Review: 'Yesterday Is Gone' and 'Should've Been Here Yesterday'
The Sunshine Coast is often considered the poorer cousin of the Gold Coast. Lacking a Burleigh, Kirra, South Straddy, or D-Bah. Without the calvacade of world champs, the surf industry warehouses and showrooms, it seems to languish in the background, especially through what can be heartbreaking flat-spells during winter and spring.
What it lacks in sheer starpower, however, it makes up for with rich grassroots history and a large chunk of that history has been captured and put down in a series of books by Kristen Jones and Scott Hoffman. This history is ostensibly about the North Shore Boardriders club during the 70's and 80's but it stands in as a fair proxy for the surf culture of the time on the Sunshine Coast.
As a preface to the review it seems worth wondering why surf history has been so hot over the last decade. Walk in the front door of the only bookstore in Lennox and an entire shelf of surf books are for sale, most of them dealing with aspects of surf history. There are multiple books on Australian surf history with almost every well-known surf writer having a crack at it, including Phil Jarratt and Tim Baker, plus the big dogs of the shortboard revolution era like Nat Young and Bob McTavish. Regional titles have focussed on Cactus and Byron Bay. Now we have an effort even more narrowly focussed: a single club on the Sunny Coast.
Why this remarkable focus and outpouring of creative energies? This vibe in the air? This urge to look back?
Nostalgia is not specific to surfing. Our take on this fundamentally human condition though is more poignant and more pertinent. The Sunshine Coast has changed irrevocably, particularly through the period documented in the North Shore histories. Things change, obviously. Cultures, periods, epochs, nation states, ecosystems, are gestated, come into being, rise, decay, and fall. My theory is the current fascination with surf history in Australia, at least, marks the passing of an era, probably the high point and portends a certain sense of decay. At least a perception of it, if not an objective reality.
I don't mean to sound morbid, because these North Shore History books are far from it, even if the titles - Volume 1 is 'Should've Been Here Yesterday' and Volume 2 is 'Yesterday Is Gone' - seem to back up my thesis.
Volume 1, which is 100 pages and focuses on the '69-'79 decade, runs through the formation of the club as the brainchild of mostly Redcliffe surfers who would travel to the Sunshine Coast for surf. Pivotal amongst these crew were the Cowley Brothers who ran a surf shop at Redcliffe and ferried surfers to the North Coast as well as providing employment and mentorship.
Volume 1 runs through the history of the Sunny Coast as a series of small villages, its transformation from a fishing and rural region to holiday spot for Brisbane families, becoming a huge tent city over the summer holidays. Accomodation and service industries followed.
Surf was there from day one, and while it doesn't quite get its due the Sunny Coast was vital in transforming surfboard design from logs to shortboards. Hayden Surfboards, McTavish, and Greenough all played their part on the Sunshine Coast.
The first volume runs through the years scrapbook style, offering up a compendium of club champions, local legends, and various machinations behind the State and Australian Titles. At a certain point in time a PhD student in Queensland surfing history will find this treasure trove of information invaluable. As will family, friends, and anyone who had contact with the event of the day.
I was more interested in tales and clippings of cyclones and floods which are documented towards the end of the book. With hindcasting we can now see there is some objective merit in a 'good old days' mentality relating to the mid-70's. It was a period of increased cyclonic activity and a triple dip La Nina, which would have benefited the Sunshine Coast. It may even offer a geographic/meteorological explanation for the explosion of Queensland surfing talent as compared to, say, Victoria during the same period.
The undoubted highlight of this volume is an essay by club stalwart and underground legend Jody Perry titled a 'Retrospective for the New Bloods'. Perry details the end of what he terms an age of innocence via the march of progress and commercial forces and makes a heartfelt plea that some of the “enchantment” which he ascribes as the essence and foundation of surfing can be picked up and carried forwards by the “new bloods” of the club.
Volume 2, which is 108 pages, shifts gears on every level into the fluoro-saturated 80's decade. A recent article in The Surfers Journal about Surfing World magazine contained a claim by SW principal Hugh McLeod that “surfers thought they were king shit at the time” and “if you were a champion surfer you were top of the tree. They were like gods”.
There was an optimism, an energy and a vibe, particularly around pro surfing in Australia which was particularly heightened on the Sunshine Coast.
You could make an argument that pro surfing reached it's zenith in the 80's and that it's never been as big since. The early Stubbies were huge mainstream events, MR had his four world titles followed by Tommy Carroll. The Prime Minister of the day, Bob Hawke showed up on the beach at Bondi to shake Tommy's hand after a win at a comp. Blue sky thinking was everywhere.
On the Sunny Coast the surf shops and manufacturers were the nuclei around which the talented surfers orbited. Competition was fierce, in the water and for talent. Boardriders clubs wanted a slice of the sponsorship pie, and got it. North Shore inked a deal with Hitachi. Money was flowing liberally into the sport. Women were getting involved and being encouraged by the club to compete. In that sense it was ahead of the culture.
But not too much. An unreconstructed son of a trawler skipper, Gary 'Kong' Elkerton, carried Sunshine Coast dreams onto the pro tour. The wildness, the channel bottoms, the excess of enthusiasms both in the water and during the partying. It's all here in Volume 2.
As a Bribie kid it was an intimidating and intoxicating air to breathe when we were dropped off at the beach for a day of surfing. Different times. Kids like us would be let loose for the day, with no parental supervision, at the mercy of these local gods who ruled the waves sometimes with more than skill. Scoffing hot chips and ogling the racks of new boards in the surf shops was a fantastic thrill. It's a blast to see these surf shops: Headlands, Inside edge, Plantation, Sunshine Surf Centre get their due here.
I'm invested in this history. As time went on these gods became pals. The second volume is full of familiar faces and names, such as Brett Jewry, Matt 'Dibbles' Dobell, Suzie Falls, Steve Borg and many others. I saw the partying, and the consequence of the partying. The cocaine, and later ecstacy, waves which went through the coast. It was all great fun, until it wasn't.
This is barely mentioned here, and that's fair enough. The book is created as part of a grant from the Sunshine Coast Council. Darker elements of the history of North Shore Boardriders are not part of the brief for councils who want to celebrate the achievements of their clubs.
In the end, these regional-scale history books will likely be curios with limited appeal, save for the people of the community of that time and the diaspora.
It's a service though, for those who have lived through the rapid pace of development on the Sunshine Coast. A balm against what Alvin Toffler termed future shock - where the pace of change essentially erases history, makes people feel like strangers in their own towns. Indigenous people no doubt felt the same way as their communities and culture were erased, although the magnitude of that change was far greater and more destructive.
With the age of innocence now long gone, the best of the future will involve an inter-penetration of history with the present. In his aforementioned essay, Jody Perry calls it an “amalgamation of the passage of time and the passage of progress”. Rescuing what is of value and making sure it continues into the future.
There's good reason to be optimistic about this prospect when books like this are being lovingly compiled and published.
// STEVE SHEARER