Words: James Meade
Contribution: George Watt
It was 6am and I was heading down to my local beach with coffee in hand for my first local surf comp. Just 2 months earlier I had gone through the process of transitioning my Sydney snowboard shop ‘The Mountain Garage’ to an online store, and moved to the Mid North Coast of NSW for a radical lifestyle change. Shortly after getting to town I was invited to join the local mal club, at which I jumped at the opportunity to meet new friends and enjoy the waves the local area had to offer. Expecting a sunny day in the surf, the last thing on my mind was snowboarding…
Approaching the crew standing on the deck overlooking the water, I felt a tad nervous as for one, I’d only just moved here and never met these people, and two, I’d never surfed in a surf comp in my life, but my nerves settled as I started to introduce myself to what seemed like a very solid and welcoming bunch. 7 o’clock came around and the first heat was called. Of course the newbie was sent in first, so I quickly donned my wettie and waxed my log. In microscopic waves, somehow I managed to take a win and this sent me into the unofficial ‘final’ with 5 other competitors, including George Watt, a local legend in these parts for his surfing prowess, including a couple of age runner-ups in the Australian titles.
George beat me in the final of course. We returned to the beach from the water and after removing our contest jerseys and our wetties, and returning to the deck for the presentation we struck up a rather interesting conversation…
After grilling George on what it was like to surf the East Coast of Australia through the 70s & 80s, and drooling at the thought of empty First Point Noosa, we moved on to non-surfing related topics and the question of my work came up, to which I answered “I have a Snowboard Shop”. Now being the Mid-North Coast, the typical reaction I had received to this point to this statement was one of bewilderment. “But there’s no snow up here” was the typical reply. But George paused, looked intrigued and probed for more information. He then explained to me, that in the late 70s he and his good friend Geoff St. George had designed and built what they called “The Snowf”. George explained to me that as surfers that frequented Smiggins during winter, they were struggling to get their weight forward to turn a set of skis. It was this simple realisation that motivated them to design and create something that would be easier to ride, and more closely emulate a surfing experience on snow.
Now this really peaked my interest, as I knew that, around the same time, Jake Burton was working on his Burton Backhill “snowboard”. Previous to this, there was the invention of “The Snurfer” (late 60’s) and of the “Winterstick” (70s), however, as far as I was aware, there was nothing similar to these concepts being ridden, or even being available in Australia in the 1970s (correct me if I’m wrong please dear reader).
Could this have been the first “snowboard” ridden in Australia? I asked myself, and then questioned George. George said that at the time he had heard of the Winterstick design, and had also seen someone riding a MonoSki at Perisher. He was unaware of whether he was breaking new ground or not, and that himself and Geoff St. George just wanted a better way to surf on snow.
“I was just getting into skiing and as a surfer I was struggling to get my weight forward to turn. It was this that motivated us to make a small surfboard type of ski that we could stand on like a surfboard so we made the “Snowf”.
“We were living in Bronte in Sydney at the time (1978) and made the Snowf in an old warehouse occupied by alternative artists and craftsmen at the water end of Glebe Point Road. The Snowf had strap bindings and we would wear waterproof joggers with extra socks.”
“We first rode the Snowf in the backcountry behind Smiggins/Perisher in 1978. I found it exciting, and for me much easier to turn than skis.”
“Yes we did consider taking out a patent on the idea. I even visited the patent office and did a search and funnily enough came away with a copy of Ben Lexcens’ Winged Keel Patent. The following year I married my wife Susie and we went and lived in Hawaii for 7 months while Geoff St. George (co-creator of the Snowf) went and worked in the snowfields at Thredbo. Geoff took the Snowf with him and told me later that he eventually left it under some stairs in Thredbo where he was staying for the season. Geoff sadly passed away in 1989.”
After hearing George talk about designing, building and riding the Snowf in Australia in the 70s, I was full of amazement, and after George knocked on my door to show me a slide he took of the Snowf in 1978 sitting on the roof of their car at Smiggins, I got even more excited (oh yeah, as it turns out we live in the same street!). The thing looked bad ass. I mean, just looking at it makes you want to ride it, preferably in deep powder 😉 I told George that recently, the PowSurf movement had taken off, and that his creation, built in 1978 I’ll add, really reminded me of the current binding-less Powsurfing boards that are available today, featuring concaved decks and some with channels in the base, but predominantly being made from wood. Hearing me talk board design, I saw George light up. A twinkle appeared in his eye as if he had just envisioned a new concept, a new design, a new way of feeling alive on a mountain or in the ocean. I knew that he had many more stories to tell, and that I would be keen to hear them.
Thanks to George Watt of Port Macquarie for sharing his story, and digitising the images above. Help us find the Snowf! If you have any information about the whereabouts of the Snowf board, let us know! As mentioned it was last seen under ‘some stairs’ in Thredbo. That’s all the information we have, but hey, if someone sees this and knows where the board is, give us a yell. This would make one hell of a piece for the Thredbo Alpine Museum!