Gordon Woods (far right) in a 1966 ad for his surf shop. He is the subject of a documentary about the Brookvale Mafia airing on Foxtel.
Gordon Woods (far right) in a 1966 ad for his surf shop. He is the subject of a documentary about the Brookvale Mafia airing on Foxtel. Contributed

Doco tells the story of Aussie surfboard pioneers

SURF'S up in a new Aussie documentary coming to the History Channel.

Men of Wood & Foam, directed by renowned surfing journalist and author Phil Jarratt, tells the story of the pioneers of the Australian surfboard industry known affectionately as the Brookvale Mafia.

For a relatively short but intense period, the Brookvale six - Barry Bennett, Scott Dillon, Denny Keogh, Greg McDonagh, Bill Wallace and Gordon Woods - made nearly all of the surfboards purchased across Australia.

Jarratt, a surfing journalist and former editor of Tracks magazine, says he felt compelled to record the group's story while all the men were still alive.

"I was the editor of Tracks back in the '70s when those guys, except Barry, were in the process of leaving the industry," he tells APN's The Guide.

Filmmaker Phil Jarratt pictured with Mark Warren with Barry Bennett in Brookvale, NSW during filming for the TV documentary Men of Wood & Foam.
Filmmaker Phil Jarratt pictured with Mark Warren with Barry Bennett in Brookvale, NSW during filming for the TV documentary Men of Wood & Foam. Contributed

"They'd done their dash and were moving on to different things. I thought of them as old guys back then when most of them were in their 40s.

"I just observed the fact that nobody had told the story of the development of the surfboard industry and I really wanted to pay tribute to these guys, who are now in their 80s and 90s."

The Brookvale six were a motley crew united in their love for the beautiful simplicity of the surfboard.

"I think the common thread was that they were all very good with their hands," Jarratt says. "They're very different personalities. Barry was a hard-ass businessman who would always be a success in whatever business he went into. Gordon, similarly, had focus.

"The other guys like Denny and Bill were more craftsmen who loved what they did and loved the idea of experimenting with new designs."

The Noosa-based filmmaker struggled to get funding, though, and vowed to make the documentary independently if he had to.

Filmmakers Shaun Cairns and Phil Jarratt pictured with a traditional Hawaiian wooden surfboard. The men have produced the Australian surfing documentary Men of Wood & Foam for the History Channel.
Filmmakers Shaun Cairns and Phil Jarratt pictured with a traditional Hawaiian wooden surfboard. The men have produced the Australian surfing documentary Men of Wood & Foam for the History Channel. Contributed

"I decided funding or no funding, I would make a doco about them before it was too late," he says.

"I tried to get funding from within the surf industry, which proved to be difficult, and then Foxtel came to the party and agreed to fund it, which enabled me to get this done with a bit of style and class, I hope."

The doco, narrated by Dan Wyllie, also touches on how the style and boards of the era are back in fashion now.

"I ride a longboard, as do many people of my generation now, but I ride a modern board that I can turn," Jarratt says.

"A lot of these young guys are riding boards that are a reflection of what people were riding half a century ago. I find that strange but nice. That appreciation of what went before I think is why this film will have considerable appeal to the younger generation. It's not just by old guys for old guys."

Men of Wood & Foam airs Wednesday, December 14 at 6.30pm Qld, 7.30pm on The History Channel.


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