McTavish Surfboards is a high quality surfboard manufacturer based in Byron Bay, Australia. The brand was founded by Bob McTavish in 1962, with boards bearing the McTavish name in production ever since. McTavish Surfboards has been an important part of the Australian and international surfboard manufacturing landscape for more than half a century, just as relevant today as it has ever been.
Over the past couple of years I had the pleasure of producing a series for McTavish titled “Dedicated to the Craft”. The series is a collection of portraits that gives a glimpse into the lives of the McTavish ambassadors and craftsmen that are … dedicated to their craft.
Also known as “Chono” and “the wax head”, Matt grew up on Sydney’s northern beaches where he started his surfing journey catching the whitewater that came into Curl Curl rock pool on his bodyboard, before learning to ride proper waves on the beachies and reef breaks around Long Reef.
His northern beaches upbringing also gave him an early appreciation of the area’s rich surfing history, and he soon became one of the most knowledgeable surfers of the retro era, with an incredible depth of surf and hot rod car trivia at his fingertips. Not surprising, since his father, Mark, worked in classic car restoration, a passion that is now the family business.
When he’s not under the bonnet, Matt can invariably be found riding one of his many collector logs or the latest McTavish design, channeling surfing’s roots with every deft cross-step or drop-knee. He says: “Bob McTavish is one of my greatest influences, from the boards he shapes to his approach to riding a wave. Every time I surf, I feel a bit of Bob out there with me.” Other influences include Joel Tudor, John Gill, Shane Herring and Ozzie Wright.
After years of making finals whenever he competes, 2016 was Matt’s breakout year, winning the Logger Pro at the Noosa Festival, the Byron Bay Logger, and the old mal division at the Snowy Classic in Manly.
Christian Barker (Wispy).
Wispy got his nickname growing up at South West Rocks on the Mid North Coast of NSW when his brother couldn’t pronounce his name.
A carpenter by trade, and a gifted surfer on both long and short boards, Wispy has become a valued test pilot for McTavish designs and works closely with shaper Ben McTavish on the development and design of new models. His favourite McTavish? “It’d have to be the Bluebird. I’ve had my best waves on it.”
Wispy is a free-surfer who feels no need to compete, preferring to ride what suits, when it suits. Although he only took up longboarding when he moved to Byron in 2010, he has taken to the glide like a natural. A popular figure in the surf and around the McTavish factory, he is known for his impeccable manners in the line-up, where he is happy to share the waves with all, regardless of their ability.
Young gun Bernie was born on the island of Siargao in the Philippines and moved to Byron Bay aged four and three, where his dad, Mike, was a long-term local. He began surfing soon after. Despite having learnt his chops in Australia, however, surf with an effortless, graceful style that seems to have come from somewhere exotic. And he does get back to their birthplace each year.
Bernie is more interested in free surfing than competing and plans to travel extensively looking for waves. Bernie’s favourite break (so far) is small Cloudbreak. He lists his inspirations as Ray Gleave, Joel Tudor, Wispy Barker and “everyone who rips on a longboard”.
Now a veteran, the man they call the “godfather of soul” is still one of the most graceful longboarders in the world, with a drop knee cutback that most longboarders would die for.
Ray grew up on a dairy farm and didn’t start surfing until his family moved to Kingscliff when he was 14. That relatively late start was not a hindrance at all, especially after he embraced the longboard revival in the 1980s and fast became one of Australia’s leading competitors, winning the national longboard title in 1991, ’92 and ’93, and representing Australia at the world longboard titles in France in 1992 (second) and in Brazil in 1994 (fifth).
Despite those impressive contest statistics, at heart Ray has always been a soul surfer, and as an ambassador and team rider for McTavish for more than 20 years, he has been an inspiration to a whole generation of surfers.
Young gun Josie was born on the island of Siargao in the Philippines and moved to Byron Bay aged four and three, where her dad, Mike, was a long-term local. She began surfing soon after. Despite having learnt her chops in Australia, however, she surfs with an effortless, graceful style that seems to have come from somewhere exotic. And she does get back to her birthplace each year.
Josie is more interested in free surfing than competing and plans to travel extensively looking for waves. Josie’s elegant style on a longboard was noted by Billabong, who have picked her up as clothing sponsor.
Roisin (it’s Irish and pronounced Ro-jean) is one of the smoothest and most versatile of the new generation of female longboarders. Although competing is not a high priority, she is a regular fixture on the podium whenever she dons the contest jersey, particularly in logger and old mal events, where her old school moves come to the fore.
Something of an all-round “retro chick”, Roisin can be found searching for waves along the Byron coast in her old Volkswagen, or at home in the family cottage at Binna Burra cooking or drawing. (Her baked treats are greatly appreciated whenever she drops by the McTavish factory.)
Although she spent her early years at Manly, the family moved to the Byron hinterland when she was 12, and she has taken the place to her heart, delighting in hosting visiting surfers from around the world and sharing her favourite breaks. She cites Bob McTavish, Kassia Meador, Erin “Worm” Ashley and Ray Gleave as her major influences and her McTavish Noserider as her favourite board.
Surfing buddy El McCready says Roisin is “the most thoughtful person I’ve ever met”. Add to that a “cracking sense of humour” and you have a surfer who’s not only fast becoming one of the best of her generation but is fun to be around.
Another former carpenter who ran his own building company on Sydney’s northern beaches, Dave made the move north six years and has worked in McTavish retail ever since. He now lives at Cabarita with wife Laurie-Ann and youngest child Rubin, and not surprisingly, nominates right out front as his favourite surf break.
Dave grew up around the surfboard epicentre of Brookvale and knows his way around the contours of a surfboard better than most, making him an invaluable part of the retail team. His favourite McTavish board? “The Rambler…at the moment”.
Like his famous dad, Ben left school at 14 to make his start in surfboard manufacturing as a glasser. Now 42, he has more experience across the entire industry than anyone else of his age, having operated his own shortboard brand for 15 years before integrating it into McTavish Surfboards. As head shaper, Ben now does the bulk of boards coming out of the factory each week.
Says his proud dad: “Ben is one of the few shapers who really knows how to carve a rocker on boards ranging from five feet to twelve feet long. In the age of computer shaping, that’s a dying art. I guess Ben was thrown in at the deep end when it comes to shaping, but he just took his time and steadily learned the skills.”
Bob McTavish has been a household name for two generations of surfers. Over more than half a century in the industry, Bob has shaped thousands of custom boards for happy customers around the world in a career which began in the early 1960s, learning his trade from the ground up, working for pioneer board brands such as Scott Dillon, Dale, Hayden, Bob Davie, Morey-Pope, Keyo, and Cord. The McTavish brand dates back to 1962 when Bob McTavish Tailormade Surfboards emerged from the back room of Scott Dillon’s factory, but really came into its own when Bob made the move to the North Coast in 1969.
Always an innovator in surfboard design and technology, Bob has pioneered cutting edge changes to the basic concept of a surfboard since 1965, when he began to refine rail and bottom design to maximize performance. This was the very beginning of the movement that would become known as the shortboard revolution, in which Bob’s role was pivotal, but in fact is only a part of his ongoing contribution to the evolution of the surfboard.
Now in his eighth decade, Bob continues to push the limits of surfboard design across the full range of wave-riding vehicles, still testing his prototypes in the surf almost every day.