Surfboard manufacturer Graham King is one of a diminishing group of unassuming but legendary figures of the original surfing industry still operating in Australia.
His surfboard factory on the Princes Highway at Kirrawee, built with his own hands in the early 70’s, has now been sold – a product of the times in which we live where the “old school” manufacturing industry is forced to relocate.
He started in the surfboard production business back in the late 50s in Marrickville but moved his expanding business into a rented Kirrawee factory that burnt down in the “great finish room fire of 72”.
“One of my workers ran in and said I think we have a problem, the finish coating room is smoking,” King said.
In the 1960’s he had seen an opening in the Australian surf industry and he had started manufacturing and selling foam blanks and supplying raw materials for the manufacturers of the day.
King learned the “blank” business from Californian surfer Harold Walker who was one of the first to blow foam blanks sometime in the early 60’s.
For decades the only man who knew more about surfboard foam than Walker was fellow American “Grubby” Clark.
When Clark Foam closed in the USA it was shocking for the surf industry. When Walker Foam went in 2007, it was another black day.
King is one of only three people in Australia to still “blow blanks” and whilst other manufacturers have come and gone in the last 50 years, King’s factory in Kirrawee is thankfully only relocating to the Tweed Coast, not disappearing.
“We supply manufactures from Byron to Batemans Bay and we will still have a shire distributor so we are not going out of business,” King said
“I have just come back from China, my business of supplying a couple of hundred blanks a week is like a backyard operation to them.
“Production methods have changed and there is a big shift in surfboard manufacture.”
Like any successful business Kin has moved with the times and had two state of the art “Acu” computer shaping machines operating in the factory – one of which is being sent to be used in Japan.
He has supplied blanks and materials to many surf brands over the decades like McCoy, Aloha, Jacksons and Jim Banks and his machines have churned out hundreds of rough gems to be finished off by individual craftsman all over the state.
“I will miss it, I did build the place but I will also miss the people I have met who love to talk about the production processes,” King said.
King’s business has stood for more than 50 years and blowing blanks is an exact science, liquid polyurethane poured into a mould, set and stringered (for extra strength), the slightest change in temperature, formula or process can alter the result of the foam’s density.
His two factories covering more than 1000 square meters are located opposite the new “Brick Pit” development with showroom and Princes Highway access and are zoned B6 – office and light industrial uses as well as bulky goods retailing.
It’s been sold through agent Ben Steege at LJ Hooker Commercial (Sutherland Shire) and it's another story of urbanisation and shifting industry.