa wood boards.
Balsa was unavailable for making surfboards in Australia until the end of the 1950s.
So Mr Larkin adapted his hollow board designs from the mali-bus, creating the unique "Okanohue" hollow board.
Okanohues flourished for only a couple of years, before the arrival of balsa arrival in Australia made them obsolete.
Mr Larkin moved to Kirra in the 1960s and made boards through the balsa and polystyrene eras, influencing many legendary surfers.
He then moved to the Tweed Coast and managed a caravan park.
In recent years he has resumed making his hand-crafted Okano-hues ? light wooden frames covered in plywood ? for collectors around the world.