Farrelly Surfboards - Designed and Shaped by Midget Farrelly

Farrelly Surfboards - shaped by Midget Farrelly

1962 Makaha International Mens Championship     Photo: Ron ChurchMidget built his first surfboard at age 14 in 1958. The board was a balsa pig, made from a Roger Keiren kit which included glued, square planks of balsa, 10 oz cloth, boat resin and wood fin blank.

Midget’s second board was a 1959 EPS/Epoxy made from a Greg McDonagh kit. The nightmares of EPS/Epoxy were learnt at a very young age.

By 1960 Midget had shaped his first polyurethane board. Urethane liberated and accelerated the Australian surfboard industry into full time being, centered in Brookvale, NSW, Australia.

At age 17 Midget was working alongside Joe Larkin (see page bottom), Bob Pike and Barry Bennett. By age 18 Dave Jackman , Mickey Mc Mahon, Denny Keough and Gordon Woods were all people who figured in Midget’s industry education. Amongst these people were talented shapers, glassers, sanders,  finishers and good businessman. Amongst them Dave Jackman and Bob Pike were great athletes who helped kick off the sport in Australia. Bob won an International Championship in Peru, partly run in big waves.

Midget Balsa - Makaha shore break, 1962 - Photo: Bud Browne


The 1962 balsa board shown in these two Makaha photos (above) was 9' long and very straight, as were most boards of the time. This board would have been one of the last balsas shaped by Midget in the Keyo factory. The board won the 1962 Makaha International Men's Championships.

Multi Stringer D Fins

Early 1964 Midget shaped a 10' squaretail with four stringers at Gordon Woods' factory. The board won the 1964 World Contest at Manly.

Palm Beach 1964

John Witzig's beautifully shot Palmy pavillion wave 1964

1964 was all about urethane with lots of cedar stringers, doubles, triples and quads. Stiff boards with heavy 10 oz glass jobs. Wooden nose and tail blocks were popular. It was the D fin period.

Mid 1964, at age 19 Midget was making boards (start to finish) in a small factory on the bay side of the Palm Beach peninsular, NSW.


Palm Beach Stringerless - Newcastle Beach 1966/67 - Image?

1965 Midget took all the wood out of his boards, relying more on the glass job (still 10 oz) to hold rocker and strength. This 'stringerless' period ran from 1965 to 1967.

The first 'stringerless' prototype was successful in winning the 1965 Australian Championships at Manly. Place getters were riding stringered, heavy, straight boards that tracked straight lines while Midget's very light board pulled tight turns packing more performance into the small waves. Local manufacturers picked up on the concept immediately. Bob McTavish re named the 'stringerless' as 'Plastic Machine', a name that is still associated with the boards that followed Midget's first.

Most 'Plastic Machines' made after May 1965 featured flat to rolled bottoms and were around nine feet long. 'Plastic Machine' has nothing to do with the 1967 Australian Vee Bottom, though it was used to plagiarise the Vee Bottom concept and then used as a surf movie title.

The 'stringerless' in the above image evolved from an old, hipped shape that was streamlined for performence. The nose is narrower than usual and the board has a finer appearence than the early stringerless which were quite tubby. The main reason for dropping the stringer was that the rocker could be adjusted while the shape was being glassed. This proved to be a great advantage.

Today EPS and urethane shapes use the 'stringeless' concept, rockered on jigs and then glassed to hold that rocker. The rocker flow is enhanced by the absence of the stringer, as it was in 1965.

1965 through to 1970 saw rapid design evolution transform the longer ‘malibu’ shapes through short, vee bottoms, to pintails, to twin fins, to ‘side slippers’ and then ‘down railers’.

The Australian Vee Bottom

The first 8' vee at Palm Beach, 1967.  Photo: Dick Graham

The 1967 photo (right) by Dick Graham had great significance. Dick took the shot at the Palm Beach, Windansea vs Australia contest in November 1967. When Dick shot this image there was not another board even slightly similar to it, in Australia or any other country.

By comparison surfers like Nat and McTavish were still riding 9 foot plus. Nat was still riding 'Sam', his long round bottom Woods board (see below). McTavish had never seen a vee bottom until November 1967. The board McTavish saw in November 1967 was made in July 1967 at Palm Beach, NSW.

The board is in the Dick Graham photo to the right and on the cover of Dick's mag Surfing International below.

