Aired on 2020, Jun 15th  in Legends and much more! / Podcast

Interview with Craig Baird - Australian National Surfing Museum


Welcome to the fourth episode of The Temple of Surf - The Podcast!

Today with us is Craig Baird, curator of the Australian National Surfing Museum based in Torquay, Victoria.

Let's discover with him more about the Museum, its stories, Australian surfing and much more!

To know more about the museum please click on the link

We prefer you listening to the podcast (we are in iTunes, Spotify, YouTube, SoundCloud and more!), if you like to read, please enjoy the transcription of the interview!


TTOS: Hi, Greg, and welcome to the show… Where are you today?

In Torquay, sitting at home and working from home, which is which is kind of cool. 

It's a new reality. 

TTOS: How's it going over there during the coronavirus confinement?

Yeah, look, it's a little bit weird. 

It’s weird not being at the museum because we're open 364 days a year…. in the 27 year history of the museum, we've only been closed only for 27 days….and now I think this reached about eight weeks working from home. 

So yeah, it definitely feels a bit weird. 

TTOS:  How did it all started with you and working at the museum as curator…

Oh, this is a bit of a long story. It's it goes right back to the day that I left the school, I started managing a surf shop in a town nearby ….I did that for a couple of years and then worked as a librarian for a few more years.

And then I've got a gig at Rip Curl working in the showroom over the summer, but also painting their surfboards…..I had an artistic background and they liked the work that I was doing and wanted to see it on their boards….I did that for 26 years and about halfway through that, I started working at the museum. 

I've been there for 21 years….I'm just so lucky because you know, I've a couple of dream jobs as a kid, if you'd said….what would you like to do? 

The first one is painting surfboards for a living and  be in touch with so many people in the surfing industry and famous names and shapers …

TTOS: In your opinion, what is the most important thing in surfing? 

I think the most valuable thing in surfing is the fact that it's just fun. 

None of us would do it if it wasn't fun…… as you develop and your skills develop, then obviously you look for more challenging surf. 

It's a really cool thing that no matter how old you are, no matter how fit you are, no matter where you are in the world, you can find somewhere to peddle out, have a bit of fun. 

TTOS: I guess is about what the Duke was saying…”the best surfer out that is the one is having the most fun”, right?

I think one of the problems with surfing is that competitive surfing is kind of like the face of surfing. It's the only thing that makes the news….competitive surfing and big wave surfing. 

For most people, both of those things are sort of unattainable it's beyond their experience…..

But for most people it's about going to the beach and having fun, whether that's by yourself or with your friends. 

I think if all of the structure and the mechanism for competitive surfing and all the money and sponsors and everything were taken away, the people would still be surfing cause they just love it. 

TTOS: No matter how much money is in the business, nevertheless it helps, like a young guy, to dedicate their life to surfing. Right? 

Yeah. It's great that that opportunity exists….but in talking to people at the museum, especially school groups, we talk about how surfing's a bit like a pyramid and there's that, that small group of elite surfers, the top of the pyramid that traveling the world enjoying fantastic locations and getting paid to do it, but at the other end of that, there's millions of people that just love it, go to the beach and enjoy it on where to terms they can.

TTOS: Do you remember the first surfboard that you ever surfed? 

Yeah! I bought it from my sister's boyfriend and it costs me $30 and it's quite funny….we had a board in the museum recently….it was pretty much exactly the same shape and I just loved that. 

I mean, nobody else did, but I loved that. 

This happened when I was 15 years old. even at that point I grabbed some little hobby pants, you know, little tins and painted a mural on the bottom of the surfboard. 

So from day one we could say I started personalizing surfboards. 

TTOS: Do you still have that surfboard?

Oh no, I wish I did. It was really funny because for years I'd see the guy that ended up with it.

Nobody else in the world would care about this board except me, but he knew that I wanted it. 

So it was like…. you can't have it. Sorry. 

TTOS:  Let's talk about the Australian national surfing museum…..December, 1993, right? 

The museum came about like if it was a unique alignment of the fact is that surfing in Australia was based in Torquay at the time that was the home of two of the largest surf labels in the world, which are Quicksilver and Rip Curl.

An active group of people some pioneer surfers that were pushing the idea and the surfing association of course helped kick the thing along. 

As I said, it was a unique alignment of factors that came into play….I think we were the third surfing museum globally open and now  we've got the largest footprint that makes us being the largest surfing museum in the world, here In Torquay.

