Vale Fred Pyke 1934-2021

October 28, 2021 BY

Fred Pyke (right) with long-time glasser Peter Ashley, pictured in 2009. Photo: BOB SMITH

TORQUAY surf industry pioneer Fred Pyke has been remembered as one of the most influential figures of his time and the inspiration for the next generation of surfboard shapers in the town.

Mr Pyke, who still lived in the family home next to the original Pyke Surfboards factory, died on Saturday at the age of 87.

A champion road and track cyclist who was nearly selected for the 1960 Rome Olympics, Mr Pyke started shaping surfboards in 1962, set up business in Brunswick in 1964 and moved to Torquay in late 1966.

Mr Pyke was a cabinetmaker by trade and became famous for manufacturing long boards with clean lines and his perfectionist attitude towards shaping.

He taught the craft to a veritable who’s who of Torquay surfing during the 1960s and 1970s, including Rip Curl co-founder Doug ‘Claw’ Warbrick, Ray Wilson, Alan Atkins, Jeff “Bear” Spence, Dennis “Strapper” Day (who later started the Strapper surf brand), Don Allcroft, Graeme “Willey” Muncey, Maurice Cole and Pat Morgan.

He bought the US licence in the 1970s to make and sell Dive and Surf wetsuits in Australia with Rod Brooks – the business later changed its name to Piping Hot – and retired from the surfing industry in the early 1980s.

Rip Curl’s other co-founder Brian Singer knew Mr Pyke in the late 1960s in the early days of Rip Curl.

“Back in the late 1960s and into the 1970s, a number of the people who became reasonably well known in the surf industry started with him,” he said.

“I think he was, for a while, pretty well the only surfboard maker in Torquay, along with Vic Tantau.”

Strapper Surf managing director Mike Di Sciascio said Mr Pyke had a long relationship with “Strapper” Day, who had his first job at the Pyke Surfboards factory.

“Fred was a bit of a perfectionist, he tried to get people who had that eye for detail and trade skills.

“It was absolutely a cottage, cutting-edge industry starting back then.

“It’s really hard to explain what a guy like him did – I never worked for him, but he’s had an impact on my whole career in the surf industry indirectly.

“He’s in the top one, two or three of those early influencers.

“A lot of the stuff he did like the branding or the wetsuits was avant garde – he was the first, second or third person to be doing it, and absolutely at the frontier. It’s all standard now, but it’s only standard because those guys nurtured it and developed it.”

Bob Smith, who knew Mr Pyke well and has a large collection of Pyke-branded surfboards, said Mr Pyke was an “absolutely marvellous” person.

“He was relatively quiet, a little bit reserved and kept to himself. He was a private person to a degree.

“He had a magnificent shed at his home that he made things in, like furniture and aeroplanes out of balsa.

“It is devastating when someone of that stature passes away that had such a huge influence on the surfboard business and the overall development of Torquay.”

Mr Pyke is survived by his wife Elisabeth and their two children, Kim and Justin.

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