Midget's board was only 8 feet long by approx 22 inches wide. The bottom was heavily veed through the tail half, the nose was concaved and the fin was deeply cut away to allow tail drift. The board was specifically designed to ride waves less than head high.

The California media of the day tried to suppress news of this design as local advertizers had thousands of very long boards in stock ready for the northern summer. Dick published an extensive story on the vee bottom in April 1968 and the effect was amazing.

Gordon and Smith in San Diego made thousands of Midget's vee botoms. They were very well received on the east coast USA where wave height on average is below head high.

Surfing International April 1968

Dick Graham was in Australia for approx one month beginning Nov 1967 so he had a chance to see the vee bottom explosion. Midget's one off vee may have been the only vee at the time of the Windansea vs Australia contest, however two weeks after that event just about every competitive Aussie had a vee in some form or another.

This suited Eric Blum and his Hollywood camera crew and so the Fantastic Plastic Machine storyline fell into place and at last he had a script. Basically Nat and McTavish dictated it for him. Petey Johnston (California) and Midget were sitting together one day listening to Nat and Bob sound off when Petey turned to Midget and said "think I'm gonna be sick I gotta get out of here".

As good as the vee bottom design was in small waves it was a disaster in overhead waves. The tail was meant to facillitate slide, which was great fun in small waves, but a nightmare in large waves. View any footage of the design (copies) being used in Hawaii and you will see the riders losing control as they attempt the turn. The design had a fairly short life as longer, streamlined shapes (Dick Brewer)  proved more versatile in all waves. Midget only made one of these vees! He rode it for five months or so before moving on to pintails.

Whilst Midget may lay claim to an original, the 1967 vee bottom, a shorter board in a time of longboards, he denies any connection to the achievements of those who created the shortboard revolution of the 1980's. Time had yet to roll through all the outline, rocker and fin developments that led to where the multi finned boards emerged.

Midget's vee bottom design had nothing to do with the 'shortboard' or 'vertical' revolution. Simon's 1980's 'thruster' and Col Smith's vertical North Narrabeen surfing are what opened that door. The day that Simon won the Surfabout at North Narrabeen on his new thruster was the day the wheel really turned. Mark Richard's twin fin did not have the drive to take him up the face into the top of the wave for the re entry, cut back, as did Simon's 'thruster'.

Back foot surfing gets more vertical.

Col Smith - North Narrabeen, 1970's   Photo: ?

Col Smith's 1970's back foot surfing was unique for the times. Col had an ability to get right back on his board and swing while standing more sideways. This leverage had a great effect on direction change and vertical climb.

The high point of Col's surfing was during the double ender period. His boards were different in that they had more tail area to support the back foot, not unlike Simon's thruster tails.

Col was considered a freakish hit and miss surfer who, when he got it right was in a world of his own. Keep in mind that a typical shape of the time was short with a single fin that kept the rider over the front foot, and offered little scope for skating plane.

Had Col had three fins under that backfoot imagine where he would have gone on a wave! 

Surfers today are able to get the rail to rail transition with what almost seems like acceleration (in the turn) to allow them to exit the wave (near vertically) perform their arial, then drop back into the wave. The combination of Simon's 1980's three fins and the 2000's concaved bottoms has allowed this to happen. 

Midget has a particular interest in Simon's design concept breakthrough. Simon's factory was around the corner from the Surfblanks factory. Greg Gillespie made the first set of thruster fins for Simon in the Surfblanks factory and the blank for the same board came from the Surfblanks factory.

Labouring this a little further, Simon's breakthrough parallels with what Ben Lexcen did with the winged keel in Australia's first securing of the America's Cup.

Ironically Ben (in his quiet period prior to the wing keel) bought bits and pieces for surf skis he was manufacturing from the same Surfblanks factory. It would be interesting to see where this down time design went?

How did this nonsense happen?

The past and current (2010) shameless hijacking of history has prompted the above. As surfers age and the real facts slide into the foggy past it is easy for the snake oil salesmen to hoodwink the public at large with books, dvds, mag articals and 'pop out' festivals. Those, with little or no talent are able to capitalize on designs created by others, present themselves as gurus, then lend their names to mass produced 'poop outs'. 

Worse still, Australian schools and museums are treating the hijacking as fact. Australians and then those who follow (around the world) are parrotting a nonsense as reality, on websites that espouse surfing history.

