Dare to be Different!

The Trigger Bros auction unveils more than surfboard bargains…

Phil and Paul Trigger started surfing in November 1964, sharing a 9’10” Max Gill log. They’ve clocked up 41 years of surfing and now, in their mid-50’s. still surf an average of four to five times a week. The Trigger Bros made their first board in the rapid, surfboard design change, transitional year of 1968. That was after Paul had cut down a beautiful blue tint Fred Pyke mal he had purchased the year before. Their first board though was an eight-foot vee-back, which was still sticky when they christened it at Point Leo. Since then they have manufactured in excess of 20,000 surfboards, with the help of shapers Ian Cochrane, Kenny Reimers, Gary Taylor, Simon Forward, Richard Evans, Peter Wilkinson, Mick Marchants and James Tuck. John Jolly and Alan Francis have looked after the glassing through most of those years.

Paul and Phil both have successful, competitive, surfing records stretching back to the early 70’s. Paul is an Australian Over 50’s shortboard champion, and placed second in the World Masters in New Zealand a couple of years back. Phil has numerous Australian Titles finals results in both short and longboard, just missing that elusive title several times…often pushing the boundaries a fraction too far. Between them they would hold more Victorian Titles than any other two surfers in the State. As many seasoned competitors have learnt over the years, draw a heat with a Trigger and you’re in for a torrid time.

Blood was sometimes let, verbal and physical threats were common, stray boards directed at competitors’ heads, baseball bats carried under car seats, and cars were often driven at boards lying around the carparks after epic, no-holds-barred confrontations in the water.They learnt to be tough, competitively, at a young age, during an intense Victorian East/West Coast rivalry that still lingers today. It was a case of “Give as good as you got” or limp home with your tail between your legs blaming judges, officials, drop-ins, snakes and everyone else excluding yourself. Legendary showdowns with Torquay champions Jim Pollock and Maurice Cole are still spoken about today, in awe. Blood was sometimes let, verbal and physical threats were common, stray boards directed at competitors’ heads, baseball bats carried under car seats, and cars were often driven at boards lying around the carparks after epic, no-holds-barred confrontations in the water. Phil vividly remembers the late John Pawson running rings around them strategically in those early days, and realised the need to toughen up or not bother turning up.

In the next few years the Triggers led a formidable, determined, hardcore, fast surfing group of East Coast surfers that included Ian Portingale, Wally Tibbles, Mick Pierce and Ian Cochrane. Together they dominated Victorian surfing, winning four consecutive State Teams Titles, numerous individual State Titals and the prestigous Quiksilver Trials. Phil placed fifth in the 1974 Rip Curl Pro, finishing ahead of MR, Rabbit, Gerry Lopez, Reno Abellira, Hakman, PT, Ian Cairns, Nat and many other tough, seasoned champions.

Phil Trigger recalls one of those early Easter Bells events. “I was in a heat with Baddy Treloar. Baddy’s giving me the severe stare, and warned me if I took the next wave he’d @#$%^&* kill me. It was like a red tag to a bull, so I paddled inside him and promptly took it. Paddling back out he now looked like he definitely kill me, so I took the next one as well. He then warned me never to set foot in Angourie or I’d be dead.” Phil now surfs in Angourie on a regular, yearly basis, sharing a few waves with Baddy and laughing at some of those early epic encounters. On a recent trip Baddy reminded me Phil of his selective deafness after hearing his name being called repeatedly over the speaker system for half an hour to get out of the water at the Quiksilver Pro at Snapper Rocks. “Couldn’t hear them,” explained Phil. “Anyway, the comp hadn’t started and there were too many good waves to come in. No point wasting them!”

Quite a few of us can also remember one incredible Bells heat, with Paul being relentlessly pursued by Michael Peterson. MP tried to snag a large set wave looming out the back at Bells. Paul held firm, paddling furiously while copping a verbal barrage, not giving an inch, forcing MP into a lesser wave and picking off the biggest and best wave of the set.

On a hot summer Saturday in February 2006, the Trigger Brothers decided to auction off 90 surfboards and also surf memorabilia accumulated over the past 40 years.

