Bob Davie, 1942-2017

Hundreds turned out to the Whangamata Golf Club on Monday to farewell their friend, Bob Davie, on Monday.

Without exception, all of those who stood to pay tribute to Bob, who died at his Whangamata home last week aged 74, described him as "humble and modest" and a man who loved practical jokes.

He was also called "a legend" and "pioneering surfer".

When Davie arrived in Gisborne (from Australia where he was a member of the Cronulla North Surf Club) in 1964 there were only a handful or so of surfers, many riding mere "planks of wood".

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Davie started the first commercial surfboard factory in the region - Bob Davie Surfboards - and was a founding member of Gisborne Surfriders Club (now Gisborne Boardriders Club).

His influence on surfing has been recognised in many parts of New Zealand and the world, including Gisborne and Whangamata.

Davie came to New Zealand from Sydney in 1963 with sidekick Bob "Arab" Steel.
They surfed around the Auckland and Raglan areas before moving to Gisborne in early 1964.

They liked the Gisborne lifestyle and the consistently good waves.

"A lot of kids surfing today would not know about Bob and the big part he played in developing Gisborne surfing," said Chris Ransley, himself a champion surfer who worked after school sweeping out Davie's board factory on Stanley Road.

"When Bob came to Gisborne it was like a breath of fresh air. He was from overseas, from Sydney, where surfing was so popular.

"He was part of the first wave of overseas surfers to come here. We had a few Californians but Bob was the first to stay.

"He brought out other great surfers and shapers from Australia, too."

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Bob McTavish, later called the inventor of the shortboard, spent a few months shaping for Davie at his Stanley Road factory.

"We surfed everywhere. The best were Pipeline, The Island, Makas, Mahia," McTavish told Wainui publication BeachLife.

"Surf, surf, surf and surf - and a new surf break around every corner. Unbeatable."

Having such talented surfers around helped develop Gisborne surfing.

"Surfers in Gisborne were exposed to some very good surfing early on so managed to develop quickly," Ransley said.

Davie was a mentor to the late, legendary Gisborne surfer and boardmaker Allan Byrne, who died in 2013 in a motorbike accident in Bali.

"He was instrumental in developing Allan Byrne. He had a lot to do with his surfing and progression," said Ransley, who grew up surfing with Byrne.

Byrne built a reputation in the 1960s as one of the region's best surfers. He went on to compete on the world stage and founded the Byrning Spears surfboard company.

"Bob was really important for surfing in New Zealand," Byrne said in the book Gone Surfing: The Golden Days of Surfing in New Zealand.

"Not only because of the skills he had but also because he kept attracting a steady flow of top board builders and surfers to Gisborne, such as Russell Hughes, Bob McTavish and Keith Paull.

"Bob was always current and experimental, and kept us up to date with the rest of the world."

Gail Patty and twin sister Joan were the first female surfers in Gisborne.

They were part of the "second wave" of Gisborne surfers, after the originals John Logan, Peter Goodwin, Darryl Heighway, David Swann and Kevin Pritchard started in 1959.

"In 1963 Joan and I were just finding surfing. We were all lifesavers, then the odd plank materialised, but there were no professional board makers.

Barry MacCulloch of Tairua with his 50-year-old Bob Davie original. Photo / Alison Smith
Barry MacCulloch of Tairua with his 50-year-old Bob Davie original. Photo / Alison Smith

"Then Bob turned up and he just slotted into the community. He was at the forefront and started his surfboard business."

In 1964 Davie, Des Byrne and Paul Dobson, set up Gisborne Surfriders Club,
The following year Davie won the New Zealand senior men's open title at the national champs in New Plymouth.

Patty surfed and went to competitions with Davie.

"Bob, Allan and I won everything and brought it all back. It very quickly made the 'it' into a very strong club.

"Bob was iconic in getting Gisborne in the surfing foreground. His legacy was bringing his expertise here, being the first commercial board maker and forming the club. What an asset to the town."

Geoff Logan knew Davie when he lived and surfed in Gisborne.

When Bob moved to Mount Maunganui to set up a surfboard shop in 1966, Logan became Davie's Gisborne agent.

"Bob greatly influenced surfboard shaping. He was not shy of trying out new concepts.

They were doing things like winged fins and decreasing board lengths.

"It was a period of quite considerable innovation. We went from boards of nine to 10-foot down to boards around seven-foot."

Davie's boards were very popular. An estimated 90 per cent of surfers in the region rode his surfboards at the time.

"They were the boards to have."

Davie moved the factory from Mount Maunganui to Whangamata in 1978, where he retired and lived until his death.

- A "paddle out" at Whangamata on Sunday, held to honour Bob Davie, attracted an estimated 250 to 300 surfers. Go to facebook/CoastalNewsWhangamata/ for more photos.