Mainstream print media play up this nonsense and align it (authoritatively????) to a small group who manipulated the sport in the mid to late 1960's. Below is a classic example of pure bullshit! Hard to believe this made it into Surfers Journal. Even harder to believe that Tim Baker promotes the below in his 2013 Century Of Surf!

"Truth should never get in the way of a good story"? Better still.... "People love a mischief"!


What is wrong with the image and associated caption?

Mickey Munoz who shot the image was not in Australia in mid 1967. His first trip was November 1967. Mickey came with the Windansea surf team and a Hollywood camera crew who were scriptless. Nat who had retired after his San Diego win, sniffed the Arriflex 35mm cameras from Grafton and suddenly appeared on the beach. Bob and Nat grabbed the camera crew, made their vee bottoms almost overnight, and off they went, writing the script on the run. "Yeah Bob's the designer and I'm (Nat) the test pilot" Never mind that there had been only one vee bottom in the Windansea versus Australia contest that concluded as Nat and Bob went into full song with their new untested (too) deep vees. Evidence of this lies in the 'Fantastic Plastic Machine' footage of the Palm Beach final. Ted Spencer rides an 8'6'' double ender, John Monie rides a 9' plus mal and the three Americans ride 9'6'' plus mals. Midget rides the only Vee bottom of the contest. Had there been one other Vee in the event it's rider would have made it to the final. If, as Bob claims he had been making Vees since mid 1967 every Australian in the November event would have had one. The finalists would all have been riding Vees!

The performance advantage of the Vee in small waves was just too great. The fact that Midget came second had a lot to do with the person running the event, John Witzig. John was famous for his 1966 commentary of the Australian finals at Coolangatta. So famous in fact that his brother Paul chastised him for influencing the judges in a magazine artical shortly after. it was the beginning of the rot!.

Pintail shapes - Albe Falzon images - 1968/69

At about the same time Midget was looking for ways to enhance his small wave designs, mini gun pintail shapes were surfacing in Hawaii. Dick Brewer compressed big gun shapes in 1968 to come up with what is still a reasonable base for today's big wave boards. The pintail could be configured for large and small waves just by altering widths through the mid to rear section. The pintail dominated the 1968 World Contest in Puerto Rico when overhead waves arrived for the finals. The pintail was the kiss of death for those designs that were promoted as all conquering Fantastic Plastic Machines. 


The multi coloured 8' pintail (above) feature a rounded pin. The round was intended to give area for the back foot. The 9' Ti Tree pintail above right) featured a longboard nose with a moderate pinned tail. This board won the first Bobby Brown event at Sandshoes, Cronulla and a Yallingup Invitational.

The 8'6'' pintail below (North Steyne) was designed on classic lines where the surfer stood slightly more forward. The bigger the wave, the better it went.


Rolf Aurness rode a pintail to first place in the 1970 World Championships at Bells/Johanna. The extra length (some Aussies were squatting and pumping rather inelegantly on 5'8'' and 5'10'') in Rolf's 7' pintail gave him a huge advantage, even though he surfed backside for the whole event. Rolf was able to cross flat sections and then develop down the line speed. 

Double Ender Roundtail Single Fin - Albe Falzon image 1968/69?


The double ender in the Falzon image would have been approx 7 feet. It did have a vee and a hip and was one step along the way of trying to get speed with turns. Small wave performance was acceptable but it's not hard to see the wheels would fall off in overhead surf.

The  late 1960's and early 1970’s settled into short down rail shapes with single and then twin fins. Down rails (Mike Hynson) made smaller boards more efficient, they planed sooner, had less drag and rode bigger waves. With gradual refinement down rails and tucked edges (Gordon Merchant) brought the rails of a surfboard alive.

The Side Slipper (below) - Drew Kampion image - Johanna 1970


What started out as a fun design allowing for slipping, tail sliding and flat 360's inadvertantly turned into an amazing speed and carve design. The last three feet of this board were ruler straight with a moderate vee lifting the rails. The last foot of the tail had well defined hard edges for release. The fin was tiny, maybe 6'' deep and 1'' in profile, so very little drag. Strange thing about the Slipper was its diamond (very hipped) outline and the way it pulled back in before the nose.

