In the rafters of a Carmel office are six examples of what Chris Kneisley calls “living art” — vintage surfboards that represent the bygone days of California’s surfing culture.
A collection of a dozen vintage surfboards from the 1950s and ’60s has been put up for sale by a private owner in Carmel at a price of $75,500 for the whole package. All are in pristine condition.
For an aficionado of surfing nostalgia like Kneisley, each board has a story that should only be told with a measure of reverence.
“It’s exciting for me just to talk about these boards,” said Kneisley, acting as agent for the man who is selling the collection, William Karges of William Karges Fine Art. “I grew up surfing at Malibu in the 1970s and ’80s, so most of the people associated with these boards were before my time. The switch from long boards (like those in the collection) to short boards started to happen at around 1968, and suddenly the sport became very different. By the time I started surfing, people already were looking at anybody riding a long board as some kind of dinosaur. Long board surfers really were throwbacks by then.”
They were throwbacks to a time when there was plenty of room on the waves for surfing pioneers such as Miki Dora, Greg Noll, Midget Farrelly, Rick Stoner, David Nu’uhiwa and others who became such cult heroes in the surfing community that their names became marketing tools for board designers and manufacturers.
Maybe the most collectible of Karges’ long boards is a Ferrari red, 9-foot-5-inch nose-rider called “Da Cat,” designed by Noll for Dora in 1966.
“Miki Dora, from Malibu, was one of the most charismatic and enigmatic surfers ever,” Kneisley said. “He was mercurial and unreliable, to say the least, and he had a style of surfing that people tried to emulate. He had this very graceful way of moving through a crowd on a wave like a cat, which is why Greg Noll called this model ‘Da Cat.'”
Noll was nicknamed “The Bull” because of a wide surfing stance that served him well on the tallest swells, like those in Hawaii at Waimea Bay and Makaha.
“Noll became one of the largest surfboard manufacturers in California,” Kneisley said. “A board similar to the one in our collection recently sold at a Hawaiian auction for $12,000, but this one is quite a bit more rare, because it’s red and because it’s in perfect condition.”
Long board surfers walked their boards and rode the nose, a ballet-like style that started to change with a wave of surfing-based popular culture in the late 1960s, Kneisley said.
Teenagers fell in love with the music of the Beach Boys, Jan & Dean and The Ventures — a revolution that inspired Hollywood to create “Gidget,” beach movies with Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello, and the surf documentary “Endless Summer.”
“When the Beach Boys and the ‘Gidget’ movies hit, the crowds at the beaches and on the waves started to increase exponentially,” Kneisley said.
The fiberglass and foam technology developed for World War II aircraft was adapted to surfing to create lighter, stronger boards, making relics out of the balsawood boards of earlier days.
Then, in 1968 and ’69, Australians like Midget Farrelly came to compete in the U.S. Championships, giving Americans their first up-front look at a new style of board riding.
“These guys from California who were doing a particular style of board walking and nose riding just stared slack-jawed at the Australians, who were doing figure 8s and going straight up the wave before they turned,” Kneisley said. “Suddenly, the ballet style of surfing more or less got left behind in favor of the more-acrobatic style the Australians were doing.”
Surfboards got shorter and shorter to accommodate the new techniques and, before long, the long boards were gone.
But decades later, their popularity is on the rise again.
“As a lot of us got older, we started re-appreciating the beauty of walking a surfboard, nose riding, stepping back — a ballet, more than the gymnastics of today,” Kneisley said. “These boards are touchstones of a time that was very different, but if you go to Malibu now, you’ll see long boards again — and people doing some amazing things on them.”
Many of the boards owned by Karges were collected by Monterey’s Pete Noble, a well-known high school football coach and longtime soul surfer. Noble put them on display in On The Beach Surf Shack on Cannery Row, where they were spotted by Karges, a former Newport Beach wave rider from the late ’50s and early ’60s.
Karges has owned the collection for several years, but has decided to sell them mostly because of storage issues, Kneisley said.
Dennis Taylor can be reached at 646-4344 or [email protected].
Twelve vintage surfboards in pristine condition are being sold as a collection for an asking price of $75,500. (Call Chris Kneisley at 625-4226 with inquiries.) Among the boards:
· “The Master,” a Cardiff surfboard made by Hansen
· A 1965 Harbour 9-foot-5-inch long board with a fixed fin, never used
· A 1968 Holmsey “Sidewinder” with four flared stringers separated by super-white foam and surrounded by yellow resin tint. Includes Wonderbolt fin
· “Da Cat,” a 9-foot-5-inch Miki Dora-model long board created by Greg Noll, bright red with glassed-on fin
· A rare Gordon & Smith Midget Farrelly stringerless long board designed by the 1964 world champion at the peak of the long board era
· 1967 Bing David Nu’uhiwa lightweight model, 9 feet, 8 inches. Bright-green tint bottom, bright-white logos. Original matching yellow fin has a small hole near the back for an early leash
· An 11-foot 1954 Hobie balsa board, which came from the original owner and has been authenticated by the U.S. Vintage Surfboard Auction
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