Wayne Roach has enjoyed a surfing life most can only dream of. A passionate surfer, shaper and mischief-maker, with trophy cabinets, photo albums and recollections all bursting at the seams. Although national surfing titles, state surfing titles and international shaping contracts are some of Wayne’s personal accolades, it’s the friendships he has forged that make him grin from ear-to-ear.
I caught up with Wayne, late 2012, to see what he had been up to, and investigate if we could tap into his youthful enthusiasm for telling tales from yesteryear. “Sure mate, just swing past the shaping bay, I’ll see you soon”, Wayne tells me with excitement over the phone. As I enter the factory, I can see a shadow dancing across the waist high, fluorescent light lit blue room, and detect the familiar sound of what was once a crude foam blank, being crafted into a work of art. Wayne throws me an excited smile, as I interrupt his creative process. We gasbag and carry-on for a little while, until I finally ask Wayne what he is making. After recently watching some personal video footage from a surf trip to the South Coast of New South Wales in 1979, Wayne had decided to shape himself a new board, based on the very early quad fin board he was surfing in the video. Though utilising the same template he developed in 1976, ‘The Four Fin Thing’, Wayne’s new replica would be a thruster.
Wayne continues to refine the foam object, paying careful respect to symmetry and balance, weighing up his next tweak with all his 40+ years of shaping experience. I take photographs of Wayne, the surfboard, the shaping bay, and various tools and templates that are scattered around the small, foam dust-covered room. Some time passes, and Wayne feels he has completed the shape, so I continue to photograph him, the completed board, and we agree that I would come back and pick things up where we left off, once the board is glassed.
A couple of weeks pass, and I finally give Wayne a call when I notice that the next morning’s tide, swell and winds may come together to bless the Victorian Surf Coast with fun waves, which is a sporadic occurrence in summer and can all too easily be mistimed. We conclude that tomorrow 9am, Wayne would show me the finished product, and potentially even (get to) surf it. The car park at Bells Beach is already a hive of activity, with hiking boot-clad, camera-armed tourists lining up along the boardwalk when Wayne arrives proudly wearing a Cronulla Boardriders t-shirt, and Torquay Boardriders cap. Wayne springs from the car, greets me, slips into his wetsuit, and waxes his board in minutes, providing further example of his youthful love of surfing. At 59 years of age, Wayne is as nimble and energetic as anyone else out in the water, and with all due respect to the crowd on the day, maybe a bit more! Wave after wave he screams down the line on his new board, gaining speed as he descends from the high line to link into another whole body-consuming turn.
Wayne’s final wave for the short 45-minute session pushes though the iconic surf spot perfectly, and as the closeout section fast approaches, Wayne smashes the lip and rides it down in an impressive marriage between power and elegance. A delighted Wayne runs from the water to confess that he feared the waves might have been a little too small for his new board, though thought it went “OK”. Retuning to Wayne’s humble, 2-bedroom beach shack in central Torquay, we load up the photos from the session. Wayne carefully dissects each photograph with jovial analysis of his technique, and tells me of his delight to view some recent photographs of his surfing. Scattered around the living room are surfboards, new and old, all bearing Wayne’s unmistakable ‘Roach Approach’ logo. Apart from the surfboards there are photographs, some framed, some unframed, and a box of older photo albums. Wayne allows my eyes to dart around the room, before offering to show me some of his 35mm photographs, which he has painstakingly been (photo) scanning for the past several months. Wayne’s computer is filled with photo albums from surf and shaping trips around Australia, Sri Lanka, Europe, Indonesia and Japan, from various years in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. Waves I’ve never seen before, people I’ve never seen before and places I’ve never seen before, all captured with the beautiful nostalgic yellow glow that is only found in a weathered 35mm photograph, now digitalised.
We stumble into a folder that is the home to photographs that Wayne took while making surfboards with Michael Peterson. While drooling over the beautiful single fins in the pictures, I inquire as to the friendship and history between Wayne and Michael, which is apparent by the photograph on Wayne’s mantelpiece, of the two side-by-side in Wayne’s kitchen, the last time Michael came to Torquay, prior to his passing. “In 1979, Michael and I both left Aragon Surfboards…together we just decided we would make boards somewhere else…we quickly found that our good friend, Greg Kerr, Josh’s Dad, had a great place to set up a board factory, so soon after discussing it with each other, we were building it. And of course, Greg was first up to do the sanding…so away we went. We made boards for, I don’t know, probably about 6 months, before the next chapter of Michael Peterson began, where it all came to a screaming halt.” Peering through this rich history in Australian surfing, taking in photograph after photograph, of three young men doing what they love, making history in the sport they love, the only words I could find, were “fucken amazing”.
A folder titled ‘Occy’, was our next destination on Wayne’s computer. Wayne was Mark Occhilupo’s shaper for a number of years while Mark competed on the Pro Junior circuit, winning the Pro Junior title on one of Wayne’s hand shaped boards. Wayne lets me in on a little secret – that he rode a board he made for Mark, when he himself won a NSW’s State Surfing Title! We laugh and acknowledge how much of a spin out that is, while Wayne goes on to explain the exact dimensions of the board and its shape. Moving onto folders containing photographs of custom surfboards Wayne shaped over the years, my eyes and imagination are further ignited. Every shape you can imagine, from single fins, twins, quads and thrusters, to big mals. I begin to daydream about what I would get Wayne to shape for me, and unbeknownst to Wayne, swear to myself that I must get one. Folder after folder, photograph after photograph, my mind is perpetually blown, as Wayne tells me who, what, why, when and how. His memory and recollection of a time and place is breathtaking. His love for the surfing life he has lived is evident; his love for the people in it is unmistakable. At around lunchtime, Wayne remembers that he has a hairdresser’s appointment, which he is about to be late for, and we quickly pack up our things, so we can both rush out the door. I drive home, thoughts swirling around my head; dizzy, appreciative, and speechless, from the amazing man, life, and insight that is Wayne Roach, forever grom.