Old men and the sea: The Brookvale Six who have made Australia's surfboards since 1963

Denny Keogh​ once held Australian surfing in the palm of his hand.

He and five others made 90 per cent of surfboards manufactured in Australia after the craze came ashore thanks to the film Gidget​ and 18-year-old Midget Farrelly's surprise victory win at the Makaha​ International Championship on Hawaii's North Shore in January 1963.

Six years earlier, Keogh,  Barry Bennett, Scott Dillon, Greg McDonagh, Bill Wallace and Gordon Woods stood on various Sydney beaches and watched visiting US lifeguards paddle out on lightweight balsa surfboards with fins.

"I was a woolclasser and happily went bush every winter. In summer, I'd work as a lifeguard," Keogh recalled. "One day I saw this American, Tom Zhan​, on a red surfboard at South Steyne. It changed my life."

The Coming of the Board was a sort of saltwater epiphany for the six as the Americans cut across unbroken waves rather than ride the whitewater.

They started making boards, first with balsa from the forests of Ecuador and then foam. They turned Brookvale into surf city, thanks to cheap rents. They had such a lock on the industry throughout the 1960s that ruder magazines like Tracks dubbed them the "Brookvale Mafia".

Now aged between 79 and 91, they've been christened the far more respectable Brookvale Six in a new documentary Men of Wood & Foam due to be screen on December 14 on the Foxtel History Channel.

Phil Jarratt​, who co-produced and co-directed the documentary, said he realised these early pioneers of Australian surfboarding were not getting any younger.

"Had to get their stories down. After all, they started an industry that turned into an Australian lifestyle," Jarratt said.

Denny Keogh made boards under the name Keyo​ – "I changed it because it worked well phonetically and looked kinda Hawaiian". Midget was his big name rider with his own signature model.

Jarratt filmed one of Farrelly's last interviews before he died at 71 last August. The 1964 world champion said the Brookvale Six had a singular achievement.

"They took surfing from the surf life saving clubs and gave it to everybody," Farrelly said.

The Brookvale Six rode the longboard boom, When balsa gave way to foam, they all tried their hand at chemistry to produce the perfect blank: explosions were not unknown.

But they made good money. There was rivalry and a certain camaraderie. Come Friday, they took turns in turning on a keg for da boys.

Keogh said a Midget model in 1963 cost £33 ($66). The average weekly wage was around $40.

"They auctioned one for $4000 recently," he said ruefully.

But Barry Bennett won big time. His Dion Chemicals became the nation's biggest blank supplier.

By 1966, Brookvale's salad days faded as shortboards took over and local surf shop pushed their own models as backyard poets armed with sanders flourished.

The Six stayed wet. Barry Bennett won big time, with his Dion Chemicals becoming the nation's biggest blank supplier. Keogh had the franchise for Hobie Cats franchise.

Scott Dillon, whose 1962 Bare Island bombora ride was a seminal baby boomer bedroom wall photograph, stayed the true waterman and rode waves into his 80s.

Now 89, he is in a Coffs Harbour nursing home and Jarratt showed him the video recently and snuck a couple of cans of beer to toast the old days.

"He loved it," Jarratt said. "The nurses took one look at the Bare Island photo and said 'Jeepers Scottie, you must have been a pretty cool guy'."

The story Old men and the sea: The Brookvale Six who have made Australia's surfboards since 1963 first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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