Donny, next to his car park at Winki, reliving his tube down in The Valley.

THE DON

Told by Donny Allcroft

“We came over from England in 1961. I was 17. We left from Tilbury docks in England and landed in Melbourne and I remember driving around thinking how clean and bright this place was compared to where we’d come from. I got an 11-foot Tony Olsen plywood board and started surfing in Port Philip Bay. 

We didn’t know about this other world down the coast, but soon started driving down to Torquay on a Friday night then driving back Sunday night. Then one time I didn’t go back. 

I started making surfboards with Fred Pyke, and two years later Rip Curl offered me a job making their boards at the old Boston Road bakery. It was an incredible time down here. Nobody in the water and I just loved making surfboards. I could surf a board, come back and change the thing I thought was wrong with it. I was working on fins while everybody was just sort of happy making their boards. I was just mad on improving. I remember making this flexi-fin for Ted Spencer with a perfect foil and this big rake. He was just coming off the bottom and whipping it off the top. He won Bells that year on that board. Claw and Brian were great. Good guys, better businessmen. I remember Claw looking at my boards in the rack though and going, “How am I supposed to sell these?” They were a little experimental for him, but they really worked.

I moved up north in 1978 and started shaping boards under license for Mark Richards, who was world champ at the time. It took me a while to get the boards organised, but I got the templates, marked it up, flipped it over and did the other side. Whereas if I made a custom, it would take me ages to get the outline right, because the curve was in my head and I had to get the cuts right. But once I got it all organised I ended up shaping six boards a day, which I can’t even believe now. I got pats on the back for them, but I wished I’d shaped more for myself when I was younger. I eventually went back home and started Sunbird. 

I first met Michael Peterson at Rip Curl. I had a house at 28 Puebla Street, Torquay where he stayed at Easter during those years he won the contest. When I moved to the North Coast I lived with Michael at his big Italian mansion up at Terranora. He was living with his girlfriend, Jenny at the time and driving a silver sports car. He’d just walk around grazing on grapes and nuts and shaping boards at a million miles an hour. He had a shaping set-up out the back, and I started shaping my own boards there as well. That’s when there was a bit funniness going on. He didn’t like people he didn’t know. One-on-one he was great but if even one person would turn up it would change the mood of the room, and it was getting worse. He had this thing about people trying to work him over mentally and in his own way he liked to get stuck into them first. It was really complex. We didn’t know what was going on, but afterwards of course we see it differently.

I’ve been caught three times down in The Valley at Winkipop on a high tide. You’ve caught a great wave and you’re going for miles and you just keep going and going and keep making sections and you suddenly realise you can’t paddle back against the current and the tide’s too high to walk back on the rocks. I’m a climber, so one time I decided I’d try and climb up the cliff. I kept my legrope on and dragged my board behind me, and I reckon I got a hundred foot up the cliff when I hit a big seam of wet clay and suddenly there was nothing to hang onto. It was terrifying, that moment when I realised I had to climb back down. 

I still climb today. It’s good to get away from The ‘Pop sometimes. Does your back good. Does your head good. I was up in the Arrapeles recently and it was beautiful. There’s nobody up there just and you’re looking out and the quiet is really something. You look out and there’s eagles and peregrines. It’s really good for you. When I drive back to the coast I like to take the old farm roads. I go past the farms and the old houses and come into Bells through the back road. When you come around the corner past Southside I get a good look at Winkipop and see what it’s doing. Then I come into the car park and I always like to park near the bushes and that’s why. If I do that drive and park near the bushes it feels like 1970 again for me. It’s still the old days, you know? That’s why they put that little sign up on the fence for me that I’m a little embarrassed about. It says, “Reserved parking, The Don.” I’m worried people think I put it up myself.

A couple of weeks ago I got three waves in a row at Winkipop that were fantastic. It was six foot and I took a couple of freefall drops. My legs don’t always work but they were this day. One of them I just bottom turned and the wave has just thrown out over me and I’ve pulled in. It was completely open and I’m looking out and there was little droplets of water and the sound… the sound was like a tinkling, jingling sound. Not loud, just like a chandelier tinkling. It was morning and I was surfing into the sun and I could see every drop and I felt a couple of them come down and kiss me on the face. I just kept going and going and suddenly I was out. It was truly a wonderful thing. I was right down the end and I didn’t think anyone would have seen it, which was fine, but then I got up to the car park and Pinhead was there and he looked at me with this big grin. He didn’t say anything for a while, just looked at me smiling with a twinkle in his eye, then he goes, “I saw it, Donny.” Made my day. I’m 76 but I was like a 10-year-old. It never leaves you, you know. That’s what surfing does. I just love it so much.

SW