Believe it or not, it all started in the surfboard factories of Cronulla. It was the shaping bays of “the shire” where Bob Brown developed his love of shaping boards, honing his craft at Jackson Surfboards and Gordon & Smith in the late '60's.
It’s also what led Bob and wife Kerry to leave the “big smoke” for the relaxed coastal surf lifestyle of Forster-Tuncurry in 1969. The move saw Bob establish himself as the area's first surfboard manufacturer and a few short years after the big move the Brown's opened Saltwater Wine.
“Kerry ran the Salties store and I made boards here at Kularoo drive. All our buying was done from the back of vans and buses, mainly from surf travellers selling up and down the coast to us” recalls Bob. “I enjoyed catching up with the travelling sales guys, I loved the gear we sold and new surf products. The social aspect was also very enjoyable, with people always dropping in to say hello and seeing what was new!”
The Saltwater Wine name came from a classic surf movie of the mid 1970’s by prolific filmmaker Alan Rich. The movie “Salt Water Wine” travelled the NSW North Coast in January 1975 and played at the Forster Tuncurry School of Arts Hall as well as Port Macquarie’s, now heritage listed, Ritz Cinema.
Saltwater Wine - originally a film by Alan Rich
Over the years many surf stoked groms have fond memories of Salties including our owner Anthony “Macka” Wilson - “As a teenager back in the early 80’s my mates and I used to hitchhike from Blackhead into Forster when there was no surf. The highlight of the day was hanging out and making pests of ourselves at Saltwater Wine!”
Forster store back in the day
An event at Forster Salty's
Since Bob and Kerry Brown founded Saltwater Wine, there has been a real family vibe to the business. From the Brown’s to the Hargreaves family, then the Robinson’s, before Anthony Wilson and the Garthon family purchased the business in 1990.
Daryl Garthon, a keen surfer and sailboarder, had started up “Sailboards Taree” in 1985 (TBC). Originally selling sailboards and providing lessons Daryl quickly added surfboards, wetsuits and surf clothing brands to the mix. As the surf business picked up, so did Daryl’s involvement in the surf community sponsoring team riders and boardriders clubs.
Anthony Wilson, or Macka as he is commonly known, after failing his HSC, had started an apprenticeship with BHP in Newcastle. He travelled home to the sleepy coastal village of Black Head most weekends to surf and hangout with mates. It was one of those weekends when Macka and a couple of mates came up with the idea of forming a boardriders club to give the local grommets a much needed outlet.
Surf grom - Porky
A few short weeks later Blackhead Boardriders was born and soon after came sponsorship by “Surf & Sailboards Taree”. One thing led to another and at the end of Macka’s apprenticeship, Daryl and Pauline Garthon took on a wet behind the ears 22 year old business partner!
“The SST days were a lot of fun! We had a great surf team that, more often than not, would win most events including the local team's challenge. Porky (Paul Worboys) was our cheeky shop grom, and it’d be nothing for him and the boys to smash a couple of bags of 30 cinnamon donuts as we “worked” reminisces Daryl.
Young Porky and Macka
A young Salty's crew (Porky bottom right)
When Saltwater Wine was put up for sale, the new partners jumped at the opportunity and 12 months later opened in Port Macquarie. The move to Port Macquarie saw Ross “Rossco” Dreise take on the manager role at Forster. It also triggered the rebrand of the Taree store to bring the three stores under the Saltwater Wine banner.
The mid 90’s saw them take on the OG surf shop in Taree, Capricorn Surf. In the 80’s and early 90’s “Capo” hosted one of the biggest Pro-Am surf contests on the east coast, the winners roll was a real who’s who of Australian surfing. The store benefited from its prominent position on Taree’s main street, which also doubled as the Pacific Highway. When the highway bypassed the town in the late ‘90’s the downturn in trade saw the difficult decision to close the store.
Saltwater Wine - Taree Store
The partnership with the Garthon’s was where Macka learnt all about retail; from store operations and management, to buying, marketing and lease negotiations. He calls it his second apprenticeship, only this one lasted 15 years! When, in 2004, the Garthon’s said it was time to retire, Macka and wife Vanessa were ready to take the reins. The Wilson’s had only just had their first daughter and were excited by the opportunities.
After opening stores in Tamworth as well as two shopping centres, it felt like Saltwater Wine had strayed from its roots - “a surf shop in Tamworth, huh?”. What happened next was a massive recalibration of the business.
“We wanted to harden Saltwater Wine up and take it back to our roots of a core surf shop. That meant it would only work on the coast, which meant we needed to come up with an alternative offer for shopping centres and regional towns”
18 months later the pilot Stormriders store opened and was followed by stores in Bathurst and Orange and the refitting and rebranding of the existing shopping centre stores.
“There's a fair amount of crossover with brands between Saltwater Wine and Stormriders and surf is still a part of the Stormriders mix, but we focus on skate with inspiration from art and music” explains Emma O'Brien, Brand & Product Manager, who has been in the business for over 15 years.
A young Emma O'Brien
Macka’s passion for retail and the surf industry led him to join with fellow retailers Daz Longbottom and Paul Green to establish the ISRA group (Independent Surf Retailers Alliance) in 2006. The group is made up of “like minded, non competing, independent surf retailers from across Australia. It was through the ISRA group that Macka would meet Victor Tilley who owned Red Herring Surf in Tasmania.
In 2011 Victor and Macka’s shared passion for the sport of surfing and the industry saw them both on the foundation committee of the SBIA (Surf & Boardsports Industry Association) where Macka served as the Association’s President for 10 years, stepping down in 2021 and continues to serve on the SBIA board.
Fast forward to 2018, and some 12 years after they met, Victor and Macka would shake hands on a deal that saw Red Herring join Saltwater Wine and Stormriders in the Wilson Retail Co stable.
Victor and Macka shake hands on a new deal
Saltwater Wine has always been more than just a business, it’s more like an institution. “Thousands of kids bought their first board, wetsuits or cake of wax with us, as have countless kids got their first job - including my daughters!” explains Wilson
Saltwater Wine - Port Macquarie's first store
Saltwater Wine - Port Macquarie today
“For me, it’s all about the people and the culture we create together. Eight of our team have been with me for 10+ years and Porky and Rossco have both clocked up over 30 yrs of service. It’s been an amazing journey so far!”