Neil & Alan Oke

Alan Oke began Oke Surfboards in 1968 in a small factory/shop in Edithvale Victoria by a young, enthusiastic surfer. Alan regularly surfed on Phillip Island and became a well-known identity in the local surf scene. At one time, he was president of the Phillip Island Boardriders Club. He was a part of the early breed of boardmakers in Victoria. At the beginning of the business, board styles such as trackers and pocket-rockets were popular. Over the years the business evolved and there was great experimentation involving both style and design.

In 1974 Alan was joined in the business by his younger brother Neil Oke, who at the age of 16 had been working for some time at the George Rice factory. Neil was an accomplished surfer who competed in Vic Junior championships and represented the state in 1973 at Western Australia.  Alan passed away through tragic circumstances and Neil dealt with the grief, picked up the pieces and soldiered on with the business. Forty five years later the business is still strong and he is flanked by his sons Dan and Rory who now drive the operation.

The entire Oke family was ocean orientated. Both Alan and Neil caught the surfing bug at a young age and quickly joined the Phillip Island Boardriders Club. When Neil left school, he went to work with Alan straight away, but not long after, the brothers had a falling out.  Neil went to work with Lindsay Mudge who had bought George Rice Surfboards. Lindsay was looking for a shaper, so Neil put his hand up. In a short time he was not only shaping the boards, but glassing and finishing as well. He had the whole place to himself at the age of seventeen.

Alan thought that was really cool because while Neil was learning to shape, Lindsay was paying for all the muckups. He worked for a year and made a hundred boards for him. After that he went back to work for Alan.

Alan was an innovative shaper. He used to do a lot of stuff off his own bat. He wasn’t copying anyone. He was trying everything and riding it as well; channels that ran down the full length of the board then splayed out towards the tail, spoon kneeboards, twin fins, knife sharp rails at the back, s decks…lots of boards and many that didn’t really work that well , but he gave them all a go.

Oke had some pretty talented guys working with them way back then – Richard Evans, Phil Grace, Mick Pierce and Colin Bell. Sadly when Neil was just six days away from his twentieth birthday, Alan took his own life. He was twenty six. Neil found the courage to pick up the pieces and kept the business running. His other brother Spud (Bruce) was their glasser, but he went overseas. Neil took the business over at twenty. Some of his best memories from surfing are between 1968 and 1975 with Alan.

In 1971 Neil went with Alan and Phil Grace on his first trip to Cactus, the famous remote South Australian surf break. It was still a dirt road from Ceduna to Penong. They have it all documented on a movie. They really didn’t know how to get there and had to ask directions at Penong. They got there close to sundown and had a surf straight away and there wasn’t a soul there. The surf was perfect and the next day Bob Evens came through with Col Smith, Mark Warren, and Ian Cairns. Neil and Phil ended up having a few waves featured in the movie they were filming called family tree.

Neil has owned the business now for 38 years and his sons have been his savior. He wouldn’t be there if Rory and Dan didn’t come into the business and he is very proud of them.  Dan came in as a glasser after doing a plastics, fiberglass and moulding course.  Dan’s now been in the business 19 years. Rory does 90% of the shaping now. Dan does all the glassing and repairs. Neil says he just gets in the way. The business sees a huge push back towards custom shapes. Rory is developing forward new shapes while Dan’s resin work is amazing. They love what they do.

Words: Dave Swan, Smorgasboarder