The eyes of surfers sometimes get as glassy as their perfect wave when they spy Tim Stratford’s collection of boards. This is a sport that tends to hook young men and, increasingly, young women in their teens. And for many that never changes. When it’s offshore and glassy at a coastal surf break, the age of the riders knows no limit.
Tim Stratford got the bug as a teenager in Whangarei in the 1970s, lost the faith a little through the 80s when he lived overseas (and his beloved longboards went out of fashion), but came back on a rising swell in the 90s. The new wave also caught his young twins, Jesse and Reade, who are now 23 years old and keen board-riders. Tim has won or been runner-up in the last two Roaring Forties longboard events at Piha Beach in the 50 to 55 age bracket.
Above: On the landing are 60s longboards, including one with cloth inlay; leaning against the stairs is a late 70s twin-fin board made by Australian surfing champion Mark Richards. Below: Tim Stratford.
If there were a competition for surf-board collecting, he would have to be a favourite. “I look at boards such as an early 1960s American one I’ve got stored under the house at the moment and wonder how it got here. Did it come on a yacht? And how many baches has it sat under since?”
The collection began 20 years ago with a Blue Spirit, shaped in the 70s by famous Kiwi surfer Wayne Parkes, who still makes surfboards from his base at Takapuna, Auckland. Since then, Tim has bought boards from people on beaches, from op shops and pawnbrokers, through newspapers and the internet.
His oldest board was made by tomato grower Peter Byers, the “father” of New Zealand board-makers, who set up shop at Piha soon after meeting two American surfers there in 1958. The Americans are credited with introducing surfing here.
Since the sport became established as the cool new thing in the 60s, our surfers have gone from riding home-made wooden boards similar to surf skis to the lighter balsa wood and fibreglass models of the 60s, through the more streamlined single-fin boards of the 70s to the tiny “thrusters” with three fins that rocked the 1980s and back to the longboard revival of today. Tim Stratford has examples of all of them.
Shaped by hand, coated with resin and waxed to a shine, his boards are the works of art in Tim and wife Sheryl’s home near the sea on Auckland’s North Shore. They lean in corners, hang on walls and point the way upstairs in this classic 1970s house with its original spacious rooms, timber panelling, vibrant carpet and patterned wallpaper.
Tim also collects surfing memorabilia, from music to magazines. Unfortunately, in terms of storage, “I never seem to be able to collect just one of anything”.
Sheryl Stratford loves the look of the vintage surfboards and supports her husband’s collecting habit with a smile. As Tim explains, her wardrobe benefits from his surfboard buying. “Whenever she wants to buy another pair of shoes, she just looks at the surfboards.”
Below: The Stratfords’ classic 1970s house was built for members of the Jeffs family, whose property investment company JBL collapsed spectacularly in 1972; The fin of Tim’s oldest board, handcrafted at Piha in the early 1960s by one of New Zealand’s first surfboard-makers, Peter Byers.
Story: Pam Neville
Photographs: Jane Ussher