I started at the museum, I think about six months down the track and I have had evolving roles. 

From two days a week to four days a week to full time too and in 2009 I became a curator. 

It's been a pretty good journey. 

TTOS: What is the biggest achievement that the museum got so far? 

I guess there's a lot of things that we could look at it as being really positive outcomes.

But the real challenge for us is that the Australian surfing story is a huge story. 

For us to try and tell a huge story in a limited space, (a story that grows every day) is a challenge….

You know, the problem is that we have people coming in wanting to see specific parts of the story and of course,we can't have all of the story up all the time. 

So we rotate a material around and right out of the displays in a way that we can try and tell as much of the stories we can. 

But you know, sometimes ….we have funny things that happen… a really classic… for instance there was a young guy called Robert Keneally that won the juniors at the first world championship at Nalley in 1964. 

We had the shorts that his mom had made for him and the world championship trophy on display for a couple of years.

And two weeks after we took them off display, one of his friends came in and of course, he was really disappointed that he didn't see anything about Robert Keneally. So it was just like…..what can you do? 

TTOS: You cannot please, everybody. Right. 

I just told him, you should have been here two weeks ago. 

TTOS: In in the website of the international surfing association, they define the museum as “a place of surfing significance” what it does mean for you and for the people that work in the museum?

I guess the meaning can change over time. 

I know that, as I said before, because we were one of the first few surfing museums in the world and it had been a museum that was developed by surface and being delivered by surface…it was seen as being quite a significant thing, but I think at the time, you know, our importance and the role that we play has, has expanded beyond that, at that initial meaning. 

The people that developed the museum, their idea was that it would be like a trip down memory lane for all surfers.

They would be able to come in and see their legacy up on the wall. 

I think what happens now is that there's probably three groups that we have that regularly visit the museum, which is school students, people traveling around Australia, but also a lot of international visitors as well. 

There were times when the international visitors were 70% of our visitors. 

We do get a lot of people from, you know, countries, literally all around the world. 

TTOS: People traveling to Australia and surf he's part of the history of the Nation, in your website, you're saying that there are 100 years of surfing history and stories , what is your favorite one?

We've got a couple of really good ones represented in the museum. 

We've got two of the oldest surfboards in Victoria on display…..that's the very start of the surfing story in this part of the world. 

Those boards were purchased in Hawaii and brought back to the West Coast here in Victoria. 

You know, to be able to touch those boards, which were shaped in Hawaii and was surfed there over a hundred years ago is a really cool thing. 

And we've also got a display on at the moment of a whole bunch of boards from the surf contest at Bell's in 1981, when the surf got really big,

It's almost like the transition from single fins to twin fins and boards with multiple third fins and even the first thruster that Simon Anderson have ridden.

And, you know, he demonstrated the potential of the thruster, of the three fins to the competitive world.

Personally, I'm a huge fan of Mark Richards and we're really lucky because we've got three of his really colorful wetsuits and we've got six of his surfboards on display. 

One of them in particular, a is Ben Aipa surf board, that's got flames on it. 

I remember seeing that board in the magazine when I was a kid and, and it kind of inspired me to pick up an airbrush and paint surfboards, it changed my life and I see it every day. That's amazing. 

TTOS: Is that the most important Item that you have in the museum or, is there something more important, of a historical significance….in your opinion of course…

It's funny….I always describe it as … “if the place is on fire, if it was an absolute emergencies, which one would you go out the door first?”

I think those, those two Hawaiian boards for sure, simply because of their age and the story that they tell.

It would be, you know, my absolute favorites, but then very closely followed by Ben Aipa and Simon Anderson thruster.

TTOS: Waiting for the doors to open. What are you preparing for the visitors? I know that currently you have an exhibition called “Waves and Wheels” right? 

Yeah. Recently we've been working on two temporary exhibitions each year, and one permanent exhibition.

The permanent exhibition that we've got this year is called “waves and wheels” it's about surfers…..well, the relationship between surfers and their cars particularly in the years the early sixties until the eighties were, you know, everybody access to cheap cars and fuel wasn't too expensive. 

And it wasn't uncommon to just grab your mate and disappear for the weekend, you know, up and down the coast, looking for waves. 

So it's that surfing, surfing adventure is going to be always part of the tradition of surfing in Australia, surfing travel. 

I remember years ago that I did a trip to Sydney. There was no surf here….