Looking at Drew's image there is suggestion of speed and radical direction change while the board is buried tail to nose. Normally this would cause a full stop, however the box rail, hard edged tail coupled with the straight vee and tiny fin, kept the board flowing. Fourty plus years after this moment, vision of the board being surfed in the '70 World Contest has emerged. As a designer/builder it is very pleasing to see what this board was capable of.

Board speed was so great it was possible to drive out wide onto the flats of a wave, rail turn and make it back to the pocket. This board came second at the 1970 world contest at Bells/Johanna, and first at the Gunston in Durban in 1970.

Simon's Thruster

The 1980’s were rocked by Simon Anderson’s ‘thruster’ fin set up. Suddenly back foot surfing had arrived. Some would argue that it arrived with Col Smith's 1970's vertical goofy foot attack. Back foot surfing meant that less surface area overall could be employed to make a board plane. That said, tail width area was enlarged to accommodate the back foot.  The significance of the transition from front to back foot surfing cannot be underestimated. Simon's low drag, high rotation fin set up was the key. The concept has been adopted right accross the surfboard design and size spectrum. Today sailboards and SUPS utilize Simon's concept.

The sport started to bottom out and shrink in the late 1980’s. It was perceived as a young, male, ‘surf nazi’ sport. Most boards were clear with black carbon stripes and black logos.

It was time for longboards to reappear. Though short (8 feet)  at first, they were long enough to catch waves easily, so recreational surfers could participate again.

Lengths shot up to 9 feet and more in the 1990’s. Now the wiggle, flick, bounce of shortboarding was being complimented with trim, pivot and carve.

Anything is possible.

Look in the waves of today and the variety of craft is stunning. The blinkers are off. Short, long, fish, hulls, pigs, mini Simmons, logs, eggs, finless, 3, 4 5, and 6 fins. Anything goes – anything that works - that is.

Over the decades, when not making surfboards, Midget made and flew hang gliders in the 1970’s and sailboards in the 1980’s.

Like surfboards, each of these craft required good handling qualities. Gliders needed to be controllable in rough air, sailboards needed to stay attached to the water at high speeds.

While Midget’s shapes may appear conservative, they are made to handle a variety of conditions with ease.

Exceptions are the pig and very short, fat designs that are small wave specific.

Midget loves pretty much everything that moves on waves. He keeps looking at shapes that stimulate, doesn’t matter how short or long.

Once in a lifetime.

Joe Larkin & Dave Jackman - 2004

The most influential shaper/surfer duo Australia has ever seen? Freshwater's  Joe Larkin constructed an 11' balsa gun for local boy Dave Jackman in 1960. 

Joe dressed rough Equadorian balsa logs, then glued and clamped the balsa into a blank on a rockered jig he had made. Joe then crafted the square shape into a long pintail gun. 

The goal was for Dave to ride the Queenscliff Bombora on the biggest possible day. That day came, Dave paddled out by himself  with no rescue back up and rode three waves. 

The board that Joe had designed and built performed perfectly. Dave was able to paddle into some very thick water, take the drop and make it to the channel. 

History was made (front page national newspaper). The sport and the industry knew that it was possible to ride big waves similar to those being ridden in Hawaii. 

Eighteen Australians booked sea passage to Honolulu and rode Oahu's north shore the following November. 

On a return visit one of those Australians won the Makaha International Championships. The year after that the official World Championships was created. That same event still exists to this day, running in many countries around the world. 

Joe's board making skills and Dave's guts were the sparks that ignited Australian surfing internationally. 

When the above image was shot at Manly in 2004  Joe was making beautiful 10' wooden hollow okinuis with multi laminates of cedar and ash on the rails. Dave had flown to Sydney from Auckland where he lives on the west coast beach of Murawai.

Nat Young 'Power Surfing' his 'New Era' 9 foot plus, round bottomed Gordon Woods board at Lorne Point March 1967.

Nat at Lorne - March 1967 - Photo: Barrie Sutherland Watermark Gallery

Bob McTavish (New Era Power Surfer), Bobby Brown & Robert Conneely, Bells 1967 - Photo: Barrie Sutherland Watermak Gallery

All three surfers in the above image were riding 9 foot plus longboards, wide hipped with big fins.

Australian Championships March 1967 - Bells Beach , Victoria.

Last Updated on Sunday, 29 November 2020 22:44

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