LAGO CONJOLA, Australia (Reuters) – White ashes, some fins and molten board skins are all that remain of the collection of 260 irreplaceable vintage surfboards by Australian surfer David Ford.
The Australian surfer David Ford, 62, shows one of the few remaining surfboards in his collection of vintage surfboards that was destroyed in recent forest fires on Lake Conjola, Australia, on January 15, 2020. REUTERS / Alkis Konstantinidis
The handmade boards, some dating back to the 1960s, were destroyed by forest fires that razed Ford’s property during the New Year, saving their home but incinerating the shed that housed their collection.
“What has disemboweled me the most is that history has been lost,” Ford, 62, told Reuters while inspecting the debris.
Ford had been acquiring old boards since the late 1980s. His findings come from the Internet, garage sales and even rummage through garbage bins, where he found a table used by former Australian world champion Damien Hardman.
“We assembled functional art, (boards) handmade in those days by really skilled craftsmen,” said Ford, who had never been valued for the collection. “Everything is a bit overwhelming. I don’t know if I will collect again, but I will never stop sailing. It’s my religion.”
The Ford property is located on Lake Conjola, a small tourist town on the southeast coast of Australia with a famous surf wave.
The city was severely affected by forest fires that have spread throughout the southeast of the country in recent months, killing 29 people, destroying farmland and leaving thousands of people homeless.
On Lake Conjola, metal traffic signs melted and roofs collapsed. Huge areas of forest were blackened, with trees stripped or uprooted.
A handwritten sign next to a road near abandoned houses warned “loot, shoot.”
In the cities along the southeast coast, the beaches normally full of tourists in the high summer season were populated by a handful of people. Several surf shop owners told Reuters the business dropped significantly.
Brett Musket, 28, owner of the Offshore surf shop in the city of Moruya, said the impact on what was normally one of the busiest times of the year was “phenomenal.”
But Musket was stoic when he unpacked the excess inventory and handed a sweater to a man who became homeless from the fires: “I can’t worry about that. I have to do what I can.”
For some surfers, the lack of tourists was a ray of light.
“It’s good not to have to share the waves with 20 other men,” said Peter Norman, 36, walking along a beach near the city of Dalmeny. “Normally it is packed here.”
For others, not even a wave free of crowds made up for the devastation.
On a beach near Batemans Bay, two surfers rode great waves against a bleak backdrop of burnt trees and a thick gray haze.
“I haven’t seen anything like it in my life,” said painter Mark Warren, 42, while applying wax on his board before heading to the beach dotted with pieces of burnt vegetation.
The Ford board collector was out of town when two fires surrounded his house and merged. He considers himself lucky and said the disaster made him reassess his priorities.
“There are people who have the shirts on their backs and that’s it,” he said. “Better things come from the ashes and I guess I see my role now in supporting my friends and other people in the community who lost everything.”
Martin Petty Report; edition by Jane Wardell