We left and Saturday morning we were surfing locally and people going….”you guys went to Sydney?” and we were like, yeah, we did…..Yeah… it was a 2000 kilometer road trip…

Surfing adventures would be part of it and that's why we concentrated on that for the exhibition. 

But also we do more temporary exhibitions and the most recent one of those, which we're just talking about Simon Anderson, Bells ‘81 contest. 

We got all the boards and his trophies from Bells in 1977 and 81 and what we're going to replace that with, there'll be a new exhibition

That will be all about the those first surfboards in Victoria that just over a hundred years  story since they were, brought out from Hawaii.

We thought it's a perfect opportunity to tell that story on the centenary of those boards arriving. 

TTOS: How people can support the museum?

The funny thing at the moment, is it's been sort of challenging not being at work, but what we've also been doing is trying to come up with different ways that we can share as story with a global audience. 

Obviously, schools aren't able to visit the museums, so what we've been doing is trying to develop online visits to the museum. 

So we can actually present them with all the information and people can virtually visit the museum…. that's one really good thing. 

We did a project with Google over the last couple of years, which was launched August last year… if you Google  “great sporting lands”…you'll find the museum or a museum logo and if you go to the museum page, you can explore hundreds of items from our collection. 

There are stories from some exhibitions and, as well, a 3d walkthrough of the museum. 

That's a really great way for people that we'll never get to physically visit the museum to enjoy it and have a look around and check out some of our stuff. 

TTOS: We're going to finish interview with a short Q/A session, so please answer the first thing that comes up to your mind….

TTOS: The best of board You ever ridden:

There's two, there's a long board that I've got that…as I got older and less fit… I had a friend that I was actually spraying surfboards for… make me a long board….and it is the most forgiving….It's like an extension of your body. 

You know, that I've surfed this thing for years, like 15, 15 plus years and it still surprises me. 

So it's like, you know, if I had to have one surfboard for the rest of my life, that would be it. 

But at the same time, a current board that I've got it's shaped by a guy that does the shaping as a display in the museum, a guy called AJ Shimoto. 

it's basically a blown up version of one of a John John's boards, but I'm a big guy…so it's eight foot four long it's 24 inches wide. 

It's three and three quarters thick…. it's APS. The thing floats, like you wouldn't believe, but the best thing is, it's a big board, but it serves like a short board. So, you know, it makes me feel quite a bit younger than what I actually am.

TTOS: The best shaper of all time….

Oh, that's a, that's a really tricky one. I'm not sure there is such a thing. 

I think shaping it's a bit like art….everybody has different styles. They're known for different things. 

Obviously there's a few that are favorites….I really liked Ben Aipa when I was younger, I mean, he was a big guy and I've always been a pretty big guy and I saw the way that he could work volume and his size to create power….. 

A lot of people go for less and less volume in boards, but if you, if you have volume and you can push it, you get power. So Ben Aipa was always somebody that made pretty remarkable boards. 

TTOS: Your favorite song? 

My favorite song…….That's too hard. Oh, that's a really, really tricky one, but I guess just for longevity Robert Plant being lead singer of Led Zeppelin, but also all of the stuff that he's done as a solo artist has been exceptional. 

TTOS: Your favorite surf spot? 

That's a secret. J

There's a spot that I surf most of my  life called Point Impossible

And there are probably about, you know, half a dozen seven breaks within a kilometer…and having spent a bit of time there, you know, at different times and different winds in different swell, you know, that there's, there's usually a wave there that we had one way or another. 

I really liked the fact there's a little break at the end of the street where I live now that even with all the nonsense that's going on at the moment…I can put the board under my arm and walk down to the end of the street and there's this little break that sometimes we get on that sits up right on the reef and then runs through to the sand. You can get caught a long ride and it's a bit of fun. 

TTOS: The best Australian surfer….. 

Statistically Layne Beachley and, and Steph Gilmore are the most successful competitive surfers of all time in Australia. 

But I've got a soft spot for  Mark Richards… He's a great character. He rode the boards that he shaped, he won world championships on and not too many people had done that.

Today he  continues to shape and surf to this day. And I've got a huge amount of respect for him. 

TTOS: the last question is a little bit unusual…..we want to know, your best relationship advice

A shared experience is the glue that binds people together. 

In a way that defines a relationship because of course, if you haven't shared any experiences with somebody, you have no relationship with them. So sharing experiences is the best way to build relationships here. 

Recorded in May 2020

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