The surfing grapevine was buzzing as news of several highly desirable collectables did the rounds. Most talk centered around what was reputedly Mick Dooley’s personal, triple-stringered board. The same board he won the 1964 Bells Beach Rally on, complete with Union Jack pigmented bottom. hot-talk items included a Pat Morgan twin keel-fin with elaborate spray bottom; a stunning, almost mint condition Pat Morgan seven-foot pintail gun; an unworn 1974 Rip curl Pro t-shirt, still in the plastic packet with Golden Breed swing tag (that one sent the ad promo crew at the ‘Curl into a frenzy); a beautiful Hayden spoon; Vic Tantau’s 1956 two-handled, draw-blade knife for shaping balsa boards; an original Endless Summer and Water Logged posters with the Dendy Brighton screenings; Nat Young’s personal board that he rode in Wayne Lynch’s A Day in The Life; an original 1960’s tunnel fin; an exquisite Strapper eight-foot, mid-70’s, single fin gun with experimental, space age flutes running about a foot and a half along the tail deck line; a mint condition 1966 Fred Pyke dork-fin beauty; a Michael Peterson 6’4″ flyer pin single fin; and a Terry Fitzgerald Hot Buttered seven foot flyer swallow-tail single fin. Top this up with 1950’s balsas, okanuies, heaps of Trigger Bros single and twin fins, framed Barrie Sutherland and George Rice prints…and you had an AUCTION!

As with most of their surfing life and experiences, Phil and Paul dared to be refreshingly different with their auction approach.

They opened their first shop on the Nepean Highway at Chelsea back in 1972. After a recent decision to sell the original Chelsea shop, they decided to hold the auction there and turn it into a celebration/reunion of old friends, good times and happy memories. Auction items were drip fed onto their website for all to see beforehand, and lots of crew dropped into Chelsea for viewings in the weeks leading up to to the auction. Paul and Phil stood firm, rejecting several serious offers for some prized items in the preceding weeks. After a quick phone call to Mick Dooley regarding information about his board, the website was re-worded with accurate detail, within minutes, to correct the unintentional error.

Registration for the auction? Simple! Pay $50 up front, get a number, buy an item and the $50 comes off the purchase price. Buy nothing and get your $50 back. Reserve prices? No way! No stuffing around here. No greed, no unrealistic reserves, no time wasting, no boredom…it’s yours if you bid higher than anyone else. If the highest bid is $10, walk out the door with it. How many items? Cap it at 90! Keep it simple, move it fast entertain the crowd with personal accounts of boards and memorabilia. Food? Let the local Bonbeach SLSC set up their barbeque on the footpath and do a sausage sizzle, eggs, onions and raise some money for their club. Drinks? The forecast temperature was a hot 35 degrees. Easy! Go out and buy boxes of bottled water and give it away to the thirsty crowd for free. Space? Rip the guts out of the shop, move in some old seats, and leave the auction items in the racks around the wall and ceiling. Auctioneer? Why one? Why not three! Good mates, all with surfing backgrounds and auction experience, refreshing, different styles, variety of voice and humour, and it worked beautifully. Halfway through proceedings, auctioneer Phil Newman, who had taken over from the golden voiced Les Sealy, handed over proceedings to Doug Rogers, before racing off to don his cricket whites. An hour later he returned, drenched from a fast moving, tropical-type thunderstorm. He took back his place on the floor, gasping,”I’m only one, but they couldn’t get me out!”

Glancing around the auction room I noticed plenty of former East Coast Boardriders, Point Leo Suicide Savages, Peninsula Boardriders, a couple of Mongers, a sprinkling of West Coasters, plenty of bayside surfers from St Kilda to Frankston, surf industry moguls, keen, serious, Victorian memorabilia collectors, Erin Nicholls from the Goldie, woodie drivers, a mysterious, Dylanesque Desolation Row-type collector with a penchant for carrying money around in a brown paper bag, and mobile phone link-ups with red wine connoisseurs. Yeah, there was definitely going to be some serious bidding action here.

