Torquay is known all around Australia for its Surf shops. Indeed, visitors come from all over the world to visit them. This is hardly surprising in the “Surf Capital of Australia”, but it may surprise many to learn that the first surf shop in town started as a little side business in an electrical shop in Gilbert Street, run by Don and Faye Loveless. It was nestled in between the fish and chip shop and Tommy Hancock’s Chemist shop.
Don Loveless grew up by the sea in Elwood, so it was no surprise he had a good bit of salt in his veins. He left school at 15 and took up an apprenticeship as a radio technician, working at a radio shop in Collingwood. When Television came to Australia in 1956, Don was ready for the new trend – the switch was easy for a radioman.
Don first started visiting Torquay in the 1950s. Like many holidaymakers, his first visits were to the camping ground. It was here that Don discovered the surf and began his lifetime love of surfing waves. He would visit whenever he could. Don met his wife Fay at Saint Moritz Ice Rink in St Kilda and introduced her to camping trips to Torquay where they spent many weekends camping. He always picked a site close to the surf.
Like many other beach lovers they were always on the lookout for the opportunity to move down. Soon after their wedding in 1960, they spotted a vacant shop at 32 Gilbert Steet. This gave them the push they needed and in 1962 they took a lease on the shop, bought a little house in Spring Street and set up business as “Loveless Radio and Television Service,” joining the small but friendly group of Gilbert Street traders.
Faye was a handy seamstress and saw an opportunity to use her skills, help the household budget and meet the growing need for the board short and surf apparel that was appearing in the popular surf magazines coming from the USA. Faye started at first making shorts for Don and his friends, but was getting requests from further afield, and before too long a little sign went up in the window of the electrical repair shop ‘ Torquay Surfer Supplies – Manufacturers of Custom Surfwear- our first surf shop!
Torquay Surfer Supplies offered custom made board shorts that were made from sailcloth available in plain or floral for only $4.00. A laceup or Velcro front model made from nylon would set you back $5.50. So good was Fay’s handiwork that family members still have some of these shorts in mint condition.
The challenge of making a shirt and even a jacket was not too much for Fay. A sailcloth jacket, fully lined with corduroy, in all sizes was a mere $11.00, or the nylon version also fully lined and waterproof, was $15.00. A wonderful Hawaiian print shirt in red, aqua or navy was $5.00 and was always popular. The new surfwear was popular and Fay was kept busy turning out beautifully made clothing. They placed ads in the newly emerging surf magazines and business was bustling.
The toasters and radios had to be moved to the back room as the Surfwear demanded more space and the shop was split in half _ with the surf shop on one side and electrical goods on the other. The shop expanded to stock an array of stickers and Fay and Don made their own surf wax. Don and Fay made a trip to Sydney to investigate the possibility of getting surfboards for the shop, and as a result, they became agents for Mc Donagh surfboards of Brookvale. They would sell these custom-designed boards on commission and also started selling local custom-made boards plus some Paiipo boards from Hawaii.
Don designed his own logo, a character called “Murph the Surf“, which he had painted on his yellow TV repairs van. Local kids would appear at the door of the shop wanting to Newlyweds Don and Fay, 1960 Torquay Back Beach buy one of the stickers, and they became synonymous with Torquay at the time.
Don, Fay and their growing family, Mark, Brett and Sue were popular members of the then little Torquay community. Don’s circle of surfing mates was strong. He would be out in the water with Joe Sweeny, Al Reid and Paddy Morgan when possible. By the mid 60’s he was Captain of the local Fire Brigade.
In the summer of 1962/63 he opened a second Surf Shop with his mate Mumbles Walker in the B.P. Garage in Bell Street. The garage served many purposes. As well as petrol you could get all your fishing gear and courtesy of Don, some stickers and board shorts. Mumbles was just back from his adventures in Antarctica and was always happy to share a yarn while filling your tank. This little venture was short lived and for summer only, as Mumbles was off on more adventures at Mt Hotham in the winter months, leaving his dad to man the pumps. Don took his surf wear back to Gilbert Street.
Don began the very first of the radio surf reports. He had a daily spot on 3GL Geelong and was responsible for regular morning surf broadcasts until 1975.
The Australian Boardriders Association was formed at Flossy Naylor’s house in Brighton 1964, and Don became one of the inaugural committee men under Brian Lowdon’s Presidency.
