Vonu's Clubs We Love: Burleigh Boardriders

8 Aug 2019 1 Share

Paul Neilsen, dreamscape Burleigh 1970Photo from club history book ‘Long Bongs Burleigh Barrels’”

Paul Neilsen, dreamscape Burleigh 1970Photo from club history book ‘Long Bongs Burleigh Barrels’”

COASTALWATCH | VONU’S CLUBS WE LOVE

A far cry from the shed built under Mick Klein’s house

By Nick Carroll

It’s fascinating how the events of a club’s founding days seem to repeat themselves through history.

In 1965, not long after forming, Burleigh Boardriders Club put on a thing they called The Festival of Boards. It was a contest with a difference. Other clubs from the area came to surf the point, yet the real show was along the edge of the old swimming pool, where all the Burleigh crew would set up a showcase of their favourite boards for the weekend. And everyone had a great time.

Today, every January, Burleigh Boardriders Club puts on a thing they call the Single Fin Classic. It’s a contest with a difference. Other surfers come from everywhere to surf the point, yet the real show is in the park, where the Burleigh crew and others set up a showcase of their favourite old and new singlies for the weekend. And everyone has a great time.

The common thread? A certain showmanship perhaps. An instinct for a good party? “There’s always been a few entrepreneurs in the club,” laughs life member Nick Heath.

Underpinning it is a sense of belonging to a great surf spot, and to a surf community that’s made Burleigh one of Australia’s archetypal boardriding clubs.

It was a club born both in friendship and in conflict. In their fantastic 50th anniversary history, Long Bongs Burleigh Barrels, original Burleigh kids Tony Thompson and Kerry Saal recount the club’s formation: “We…just wanted to surf and have fun,” writes Tony. “And we wanted to surf together, it was just us mates.”

But it wasn’t always that easy. Burleigh’s early surfers were front and centre in the great surfer/clubbie wars of the early 1960s. Kerry remembers “getting the snot bashed out of” them by the clubbies, after their mate Warren Page was “covered in shit” and pushed down the sewer.

Right from the start, sticking up for your mates became a part of Burleigh’s surf culture.

Like the point’s sandbars, the club has had its high and low times. For a few years, between the end of the 1960s and the fantastic mid-70s Gold Coast talent surge, it just disappeared. In 1973 it was rekindled after brothers Glen and Peter Harris and fellow local Mick Dunmeade decided they’d gone on long enough without a Burleigh-based club. They talked local couple Gordon and Rena Merchant into making the club’s famed red and white boardshorts; Billabong is still a club sponsor.

Burleigh grommets in 1975, from left: Craig Walgers, Ross Phillips, Paul Depaiva, Dave McDougall, Joe Engel, Peter Lawrence, Guy Ormerod and Thornton Fallander. Photo from club history book ‘Long Bongs Burleigh Barrels’”

Burleigh grommets in 1975, from left: Craig Walgers, Ross Phillips, Paul Depaiva, Dave McDougall, Joe Engel, Peter Lawrence, Guy Ormerod and Thornton Fallander. Photo from club history book ‘Long Bongs Burleigh Barrels’”

1975 saw one of the best runs of swell in Australian east coast history. It kick started a generation of young rippers who inhabited Burleigh: Dave McDougall, Guy Ormerod, Tony Eltherington, Paul “Sylvester” de Paiva, Wayne McKewen, Joe Engel, Thornton Fallander, Craig Walgers and more. 

Not long after this, life member Nick Heath first joined. Correction: that’s when he was invited to join. He was 15. “I was a bit on the edge of all the junior talent of the time: Dave McDougall, Sylvester. These were some of the best junior surfers in Australia.”

Finally he remembers Peter Harris paddling up and saying, “You gonna join this year?”

“Back then that’s how it worked,” says Nick. It still does. New members over 18 years of age must be nominated by two standing members before they can apply to join.

For many years, the Burleigh pecking order was notoriously brutal. Nobody got away with anything; be you flailing Brisso or visiting Hawaiian pro, if you wronged one of the boys, you got the same treatment. But the club hadn’t forgotten its love of a good party. In 1979 some of the crew had the bright idea of putting on a gig in the hinterland. The idea was that everyone who showed up paid $2 for the day and bingo, fundraiser. They dubbed the gig “Farm Rage”, and it went crazy. Six thousand people turned up. Tracks magazine called it the Australian Woodstock.

