We receive all kinds of random requests in the Tracks office – ‘Can you dig up a shot of my uncle that ran in the September 1976 issue?’ ‘I’ve got a stack of old Tracks mags. What are they worth?’ ‘I have photos of my four-year-old riding his first wave. Surely he deserves the next cover of the magazine?’

Just after Christmas I received an email from a gentleman from the south coast of NSW who suggested he had a classic Michael Peterson board, which he wanted to sell. His claims were well supported by photographs and a story that had a ring of authenticity to it.

The MP board that was recently put up for sale.

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“I'm a surfer from way back & in 81/82 had a Photographic business in Moruya on the South Coast of NSW. At that time Tommy & Michael Peterson were down at Pambula surfing & Michael was shaping boards for Wintersun.

Michael had been surfing this board for some time & Tommy was heading back to Queensland. Michael wanted to shape something new so asked Tommy to take this board with him & sell it on the way back up the Coast.

Tommy, with a mutual friend stopped in at my shop & I ended up buying the board. That was 36 years ago.

The Surfboard is a 6'3" single fin flyer swallowtail, one of the first I believe. It's 21 1/2" wide, well surfed with a few dings & still in good condition with Michael's signature on the stringer.”  

After expressing his desire to sell the board, the owner asked if Tracks could act as a kind of sales representative and advertise its availability.

Seems authentic, but no doubt the well-informed collectors know what to look for.

I suggested that we weren’t really set up for that kind of transaction, but pointed him in the direction of the website, www.boardcollector.com, which is run by Damion Fuller. 

The owner of the MP board followed up with Damion, who was happy to post the board in the buy and sell section of his site. boardcollectorbuyandsell.blogspot.com.au

A couple of weeks later I ran into Damion, who explained the MP board had triggered a bidding war amongst collectors, who were offering figures in excess of $5000 for the piece of MP fiberglass history.

Although the interest in retro craft has been well-documented for a number of years this brief episode made it apparent just how active the market is for vintage surfboards. How many people still have treasures hiding in the back shed? How many don’t even know the value of what they own?

While it’s easy to get consumed by the mercantile aspects of the vintage boards – building the ultimate collection or cashing in on that board you learnt on – there is another dimension to the scene. Surfboards will always be a fantastic catalyst for conversation and interaction. Like archeological artefacts they contain stories, which are intensely personal for the rider, while also providing a broader insight into the evolution of surfing culture. 

Websites like boardcollectors.com and Vintage Surfboard Collector Club on Facebook have arguably helped create a sub-community within surfing where people can discuss their craft and the multiple meanings behind them. It’s not all utopian fondling of rails and bathing in the irradescent glow of colourful sprays. Discussions are known to get a little heated about the relative merits or value of a particular board, but perhaps active debate is the sign of a healthy subculture.

In recent years Damion Fuller has taken the retro-culture beyond the anonymity of the net and hosted a number of swap meets in Australia. The meets are an opportunity for board lovers to showcase their favourite crafts, talk with other board enthusiasts and strengthen their sense of belonging to a vibrant surf culture. The meets at Avalon and Bondi featured live board appraisals and talks by shapers and experts on particular aspects of surfboard design, along with films and suitably themed market stalls.  These were festivals with the surfboard as their central theme. Similar events are hosted overseas, like the Vinatge Board Collectors Club annual meet in California. Last year’s meet at Doheny beach in California celebrated 25years of the club. A facebook post from their site pretty much sums up the vibe. “You know the drill... HUNDREDS of bitchen boards strewn about the grass and surf legends abound.”

A rack full of history at the Bondi Swap meet.

Along with waves, surfboards (old and new) remain an ongoing source of intrigue and wonder for anyone with a deep connection to surfing. While the buying and selling of craft will always be at the core of the surf economy, before you let go of that next board perhaps it's worth taking a moment to consider the lines it's taken and the stories it could tell.