There are plenty of surf breaks between Newcastle, NSW and Yallingup, WA, and as long board surfer Bill Gibson will tell you, “every surfboard has a story.”
But the story of how a surfboard from the Newcastle suburb of Stockton came to be on display at the WA Surf Gallery remains largely unknown, except it was recently discovered the board was stolen more than 40 years ago.
Last month, a surfer in Queensland Peter Gilson was looking at vintage surfboards on Facebook and came across images from the WA Surf Gallery at Aravina Estate.
Mr Gilson instantly recognised one of the boards as his own. It just so happened the board was stolen around 1977, along with his bicycle, from a shed in a coastal suburb near Newcastle.
The surfboard had a lot of sentimental value for Mr Gilson, it was a Christmas present from his mum who had saved for a year to buy it for him when he was 14 years old.
They were doing it tough, his mum had left an abusive marriage and worked a lot of overtime at a dry cleaners so she could afford the surfboard for her son.
Eighteen months ago, Mr Gilson found out he had cancer and has been unable to work or surf since then, he had been buying old surfboards off swap, buy and sell sites to fix the dings and give him something to do.
Someone told him about this website with vintage surfboards.
“Me and my wife were doing the modern thing, yapping in bed and scrolling through out phones, she was looking at the latest crochet pattern and I was looking at surfboards,” he said.
That is when he saw it – Mr Gilson’s stolen surfboard from 1977 – the pair recognised it immediately after they recently had a photo of their niece blown up for her 40th birthday.
In the photograph, their niece had been sitting next to the surfboard when she was a baby.
“I was flipping through these photos thinking the museum had some nice surfboards, when I sat bolt upright and said to my wife, ‘that is my board,’” he said.
“It is a one off board, you could never, never find another one. It just blew me away.”
It just so happens that Yallingup long boarder Bill Gibson will be travelling to the Northern Coast of NSW to compete in the Australian Longboard Surfing Open on the weekend.
He will be taking the surfboard with him and will hand it back to its original owner.
“I tell you I am so excited, it has just blown me away,” Mr Gilson said.
“On Saturday night we had friends here and my wife was telling them the story about the board and I just started bawling like a big baby.
“It is so emotional, it just blows me away I cannot believe it.”
I love surfboards after Mick showed it to me - three weeks later I had it all fixed up and polished - and was able to show it in the museum.Bill Gibson
Yallingup surfer Bill Gibson said the board ended up in the possession of his friend Mick Ray, they had been talking about how very few sprays from that era were made in WA.
Mr Ray said he had one which he thought was shaped by a board maker called McKenzie, who used to own Energy Surfboards because it said, ‘shaped by Ken’, on the board.
Mr Gibson traced the history of the surfboard and found out it was actually shaped by Ken Donald from Southern Man in the Ulladulla area in NSW.
“Anyway, somebody saw a post of it in the museum and sent an email to Aravina Estate and said it was one of his boards,” he said.
“I contacted him because I was concerned about it, he told me the story about his single mum who bought it for him around 1977 when he was 14 years old, then was stolen from their shed eight months later.”
Mr Gibson was quite moved by the story and contacted the surfboard’s current owner and friend Mick Ray to see what he wanted to do.
Mr Gibson said Mick was reluctant at first because it was such a nice board but after talking to Mr Gilson changed his mind.
“The board turns up in a shed in WA, it was sold to my friend for $200, he did not know where it came from but wound up in his shed,” he said.
“Because it is so distinctive if people were looking for it they may be able to find it or trace it.
“I go away tomorrow so I thought I have to do something about this, and Mick Ray agreed to it which is a wonderful gesture,” he said.