It was the summer of 1965 that the skateboard fad really took off in Australia. Those first boards were lethal contraptions but are now keenly sought after, usually by those who rode them 50 years ago.
Which explains why Don Stuart, owner of the Black Diamond Antiques shop on the old Princes Highway in Bulli, has been offered $900 for the skateboard he has had hanging on the wall for the past 15 years. This is a Surfa-Sam, pretty much the holy grail for Australian skateboard collectors.
"I know nothing about skateboards," laughs Don, aged 81. "I've never even ridden one." At least not until the photographer asked him to demonstrate this board.
That $900 was a serious offer. This is the rare Surfa-Sam longboard version, 30 inches instead of the standard 24. At one stage three or four people a week would come into the shop to make inquiries but Don couldn't sell because it belonged to a colleague … "and he said he didn't ever want to sell it".
That gentleman has since passed on and his family is now re-considering. Chances are they won't get another $900 offer but this battle-scarred plank of wood is still worth big money.
The reason for all the interest is that the Surfa-Sam is regarded as the first mass-produced Australian-made skateboard. It was designed in 1963 by Dr Leo Kalokerinos, a young GP from Rose Bay in Sydney.
He saw an skateboard a friend's son had made using old roller-skate wheels and thought it had potential. He started making his own boards at home, using Tasmanian oak for the decks. The Detroit Super wheels were custom made by Ryan Rubber in Berala.
Kalokerinos first advertised his boards in 1965 as the Landsurfa, priced at 89/11d in pre-decimal currency. An advertising agency then came up with the classic Surfa-Sam logo. Sales were so strong that by 1970 Kalokerinos set up a factory in Erskineville to handle demand. The complete history is on the surfasam.com website.
Prices for vintage skateboards have taken off over the past 10 years or so. A few Surfa-Sams have sold recently on the Soul Surf memorabilia website, although their skateboard guru, Seb, says they are now far less common than five years ago. Prices range from $350 to $600 for the typical used and abused models, up to $1000 in the case of an unused example that Seb sold last year. "Rare as hen's teeth," he says, noting that about 20 years ago it was still possible to pick up old skateboards at the local tip.
Now everyone wants a Surfa-Sam, preferably with the original Detroit wheels that still spin around. Don's longboard version is considered more desirable but there even more valuable ones. Australian surf pioneer Midget Farrelly also produced skateboards. One of Midget's ultra rare "triple stringer" models sold online for $1500 a few years ago. Even Seb says he's never seen one.