An Insider Guide to Australia’s Surf Capital with Board-Maker Michael Di Sciascio

An Insider Guide to Australia’s Surf Capital with Board-Maker Michael Di Sciascio

Board-maker Michael Di Sciascio gives us a surfside tour of his home in Torquay, Victoria, the heart of Australia’s surfing culture.

Read about the art of board making in Volume 37: Craft.

great, rolling surf of the Southern Ocean has been luring
visitors to Torquay, Victoria, for decades. Michael Di Sciascio was
one of them. After leaving school at 15 to focus on surfing, he
arrived in 1979 with his eyes on the waves, landing a job shaping
kneeboards in the surf capital of Australia. The board maker never

“Torquay has been very good to me,” he tells SUITCASE. As the
owner of the award-winning Strapper Surf, Di Sciascio’s hand-shaped
boards are a regular sight on the swell at iconic Bells Beach, just
outside town. After 43 years, Di Sciascio is now a pillar of the
surfing community, both in and out of the water.

Michael di Sciascio stares into the camera, covered in dust from his boardmaking job in Torquay
Di Sciascio at work making a surf board

Board-maker Michael Di Sciascio | Photo credit: Julian

Torquay is synonymous with the sport. Acting as a gateway to the
country’s Great Ocean Road, it is a mecca for sandy-toed campervan
drivers with boards strapped to their vehicles and a course plotted
along the coast’s lazy limestone curves. They’ll stop in the town
to soak up the salty air and clink bottles on the beach, find tips
on the best breaks, and pick up gear. The surfing lifestyle isn’t
just played out on the waves, but infiltrates the shore, too. It’s
the kind of place where you’ll spot the server who poured your
morning coffee riding a barrel on Jan Juc Beach come sunset. For Di
Sciascio, that’s the joy. In his words, “if the surfing is pumping,
the town will be, too”.

The craftsman helps us navigate his home town with
recommendations on where to hit the waves and where to kick back
when visiting the Australian surfing capital.

Surf’s up: a local guide to Torquay’s beaches, bars and
independent boutiques

Torquay Beach, Victoria, Australia

Torquay Beach, left, and surfers on Bells Beach at

How would you characterise the coastline surrounding

The Great Ocean Road, which officially starts in Torquay, was
built by returned soldiers after the First World War. It’s an
amazing 240km drive. Along it, you’ll find Bells Beach, the most
famous surf break in Australia. Just 10 minutes out of Torquay,
Bells Beach lays claim to being the first surfing reserve in the
world. Between Torquay and Bells, there are about 22 spots offering
everything from easy beginner waves through to high-performance
surf – it’s a golden mile. The cliffs have a very Australian colour
– they glow orange at sunrise. The vibe is relaxed. We embrace the
coastal environment and the lifestyle.

How did Torquay make its name?

The global surf brands Ripcurl and Quiksilver started here.
There’s a world-renowned surf-shop precinct, with a dozen or more
surf shops in one small area. It’s also home to the world’s
longest-running professional surf event, which happens each Easter
on nearby Bells Beach.

We’re surfing newbies. Where should we start?

Avoid the kids learning to surf at Cosy Corner on Torquay Front
Beach and head to Back Beach for lessons. It has a variety of
quality waves and friendly conditions. It’s where I started.

What’s the best spot for a sunrise surf?

The best waves are on the reefs at Bells Beach and Winkipop.
Mornings offer the best surf conditions, so I’d recommend getting
in the water early. Jan Juc Beach is the go-to surf spot after work
thanks to its reliable waves. You’ll always catch surfers young and
old there enjoying a sunset surf and drinks.

A table at Dr Hughs in Torquay, Victoria
Pancakes at Dr Hughs, Torquay, Victoria

Pancakes at Doc Hughs, a recommended breakfast

The best place to grab a post-surf breakfast?

In the centre of the surf-shop precinct is a hole-in-the-wall
coffee and toasty shop called The
. It’s open from 6am every day and is a local institution.
The owner, Valeri, roasts the coffee himself and does an amazing
job. I love this place! If you’re wanting to sit with an ocean
view, try Doc Hughes on the Torquay esplanade.

What about a low-key lunch?

A local surf-industry favourite is the vegetarian Ginger Monkey
. It’s a super-chill set-up and the duo behind it, Jayne
and Cath, are awesome.

Any dinner recommendations?

We are super-fortunate in Torquay, and along the Great Ocean
Road, to have loads of quality dining options. Torquay Hotel is
sensational, as are the pubs in Jan Juc, Aireys and Lorne. In
Australia, pubs don’t just offer food, drink, and music – they’re
community hubs.

