Why would you collect a board that is an exact replica of a thousand boards and very similar to a million others?

A retro board lovers fantasy on grass. Pic: Kirk Owers

hirty years from now it’s doubtful that people will be going to garage sales or swap meets to hunt down the surfboards shaped in 2010. For one thing most of them will be snapped and refusing to decompose in a landfill somewhere. More significantly, why would you collect a board that is an exact replica of a thousand boards and very similar to a million others?

On the other hand, collectable surfboards from the 60s and 70s will continue to rise in both sentimental and monetary value as the years slip away. So what is a collectable board? And why do people pay decent money for a surfboard they have no intention of riding? Tracks spoke to Pacific Palms surfer Gav Scott who has “around 70” retro surfboards in his possession. Scott’s biggest treasures include a couple of break through boards from the shortboard revolution and a special interest in sleek Hawaiian guns from the 1970s.

What’s the attraction for you personally?

As a builder I appreciate the craftsmanship in a hand-shaped board. In that era it was all handshapes and one off pieces. And someone had to put their heart and soul into creating it, which makes it an art form. That doesn’t happen much these days. Most stuff comes off the computer. Which is not a bad thing but I think its lost that soul element that used to be there. And I think predominantly that’s what the appeal is for a lot of collectors.

The history and the stories behind the boards would be a big part of it too, right?

Yeah, for sure. I’m interested in how boards have changed over the years and how we’ve ended where we are today.  These are boards from that pioneering  era. Guys that were out there surfing places that were never ever surfed before and doing stuff that was fundamental to the development of surfboards. McTavish is one of the classics.  That era, around the late 60 and early 70s – the transitional era – forged the whole existence of surfboards we ride today. I’ve got a couple of boards from that time that are in a lot of ways really unique. They represent a change of guard.

And the Hawaiian boards?

I have a real thing for boards from Hawaii from the 70s.  As much as I appreciate the skill involved in making short boards there’s something especially skilful in making a gun that works. I really love guns, to me they’re really beautiful. The peak of the surfing scale.

Has the market for retro boards peaked?

It peaked a couple of years back. But that was related to the fact that there were people with a lot more to spend than they have at the moment. The baby boomers were coming into an era where they had money, they were close to retirement, they were reliving the past much in the same way that hot rods and motor bikes and all the other things from their youth that they related to became popular again.

Can you make money out of buying and selling retro boards?

I don’t think you can make much money out of it. It’s more of a hobby for me. Occasionally I’ll pick up a board that I’ll be able to make a couple of 100 bucks on. But that’s rare. I like cleaning them up. I like making them in better condition than I get them. That’s because I’m a builder I guess. I just enjoy the process. There are people who buy and sell boards and who make the effort to travel around to find boards. But generally the boards that make money ... you have to spend big money to make big money. You’ve just got to be lucky to find the right board at the right time and find the right person who wants to spend the money.

What’s the best place to pick up a good retro board?

Garage sales are gold. But you’ve got to spend the time. And that’s why I don’t think its profitable – if you actually look at how much time is involved running around everywhere looking for boards... You’d never consider that time well spent. They are not as commonly found these days. People are on to it more and everyone thinks their old board is worth a million.  There are a few that are generally rare and collectable. But they are usually snapped up by the baby boomers with the big bucks to spend.

Is E-bay useful for this kind of market?

If you’re buying stuff sight unseen be aware of the fact that boards can get pretty damaged and photos don’t always show the extend of the damage. It’s pretty easy to pick something up on E-bay that’s a hunk of rubbish but looks pretty good in the photos.

What’s the most you’ve ever heard of a board going for?

In the states at the big auctions they have boards going for ten of thousands. I think there’s one that’s been sold for nearly 40K. I’m pretty sure it was either a Tom Blake wooden board or a Pat Curren balsa gun. They were made by craftsmen who didn’t make high volume, they were made out of wood and by guys that aren’t making them any more. And both of those guys have a personal history too: they were both pioneering big wave surfers and watermen. They were at the peak of surfing in their era.

Do people try and pass off fakes?

Not that I’m aware of. It’s interesting that in the states they’re big on restoring boards by noted shapers. And a lot of the times they haven’t got the original logos or they’ve added logos to them. Even though they may be representative of what was there at the time... It’s a hard line to define what’s worth restoring. If it was an extremely significant board – keeping it and restoring it might be valid. But you wonder: is it really the same board? It loses its integrity to a degree.

Do you ride them or do they just sit in the shed?

Some of them are great to ride. The board that started my interest in collecting was an MR twinny and it went unreal. I like to ride all kinds of boards now but some are just to hold on to.

Last photo: Nose to nose with Gerry Lopez original. Pic: Kirk Owers