Their first clubhouse was under an apartment rented by member Mick Klein up past Third Avenue. The apartment was off the ground Queensland style, with empty space underneath. The club’s many tradies got hold of cement and wood and amid a few beers, built a shack in the space. It didn’t last long because nobody got round to paying the rent.

The wild times began to shift in the 1980s when the club underwent incorporation, developing rules and a constitution. It laid a foundation for today’s successes, but wobbles still lay ahead.

One year in the early 1990s, the club tried to hold an annual general meeting. They needed 12 people to show up in order to have a quorum, but only six people showed.

“Everyone had got on with their lives, headed off, jobs and children, all that,” says Nick. “Then Mick Murphy, who’d been in the club since he was a kid, decided he wasn’t going to let it all just fizzle out.”

Nick says Mick’s theory was simple: put aside the past and look to the future. “It was: don’t worry about the old boys, they’ll come and go. We’ve gotta pay attention to the juniors, they’ll be the club of tomorrow.”

James Lewis, one of the club leaders of today on an absolute cracker, Feb 2016.Photo from club history book ‘Long Bongs Burleigh Barrels’

James Lewis, one of the club leaders of today on an absolute cracker, Feb 2016.Photo from club history book ‘Long Bongs Burleigh Barrels’

The club built on that thought, raising funds through its famed charity luncheon and through the Single Fin Classic, until they had the financial backbone to develop a serious junior program. This was just in time for a real wave of rising talent, like James “Billy” Watson, Rasta, the Thompson brothers and later Thomas Woods. Says Nick: “They were serious. They weren’t on the billy or on the piss. They could see surfing as a career choice.”

Today Burleigh Boardriders has its own clubroom at the pub across the road. With Vonu on tap and trophies adorning the walls, it’s a far cry from the shed built under Mick Klein’s house.

The investment in coaching and training has blossomed into one of Australian clubdom’s most dynamic grommet programs. Nick says the club’s entire focus has swung now on to the kids: 60 or more between 6 and 14 years of age, running around in packs on junior training days down the shorey end of the point. The club’s open men’s star Liam O’Brien is a product of the system; Liam just blew through the WSL QS ranks for a second place at the US Open of Surfing, and now has a shot at CT qualifying.

There’s also been a big increase in girls’ membership. There’s a micro-girls division, a juniors and an open, just like the boys. Open division stars include Lucy Callister and Felicity Palmateer.

“There’s a lot of second and third generation members down there,” says Nick. “You’ll come in from an open heat and there’ll be six of ‘em frothing in the shorey, thinking they’re in the Quiky Pro.”

A bit like nippers, ironically enough considering those early days.

The surf club’s changed too over the years, but that’s a bridge too far. “They’re a different breed,” says Nick, diplomatically.

And while it’s not the brutal thing it was, there’s still a strong pecking order at Burleigh. Still a sense of sticking up for each other. “It’s the last place on the Gold Coast where things are still organised in that way. It’s not chaos, we haven’t given up, and we’re proud of that.”

Peter Harris (in yellow boardies), one of a handful of local wildcards ever to win a major pro event, Stubbies Classic 1980. Photo by little brother Dwayne

Peter Harris (in yellow boardies), one of a handful of local wildcards ever to win a major pro event, Stubbies Classic 1980. Photo by little brother Dwayne

BURLEIGH BOARDRIDERS CLUB 

Founded: 1965
Club colours: Red/white
Epic rivalries: North End, Snapper
Today’s membership: 130
Youthful stars: Liam O'Brien, Lucy Callister
Legends: Mick Dunmeade, Mick Murphy, Ash Humphreys, the Harris brothers (Glen, Peter and Dwayne), Ian Byrne, Nick Heath
Sponsors: Vonu, Billabong

And the modern day presso at the Burleigh Boardriders' Single Fin Classic, Parko gets the Vonu shower.

And the modern day presso at the Burleigh Boardriders' Single Fin Classic, Parko gets the Vonu shower.

(Like all clubs today, Burleigh Boardriders Club relies on funding from like-minded sponsors to help grow and fit the changing needs of its community. Vonu Beer is proud to back Australian club surfing at roots level. For more, check out Burleigh Boardriders at burleighboardriders.com and vonubeer.com)

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