The small Torquay restaurant Samesyn is very
good, as is The Kyn and A La Grecque at Aireys Inlet, further along the
Great Ocean Road. If you had to push me for my favourite, though,
it would be The Captain of Aireys. It does the best pizza
slices on the whole coast.

Blush interiors at The Kyn in Torquay, Victoria, Australia
A cocktail option at The Kyn

Pink-hued interiors at The Kyn, left, and one of the
restaurant’s cocktails

For something a little more refined, a standout is Moonah, a 10-minute
drive from Torquay, near the Point Impossible surf break. It only
has 12 seats, so you need to book weeks in advance. Chef Tobin Kent
is next-level. He harvests seaweed and native plants from the beach
outside, bakes all his own bread and uses fresh produce from the
on-site garden. It’s an experience.

Where should we stay when in town?

There’s many a great Airbnb along the coast, some offering
amazing surf lifestyle experiences. Or check out the pubs, which
often have rooms to rent.

Any good bars around?

Lots of breweries, all with tap rooms: Bells Beach
, Blackman’s, Sou’west. Plus, you’ll find a great
wine-growing region, with more than a dozen cellar doors, within a
30-minute drive of town. Check out the award-winning Great Ocean
Road Gin
distillery at Aireys Inlet, too.

Let’s talk about the surf… Where do you go, and why?

My favourite surf break is Winkipop, next door to Bells Beach.
It’s a right-hand point reef break – two waves that join to create
one when it’s big surf. It breaks from 0.6m to 4.5m and is
world-class. The two waves give great variety and, while it can get
busy, there’s a strong local crew that surf it all the time – a
Winki community, all stoked on surfing.

Board making is your craft. Is there a lively artistic
community in the area?

Torquay, the coast and the surf lifestyle have always attracted
musicians, artistic and alternative people. In part, that’s what
has delivered the creative success of the surf industry. But the
scene is still very bespoke and underground. You need to look deep
to discover it. Underground full moon parties are held regularly on
a local muso’s farm – and his band sometimes does dusk pop-up
performances at obscure surf locations, playing off a

For more accessible music, try the Aireys Inlet Open
. It’s an annual event showcasing new and emerging local
talent. If you’re interested in the region’s art scene, look up
which produces organic, limited-edition art and
apparel, or head to WaterMarks Photo Gallery to see photographer Barrie
Sutherland’s historical surf snaps.

What about Torquay’s cultural offering?

The indigenous Australians from this area are the Wadawurrung.
Torquay, Bells Beach and part of the Great Ocean Road are in
Wadawurrung Country; the First Nations people have a living history
of over 40,000 years here. The Narana Aboriginal Cultural Centre is 15 minutes
from Torquay and really worth the visit.

For an insight into the lifestyle and culture of Australia, you
should also check out the Australian National Surfing Museum.

The golden curve of Bells Beach along the Great Ocean

Tell us about a place only locals know…

Point Addis and the back of Addis Beach are favourite hangouts
for locals when the warmer months arrive.

The best way to spend a Saturday night?

At the Bird Rock bar and café.

And to soothe sore heads on a lazy Sunday?

Surf in the morning and hang at the beach or walk the Surf Coast
Walk from Torquay to Bells. Follow that with a late lunch, wine and
live music at the Bellbrae Estate winery.

Torquay is the home of some of the world’s most iconic surf
brands, but are there any independent surf stores we should check

Absolutely. My Strapper Surf shops, of course! We have two in
Torquay. One is surfboard-focused and attached to our surfboard
factory, out back. The other is more fashion-focused. Elsewhere,
you should swing by South Coast Surfboards, Bells
Beach Surf Shop
, XTM Performance, Vanda,
and all the other indie and locally owned spots.

Any other boutiques and shops to visit?

My Blunt Skateshop is an urban lifestyle and
fashion-forward skateboard and snowboard shop. I was a super-keen
skateboarder as a kid and Blunt reflects the passion I and many of
my team have around skateboarding and snowboarding.

A book to read while we’re there?

The Rip Curl Story by Tim Baker is an amazing read about the
origins of the Rip Curl brand in Torquay. Another great read is
Salts and Suits by Phil Jarratt. It will educate and entertain you
about how the surf industry started, with a heavy focus on

Something to bring back as a souvenir?

Go for a surf at Bells Beach, walk the Surf Coast Walk, visit
the Torquay surf shops and drive the Great Ocean Road. The
experience is the best souvenir you’ll find.

Discover more stories from our Craft issue here.

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