Some pre-auction banter focused on whether the local Vicco or interstate items would fetch the better prices…someone should have run a betting book on that one…my money was on the Pat Morgans after overhearing several hushed conversations. Plenty of bidding highlights during the day, and some serious dollars spent, but auctions are about more than who got what, or how much money a particular item fetched. Lots of smiles all round, great humour and camaraderie, reminiscing with people you only see once or twice a year like Mick Pierce, Ronnie Gorringe, David Furzer, Ian Lorder, Geoff Vockler, Ian Cochrane, Andrew Krzyniak, and Jacko beaming on his 60th birthday. One personal highlight was my mobile ringing during some frantic bidding. On the other end was the original “Gidget”, Kathy Kohner, ringing from Malibu, California, on another unrelated matter, then wishing the Triggers a successful auction.

As we all should be well aware of surf memorabilia auctions can be totally unrealistic as to the actual value of an item. Issues factored into the scenario include emotion, competitiveness. originality, condition, authenticity, upstaging your mate or rival, showmanship, and more than one obsessive collector, financially well off, wanting an item no matter what the cost. So don’t go dragging your old, moth-eaten, faded, washed out 1974 Rip Curl Pro tee out of the box in the garage, thinking it’s worth money…it’s not. Like-wise, the water stained, severely dinged, delaminated, 1965 Fred Pyke mal or Pat Morgan Dru Harrison model with no fin that’s been nailed to the back fence for 15 years, and used as a dartboard or for shotgun practice.

Bear that in mind when pursuing the following interesting items and their sale price on the day: Pat Morgan 6’10” swallow tail, twin keel fin, $2550. 1965 Fred Pyke dork fin mal, $2550. Michael Peterson 6’4″ flyer pin single fin, $2340. Hayden spoon, $2150. Mick Dooley triple stringer, Union Jack bottom, $2150. Restored 1960 balsa 9’6″ no brand name, $1420. Strapper eight-foot mid 70’s gun, $1250. 1974 Rip Curl Pro t-shirt, unworn, $580. Endless Summer poster, $610. 1960’s tunnel fin, $120. 1974 Farrelly Surfblank, $180. 1965 double stringer 9’10” GT mal, $1100. Surfmat, $20. Mick Parkinson 6’6″ bonzer, $760. Pat Morgan seven-foot pintail, keel fin gun, $1820. Phil Trigger’s personal 1973 single fin gun, $850. 1970 Bells Beach World Titles Program, with all competitors signatures and newspaper cuttings with team lists, $210. Lots of other single and twin fins sold between $90 and $500. Wish I had a wager on the Vicco boards topping the list!

Good friend and auctioneer Les Sealy spoke glowingly of Paul and Phil’s early surfing years, mentioning their commitment, honesty, integrity and competitiveness. With some of the mid-late 60’s/early 70’s surfing fraternity on a knife edge of self destruction, Phil and Paul were your very non-typical, non-drinking, non-smoking, non-swearing, race back to Sunday church after an early surf, non-conformist straights. Les indicated the word “straight” was coined with the Triggers in mind…he meant this as a huge compliment to both of them, and the crowd, smiling and nodding in agreement, applauded appreciatively.

For me, there was one very special, important piece of Victorian surfing history on the list. Legendary shaper Vic Tantau’s original, two-handled draw-blade, used for shaping his early balsa boards. Vic had passed it on to shaping mate Don Pocock, who in turn passed it on to the Triggers. During the day, my eyes kept returning to it, sitting up there in the glass-fronted trophy cabinet. My mind told me, however, I had no hope of acquiring it after several of the big players had it on their short list as a “must have” item. Unfortunately I could see it probably heading interstate. Unexpectedly, as Paul retrieved the knife from the cabinet, ready to put it under the hammer, he turned and asked me some pertinent questions about Vic Tantau and the dollar value of such an obscure item. With little time to think, I hurriedly explained the emotional and sentimental value of the blade and the hope of such an iconic, historical item remaining in Victoria for all to see…it should be framed, inscribed and exhibited in the Surfworld Museum I hurriedly explained. Paul turned to Phil and after what seemed like an eternity, walked the length of the room and handed it over to two very accepting, appreciative hands. The crowd broke into spontaneous applause. This gesture, to me, and I’m sure most others, summed up the day more than words can adequately explain.

Once again, as with much of their life the Trigger Brothers dared to do things differently.

Bob Smith – Victorian Surf Historian