There’s four Button brothers, and Mick is the oldest. He’d been making surfboards out the back of our place for as long as I could remember. He had a commercial artist called Rob Allen working on his surfboards. He would paint these amazing murals on Mick’s boards, some pretty whacky stuff.
We grew up in Morley and it wasn’t long before Mick was round the corner renting out a factory with Al Bean and Col Ladhams, and Rob was there doing art. Then Mick moved down south to Dunsborough and started working with GL (Greg Laurenson) in the old dairy shed, just behind where the pub is now. Mick was the reason I was able to come down after I finished high school and I started to paint surfboards because Rob didn’t want to leave Perth, so a spot had opened up.
I guess like everyone, my school books were all covered in palm trees and perfect waves. I daydreamed my way through. In the late 80s it was endless checkers; stripes and checkers and big block graphics. It was what we were seeing in the magazines, guys like Pottz and Gary Elkerton were into wild colours so that’s what we did. I wasn’t really doing murals at that stage because I was too interested in going surfing.
Sprays went out of favour after a while. Everyone was just into white boards. Kelly Slater didn’t have a spray so nobody else did either. It felt like a fashion thing to me. I started to feel really constrained with what you could do on a surfboard, or what people wanted you to do. That’s when I went to fine art so I could become more expressive and find more freedom.
I never really stopped spraying boards, I always did a few here and there, but for a long time I was just working and living as an artist. I lived in Portugal for eight months and travelled through Europe before I came back to WA and eventually down to Yallingup. I started spraying boards again for Oggy and his Yahoo label, but as more of a hobby this time.
There was a period of about 20 years where boards weren’t varying by more than half an inch, or less than that, a sixteenth of an inch. It was a crazy time. Everyone was saying, “Ohhh, I don’t know if I can go to a 6’1” and a half, I won’t be able to turn the thing!”
What was interesting at that time was Mick had the licence to build McCoy surfboards, which had Cheyne Horan as one of the core riders. He was one of the true individuals. He was going to yoga and meditation back when everyone else was just drinking VB. He was aligned, but not very well understood. He was riding these completely different surfboards to everyone else, almost ridiculous. It was like he was taking out a Captain Morgan in a competition and everyone else was riding little sticks. I guess like everything, it probably wasn’t just the surfers but someone in control of what we were exposed to through media, but I don’t know who.
The first thing I saw was the surf movie Sprout. I was pretty late on the scene but it was like people were no longer afraid of being different. I guess it was Dave Rastovich and his surfing, musicians like Jack Johnson and Donavon Frankenreiter, surf movies like Sprout and everything that encompassed individuality that caused this resurrection of retro.
I guess that role of mass production had now been taken over by imported boards, and people appreciate that guys like Oggy are still around. Over at the Factory, Bam checks the board at every stage to make sure they’re perfect. In some ways, even Bam has gone back to more traditional processes and refined them with solarez, resin laps, pre-sanding the laps and making sure the board comes out perfectly.
It’s so nice to come back and spray boards that have been so lovingly crafted. From the time Oggy shapes them, I spray them and Bam glasses them, it’s like for the first time since those days back in the old cow shed these surfboards really mean something. It’s not just a piece of plastic that got diverted from going to the bin for a short period of time.
It’s going back to how it used to be, to a time where Bob Davie taught all these guys to be craftsmen. It’s really nice to see the craftsmanship continue after so many years, especially after losing Bob. The whole Whangamata thing is a really close knit community, and I guess in a way the whole Yallingup thing is almost a microcosm of that.
It’s nice that there’s this history about this area now, the surfing heartland of Western Australia.