Rod Sly Let’s go Surfing Mate !
On posting of this item on our site Rod Sly was embarking on an 8 week solo trip to Cactus. His reason was to touch base with some old mates and “be a surf bum for awhile”.
During May 2007 I was fortunate enough to spend a two week surfing holiday at Gnarloo Station, WA in the company of Rod Sly and Garth McIntyre, two extremely fit, well travelled surfers from Mornington. I had never spent more than ten minutes chatting with either down at Gunnamatta, but after just a few days i realized that the unassuming “Sly Dog” was daily unveiling all the traits and deeds that befit a true surfing legend.
My first observations came on day 1, the initiation to Tombstones at 6-8ft. Garth and I found a gap in the reef and reached safety offshore while Rod got nailed by a big set and was presumed retired. Recovering in the car park a few hours later I witnessed an 8-10ft set feathering on the bombie. This raw south westerly swell on its way up to the exotic coral reefs of Java and Bali, has over the centuries shaped the likes of Jakes, The Bluff, Tombstones and other Ningalooo treasures. It’s over half a kilometre to paddle out to these off shore monsters and there was one lone surfer testing his nerve, skill and strength against the ocean that has claimed many before him. That surfer was 70 year old Rod Sly.
Welcomed back on shore there was a gleam in his eye that’s a mixture of fear and excitement, he has the look of a man who has spent his life beach combing, yet he’s been one of the most sought after builders on the Mornington Peninsula.
A sailing misadventure on Grant Warrington’s “Wild Thing” sees three fingertips missing but the steely handshake of his tanned boyish figure belies the fact that Rod has been surfing for over 50 years and has made a significant contribution to our peninsulas surfing history.
He commenced board riding in 1957 whilst doing a building apprenticeship and had been one of the lucky spectators on the beach at Torquay when a group of visiting American surfers put on a display as part of the 1956 Olympic celebration. As well as canvassing some invaluable information on the new surfboard technology, Rod recalls queering one of the Yanks. “What’s on your foot?” “It’s a thong man!”
Inspired by the Americans Rod set to work on the 1st of 40 balsa boards under the ‘Lester’ label(If you have one send us an email, I believe Slydog would pay a small fortune for it).
Like George Rice, he bleached the finished shape before glassing. His skills with timber included the addition of cedar nose and tail blocks, cedar laminated D fins and the cutting by means of a draw knife(pictured) of the joined 10’x4″x6″ Fliches which already facilitated nose and tail rocker. Rod recalls that after the 1st dozen boards he started drilling 2inch holes every 6inches up plus one layer of 100z glass top and bottom to make the finished product considerably lighter.
Rod’s customers were mainly members of the Point Leo Life Saving Club who used 1st and 2nd Reef as early testing grounds for the new surf craft. Prior to this Rod and other surfers had only ridden the Needle boards, a very difficult surf vehicle to stand on, let alone manoeuvre.
Being naturally gifted with his hands and a perfectionist to boot, he quickly mastered the shaping and glassing and at one stage with balsa off cuts he fashioned a 4’6″x20″ bodyboard complete with laminated cedar twin fins. As was the custom of the day this futuristic slab of balsa was called the “Lou marou” perhaps also the name of a coastal steamer. While we overlooked the waves of Gnarloo Rod was having some vivid flashbacks (definitely not drug induced) and his memories for this period of late 50’s and 60’s surfing was sharp and clear.
Rod’s reflections on early surfing fashions were black footy shorts with Christian names sewn on the back and later when a member of the Point Leo Life Saving Club, orange and blue Okanuis with the woven club logo that had all the guys thinking they were kings. Accommodation fit for a “clubbie king” was found in the Gulch area adjacent to the current clubhouse that Rod built in 2000. The original shacks with their colourful history were put together mainly by Gus and Robbie Tankard, Kevin Rydberg and Rod.
As the years rolled by he surfed his way down to 7′ modern short boards, but these simply couldn’t replace the passion and feel of the knee paddling balsa boards. In the mid 70’s “Slydog” took on a new challenge when he purchased a Kennet Star wave-ski from Lindsay Mudge at Mordy Surf. This led to another 3-4 customs shaped by Neil Oke.
Accompanied by his goat-boat mate Garth McIntyre, Rod has clocked up 11 Bali trips, 4 boat trips including twice to Desert Point, Scar Reef and Yo-Yo’s, the Maldives, Cactus by 10, at least a bakers dozen to Saltwater and just recently celebrating 70 years his 2nd journey to Gnarloo. A much travelled surfer, his favourite destination has been Scuzza’s Sumatran Safaris and while still superbly fit the boys have another such adventure in the pipeline.
Whether it’s locally at 2nd car park at Gunna, the Big Left or Honeysuckle Bombie, around Australia or overseas Rod Sly’s big smile, friendly nature and love of the ocean for more than 50 years elevate him to be a true legend of surfing.
Andrew Pope, Rod Sly, Campbell Ford, Brett Norman
Brett Norman, Rod Sly, Andrew Pope, Campbell Ford
- Mice Plague, Cactus
Sumatra Trip, back home