The Pre-history of Ski Paddling - an Aussie Perspective

Wednesday, 28 May 2008 13:57 | Written by  Craig Fisher
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Looking at the recent Molokai results and examining where the top 10 came from got me thinking where it all had started and why. Fortunately I do not have to look any further than my dad Colin Fisher and my father in law Peter Cuff for history.

Peter Cuff, Surfski 1956
Peter Cuff shows how it's done - 1956-style. Note the paddle leash!

fMy father started paddling in 1948 when he joined the Cottesloe Surf Life Saving Club in Western Australia. Colin was responsible for bringing back the concepts to build the first Malibu's in Western Australia from the 1956 Surf carnival held in Torquay which coincided with the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne Australia. I have shown pictures here of the 1956 Torquay board race demonstrating the boards they were using which were later merged into the first true surf skis. The initial paddle skis were kragga skis which were canvas covered and it took three people to get them in the water. The frame of one of these Kragga skis is shown in the pictures. The Kragga Ski and the longboards merged and this became the first true surf skis with footstraps and paddles tied to the front on which paddlers still stood up on.The skis later progressed to fibreglass versions which were much lighter although a far cry far from the current 9kg skis of today.

The Americans came to Australia for the 1956 surf life saving carnival and the legendary Greg Noll (The Bull) was a part of the team. I asked Dad about the race and meeting the Americans. All he can remember is being pushed under the cans by one of the Americans and having a huge party at the Torquay Hotel and waking up under his car with a hangover from hell. Some things don't change! The picture of the old Holden with the boards was the trip across the Nullarbor (3429km) to the carnival with Kirk Jarrots uncle leaning out the window. Kirk placed 10th in the Molakai this year. Dad built the first Malibu's in WA after this trip and was one of 6 surfers on the Perth Coast at the time


On the other side of the Indian Ocean Peter Cuff was also pioneering surf skis in South Africa. Pete was one of the first surfers in the East London area and used to build his own Kragga Skis. He joined the colonial police and was stationed up on Lake Malawi and built skis to go fishing. I have shown pictures of the construction of these initial skis in 1958 progressing to later versions around 1966. These are very similar to the stand up paddle boards of today. Pete was riding classic Jefferies Bay in the 1950's on stand up paddle boards. Johnny Woods was also very influential through this period of development in East London. Johnny's son Steve Woods came 11th in this year's Molokai.

In Australia the ski developed into the fibreglass spec ski of today. In South Africa the ski developed with no restrictions into a foam filled ocean ski which later developed into the hollow carbon versions of today. South Africa developed a history of long distance ski races like the PE to EL race in which the Cuffs were the original ground crew. Johnny Woods invented the race in the early 1970's by challenging a runner to beat him over the 244km course with Johnny paddling. In Australia competition became much more sprint race orientated with standards set on the type of equipment used. 

The Cuffs and the Fisher kids were all bought up paddling on the original wooden skis and boards through the 70's and 80's and the families are now joined. The Fisher/Cuff kids are now coming through as third generation ski and board paddlers based in Margaret River and Perth in Western Australia. Maybe we will see Molokai contenders in 2020 out of Margaret River.

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