In March of 1969 two surfing friends Doug "Claw" Warbrick and Brian "Sing Ding" Singer bumped into each other in Gilbert Street, Torquay. Claw had just finished a summer shaping stint with Fred Pyke and Brian was a science teacher. As the conversation progressed, and no doubt thinking about how they could stay surfing Bells in the pumping months ahead, Claw posed the question that started something great...
"Do you want to start making surfboards together?" he asked. Brian immediately figured this would mean a lot more time surfing, so on the spot said, “Yes!” and resigned from teaching a couple of days later.
The timing was perfect and just like that... Rip Curl was born...
While Claw could mow foam, Brian’s main attribute was that he had a tail-planer for shaping and a garage at 35 Great Ocean Road (towards Jan Juc) to work from and soon the sound of cold chisels could be heard hammering into the garage’s concrete floor to build stands as they set up over the next month.
In April 1969 the first boards were made with Claw doing four boards a week for the best surfers in Torquay and Brian doing the “shittiest job in the world” sanding and making fins in the yard.
They had enough work to keep them going through the winter, which was one of the best for surf on the reefs in memory, so product-testing was free-flowing with a lot of time spent in the water at Bells Beach.
In November of that year they realised they needed a better spot than the garage. So they went and found the Old Torquay Bakery at 5 Boston Road and for the princely sum of $10 a week rent they moved on up.
Inside they set up a proper shaping bay, glassing and sanding rooms and lifted production to 12 boards a week.
In December 1969 another local surfer, Alan Green, joined the duo and they started making wetsuits to complement the boards in the basement of a house in Beale Street behind the Torquay Pub.
Greeny had spent some time at a wetsuit dive company "Australian Divers" and they found a sewing machine, a "Pffaf 138 zig zag", which worked on thick rubber sourced in Clayton in the back-blocks of Melbourne.
Outsourcing much of the work at first, they soon realised that to keep up with orders and get the quality they wanted, they needed to do it all themselves so the wetsuit operation moved into Claw's flat at 66 Zeally Bay Road.
Change was rampant back then, such was the flower power and anti-establishment mood of the time. Business was no different to life in general and Greeny left Rip Curl in April 1970 to do his own thing, forming Quiksilver, with Claw and Brian as equal partners in the new venture.
Eventually it was time for them all to focus on one thing or the other and the partnership dissolved. Brian recalls that he swapped his Quiksilver shares for Greeny’s half of the land at the back of Bells Beach where he still lives today. "There was a bit of a difference in opinion over the value of the land, $5000 or so," he recalls "So we tossed a coin for it, I don't remember who won, but the deal was done."
Claw later sold his shares to Greeny so they could be issued to his new partner John Law.
When asked now, Claw has no clue how much he got for them!
Along the way
Pretty soon Rip Curl was firing and the Old Bakery was a hive of activity. The pair took over the adjoining house and that became the wetsuit factory. A new machine, a "1910 Singer Up The Arm Zig Zag", which had been used to sew flying boots for airmen in World War II, was found. This was used to sew the legs of the new “long John” style the boys were developing using the comfortable Rubatex neoprene from the US.
At the Old Bakery Claw and Brian had created a headquarters of sorts - with surfers naturally gravitating to the scene.
"It was a house for all the drop-outs that came down from Melbourne surfing and they'd degenerate further and move to the Krishnas looking for the next thing," recalls Brian, laughing.
"But when that wore off and their final degeneration happened, they came to work at the Rip Curl wetsuit factory!"
Times were good and with surfing as the catalyst the company progressed and they eventually moved out of the Old Bakery in 1976 into a new facility up the Geelong Road, (which is currently the medical centre), with Quiksilver opening next door soon after.
In 1980 the move was made across the road to the current Rip Curl HQ at 101 Surfcoast Highway, Torquay.