Terry Klemm and Reg Bell are without doubt two of surfing’s true characters. I am writing this biography because my first surfboard was a Klemm-Bell 7’3 gun that to this day is the best board I ever had. The clean pintail lines and incredible spray art were ahead of their time. And that was 1972. Let’s go back to where it all began.
Born in the 40’s Terry was one of the first guys to surf the Victorian bay wave of Williamstown where he grew up in his early teens. Being a bay wave, it only works when the on shores hit 30-40 knots on a strong southerly. Surprisingly it can get quite big. Those early days saw Klemmy ride 16’ hollow boards from the local life saving club. As he was looking to ride more serious waves he headed to a little coastal town called Pt. Lonsdale and there at the local lifesaving club he commenced rowing in a surfboat at surf carnivals at the age of about 13. Unbeknown to the SLSC Terry always took his surfboard to the carnivals and sneaked a surf in while he was on patrol.
During his early years, Terry surfed every weekend and was one of the guys who explored the Victorian coastline to find those remote breaks that were not easy to get to. Nowadays a freeway takes you almost to their front door. He surfed Wilsons Prom to Phillip Island in winter and in the summer months moved over to the west coast of Pt Lonsdale to Cape Otway and Bridge Water Bay. In the early 70’s Terry would find solace in left hand waves on Phillip Island and his early memories of these times are his best. He eventually settled there in 1980.
Reg, also a 40’s boy was raised not too far from Klemmy and after moving to Essendon they maintained contact with each other. Reg went off General Motors to do an engineering and tool making apprenticeship and started surfing the west coast in his late teens.
In 1958 Terry shaped his first surfboard on the back veranda of his mother’s house in Newport and it was a 9’ Pig balsa board. In 1964 he teamed up with Reg Bell and Klemm-Bell was born. Together they converted an old shed at Reg’s mother-in-laws old house in Giffard Street and there they shaped about 80 boards and out grew their cramped conditions. They were shaping 9’ - 9’6” triple stringers that Terry glued up himself and Reg glassed and finish coated.
In 1967 they moved to Yarraville and opened a shop and manufactured their boards on site. Again, they outgrew the shaping bay and moved production to Spotswood, but in 1968 a fire destroyed everything so they moved production back to Regs mother in laws and continued to operate the Yarraville shop. Big orders started to roll in from the eastern bayside suburbs so in 1969-70 they made the move to Gardenvale. Not content to let the grass grow under their feet they saw an opportunity to move to Torquay in the early 70’s and be closer to the waves.
The guys have many great memories. Guys like Rod Brooks, John Law, Don Allcroft, Ian Cairns, Willy Muncey, Maurice Cole, Kym Thompson, Richard Harvey and Richard Evans coming through the shaping bays and contributing their talents to the Klemm-Bell name. They fondly recall a very young Wayne Lynch coming in to shape a few boards before he went across to John Arnold in South Oz.
Business was booming in the 70’s and the boys started blowing foam to make their own blanks. One of their suppliers saw a loss of business, so they received an offer to good to refuse from Barry Bennett, the owner of Dion Chemicals. He offered KB the rights to become their agents down south. This was well received by the local industry as it maintained supply of raw materials to make surfboards in a time when the oil crisis had hit pretty hard.
By the end of the 70’s they had shaped in excess of 4000 surfboards designs and were also pumping out skateboards, but in those days Reg referred them to “suicide boards” as the wheels were pretty dodgy. Over this period they continued to chop the length of their boards as the market was demanding shorter boards. From 9’6’ mals to 5’6” twin fins. They specialized in Trackers, Fishes, Flyers, Channels and Stringers, they had done the lot.
By the early 80’s Terry bought Reg out of the business and not long after Klemmy took another sea change. Terry went over to Phillip Island where he still lives today. He continued to shape for Islantis in the 90’s and to this day you can still see him shaping specialized early 1960’s mals with wood veneered nose and tail blocks. Many of them are for collectors. He still gets a surf in now and then and when I asked him what his favorite wave on the planet is he said “nothing beats the Right Point at Cat Bay” Phillip Island.
Reg shifted to Tugun in Qld to retire, but that didn’t last long. He began working for Don Burford, a major raw materials supplier to the surfboard industry. He was a sales consultant where he did numerous trips up and down the east coast from Newcastle to the Sunshine coast selling raw materials and teaching the younger generation the art of finish coating a surfboard for the next decade.
To understand how good a shaper Terry is today, I recently took possession of a 9’6” Malibu and it is piece of pure art. It still has that wood veneered nose and tail blocks that are so unique to his shapes. It is as good as the first board he shaped me over 40 years ago. Thanks for the memories Guys.