THE painters were keen to get a job and the cost, including paint, was agreed. “Can you start Monday?” the house owner asked. “Sure, although if it’s a northerly we might be here in the afternoon, or Tuesday.”
The house owner was pleased with the price and the can-do attitude but baffled by the reference to the wind – it was an inside job.
New to the Mornington Peninsula she later discovered the painters were serious – about surf.
Surrounded on three sides by sea, including unpredictable Bass Strait, the peninsula is an ideal base for surfers. The type and size of waves varies from beach breaks to rocky points and offshore reefs. All are affected by tides swell size and wide direction.
Close to the Melbourne’s southern and eastern suburbs, the peninsula has for decades increasingly been a destination and a home for surfers.
It was a lifestyle choice for many but, along with the desire to live near the waves, came the need to make money. As surfing grew in popularity so too did a surfing industry.
Surfers needed boards, wetsuits, wax, leg ropes and, inevitably, clothing. As with many sub-stratas of society surfers were able to distinguish themselves through fashion, although a t-shirt, board shorts and thongs is a universally recognisable uniform.
The East Coast, as the peninsula is known in surfing circles, has often been cast as the poor cousin of the West Coast and its (now) Torquay-based multi-national surf companies. One bright spark even put up a Hoax Coast website.
But to those in the know, the peninsula had the advantage of relatively uncrowded surf when compared to the beaches and accommodation choices from Barwon Heads to Lorne.
Surfboard maker and primary school sports teacher Dillon Milenkovic during last year’s lockdowns decided that surfing on the peninsula had a history worth recording.
Armed with the advantages of digital recording (and some backing by a brewery and picnic hamper supplier) he has interviewed more than 15 surfers, mainly surfboard makers, recording their times and lives chasing waves. His 19-episode podcast Salt of the Peninsula currently runs for about 40 hours (available through Spotify and Podbean).
The recordings show that the ceaseless search for waves not only led many to call the peninsula home but to also use it as a launching pad to make a living and explore the wider world, surely one of the best perks of any job.
Milenkovic, 46, dates his “passion” for surfing back to his early teens and his surfboard-making efforts to 2000.
But the required skills did not come until he was in his 30s watching and absorbing as the late Michael Parkinson, of Sorrento, made him a board.
“Mick shaped and built a board for me while I hung out during the whole process, watching the master at work,” Milenkovic says.
“I then fell in love with building surfboards and pursued a part time job with a registered business name DMS Dillon Milenkovic Surfboards.”
Milenkovic and his wife Megan decided it was time for a backyard “studio” for board making after “glassing boards inside the house left resin all over the light switches, phone and even carpet”.
Milenkovic is the biggest fan of board makers on the peninsula and urges surfers to buy local: “Money shouldn’t come into it … not that they charge more than other high profile shapers anyway, they’re usually cheaper”.
“Shake the bloke’s hand with some dust on it and slide the shooter in the back of your car. You’ll also get to shoot some conversation for a while and smell the resin.”
Milenkovic says the Salt of the Peninsula podcast was inspired by Red Hill Cricket Club’s Andrew Mock’s Tails from the Chip podcast with its interviews with footballers and cricketers during lockdowns.
“This is when a light bulb went off, and I thought I’d love to do this about surfing from our peninsula, starting off with our elder gentlemen of surfing,” he said. “I like to let the guests roll with the stories. John Jolly was my very first episode, and I could not have asked for a better first guest. “John was patient, well spoken, considerate, very interesting and very true to our peninsula, but with many other stories from around the country and even further
“Like all guests, he was humble and liked to speak about other people probably more than himself.”
Other names on the podcast (besides the many “dropped” in the talks) include Garry Taylor, Steve Friedman, Ian Portingale, Mark McCabe, Phil Grace, Terry Jackson, Dave Morrison, Phil Coates, Paul and Phil Trigger, Chris Cornell, Neil, Rory and Dan Oke, Ian Cochrane, Geoff Coker and Jon Wilson.
“The feedback from the surfing tribe on the peninsula has been amazing,” Milenkovic said.
“I’ve been lucky to have a bunch of blokes who are receptive to opening up and peeling back the layers to the golden years. It also took some strength from most speakers to talk about certain issues from the past while other stories had me laughing uncontrollably.
“I was thinking I would be happy if 100 or so people gave the first episode and beyond a listen. As it stands, about 13,000 have downloaded along with a few overseas listeners.”
While many of his podcast “guests” are board builders, they also include competition surfers, club committee members, “pioneers” of the peninsula and “surfing hardware inventors and wizards”.
“They would all hold a crowd with their presence,” Milenkovic said.
“As stories unfold over the mic I find myself learning more about our peninsula. Whether it’s about people, buildings, surfing breaks, friendship, competition or travel.
“I believe I have decade envy and think growing up and surfing in the 1970s would have been very interesting.
“It’s a great vibe listening to stories from back in that time and understanding that these guys were really gutsy in their wave riding, travelling, board building and much more.”
Milenkovic sees “no end” to Salt of the Peninsula, with plans to speak with more “people from the golden era” and cover “some grommet work, surfboard models and environmental aspects”.