In 1964 Don was the manager of the Victorian team that went to Manly for the World Surfing Titles. He saw young Aussies Midget Farrelly and Phyllis O’ Donnell hold their trophies aloft. It was a golden age of surfing in Australia. The following year Don was elected president of the Australian Surfriders Association and as such was responsible for the running of the Easter contest at Bells that year. The shop in Gilbert Street was kept busy collecting entries for the comp and Fay helped with the draw for the heats and the running of the event on the beach. Don’s expertise in the radio field meant he was able to provide all the audio equipment. Old photos show his speakers on the sand and microphone on the judge’s table with Fay marking the scores.
By the mid ’60s, surfboard riding was on the increase and cracks began to appear in the relationship between the traditional, conservative Surf Lifesaving Clubs and the board riders. As a result of this the board riders formed small breakaway groups. Don and some of his mates helped form the first local boardriders club known Point Danger Boardriders Fraternity, sometimes called the Point Danger Danglers. Don was the inaugural President.
The Torquay Surf Club had its own board rider division and the rivalry between the two clubs was fierce. Fay kitted out the Danglers in shorts and jackets -Royal blue with red and white stripes. Indeed, Fay was making boards shorts for most of the local clubs and for teams from South Australia, N.S.W and Tasmania. The import tariffs on clothing coming in from overseas were prohibitive at the time, so locally made goods were highly valued.
The A.S.A would put on events, and the small board rider clubs would compete. Thirteenth Beach, Point Lonsdale, Ocean Grove and Lorne would visit Torquay for competition. Doug (Claw) Warbrick was for a time, the chief organiser of small inter-club competitions between the two groups. The team from the Danglers was a strong one and chalked up more than a few wins. Ray Wilson and Brian Singer are among those named on the championship trophy.
By the late 60’s the Danglers fell away- perhaps work got in the way – and a few years later when the Torquay Board riding movement gained strength and broke away from the Surf Clubs, the two groups re-formed as the Torquay Board Riders.
The Point Danger Boardriding Fraternity had a short but proud history and if you run into Paul French, Ray Wilson, Rodney Papworth, Max Innes, Schmoo Cook, Leighton Worland, Fatty Long, Norm Browning or Lee Carroll around town, they will tell you about their glory days in the Danglers. I am sure there are others who I may have missed who would add their name to the Danger Danglers short history.
Don continued to compete at local surf contests in the senior’s division for many years
In 1970 Don Loveless was made the first Life Member of the Australian Surfriders Association for the work he had done for the association in its foundation days – A honour Don humbly accepted.
In the late sixties more and more surf shops had opened up in town. In 1963 Doug (Claw) Warbrick opened up a shop selling surfboards in a cage shed in Bell Street, next door to the famous “ Desert Coffee Lounge”. A handy location for those wanting a milkshake or ice cream sundae after a surf, and an excellent spot for socialising in those pre-decimal currency days. A second-hand board could be had for six pounds. Vic Tantau and Ray Wilson were also selling boards. Ray, from the garage behind his mother Ida’s house, and Vic from the back of Doc Hughes shop on the Esplanade.
In 1967, Mumbles garage shop had a new life as Brian Singer, Doug Warbrick and Terry Wall opened it again as a Surf Shop, combining it with a garage they had on the block next door where they had a ding repair operation. Terry Lyons open his first shop in 1967, called “Speaky’s Surf Shop” at the top of Gilbert Street beside the old Post Office.
Tony Olsen, reporting in his column in the Herald Sun in 1969, notes that there were now 6 or 7 surf shops in Torquay but credits Don Loveless with having the first. He continued that Don liked his Fire Brigade job as it allowed him more time to surf and noted that Don was still surfing every day and competing in the veteran A division in ASA contests, riding a 6’11’ Pat Morgan Board.
Don continued his work with the local Fire Brigade and the Geelong Fire Brigade. When he was offered a promotion to the permanent staff of the Geelong Fire Brigade in 1975, he decided to close the shop in Gilbert Street. He still worked his TV repair service from his new house in Beach Road. There were some new players in town making surf wear and Fay retired from her sewing.
Don’s love of surfing led he and Fay to Bali in the early seventies, and they became pioneers of travel there, taking groups of Torquay friends and surfers with them. Don died in1981, but the members of his family remain in Torquay, proud of their family connection to the beginnings of the Surf Industry in our town.
We should not overlook the contribution that people like Don and Fay Loveless made to surfing and our little community in its early days in Torquay.