How the expat shaper became an icon of foam.
Earlier this year Rex Marec hal lined up alongside nine other shapers for California’ s annual‘ Icons of Foam’ shapeoff competition. Marec hal, who moved to Australia from the US int he early 90s, was part of a field of modern masters that included JonPyzel( John John’ s shaper) GaryMcneil( Ra st a’ s go-to guy) and Johnny Cab ian ca( Gabriel Me din a’ sman). The rules of the competition are very clear. The objective is to replica tea board made by an iconic shaper; in this case it was an Al Merrick design. Shapers have five minutes to measure up the iconic board and then 1.5 hours to get busy with a blank. Just to make things a little interesting Al decided to take the field back to a time when the world’ s best rode boards that were long and thin with plenty of bend. The S later 1991 model proved quite the challenge to replica te, but after all the rails were fond led and the curves closely checked, it was Rex who was judged by Al, and his son Britt, to have delivered the most accurate recreation.
What were the dimensions of the board you had to recreate in the competition?
It was kind of long and skinny, 6’1” x 18 1/4” x 2 1/4”.
Did you go down that road of superrockered, narrow boards with your own shapes in that era? Can the average guy ride boards with pronounced rocker?
It was the trend of the time though I didn’t particularly agree with the design philosophy at the time, but of course there was amazing surfing going down on these boards. I shaped what people were asking for at the time but urged them not to go too crazy with the dimensions. Try to be comfortable with what would work for them. My opinion is that the average surfer is going to struggle on the hyper-rockered boards. The most important elements in finding the magic board is to have the right combination of length, rocker, width, bottom contour and volume that match your ability. Too many average surfers go down the path of the latest “models” by the big brands without actually consulting a shaper, where the surfer’s requirements and parameters are addressed in more detail.
Do you think Kelly was surfing better on those boards back then? Do you pay close attention to what the top 34 are riding?
Kelly was definitely ripping on those boards back then but high performance surfing has evolved so much since then. Sure, power surfing, tube riding and style are still paramount, but now you’ve got above the lip crazy shit that wasn’t really happening on the level that it is now when Kelly was riding these particular boards. Personally, I think Kelly was surfing his best and his boards looked like they were working best when he won his last world title. He was so sharp on those boards.
Is it important for a shaper to really interpret what someone wants when they place a custom order?
I believe it is of great importance for the shaper to interpret the surfer’s plan for a
custom board. Surfing and shaping really has no wrong or right. It’s a feeling that one gets while on a wave and the shaper needs to be as open-minded as the surfer and vice versa. In the competition you had to hand shape the blank. Do you think aspiring young shapers should know how to do this? The young shapers really should know the basics. It’s like surfing; you don’t go straight to airs without knowing how to do a proper bottom turn. There’s a lot of satisfaction that comes from completing a hand shape that is beautiful and performs well. And I think to understand it all from a design perspective is valuable to any shaper starting out. It is worth putting the time in to get a better understanding. I’m a proponent of CAD design and CNC shaping technology but my advice would be to not cut corners when learning how to shape. There has been a big focus on volume in recent years and getting litreage exactly right? Do surfers sometimes forget to factor in other variables like bottom curve and rail shape as a result of the litreage obsession? There are too many variables to have any one concrete philosophy in surfboards. Rocker, width, length, rail volume, bottom contour, all can play a major part. And yes many do put too much emphasis on volume/litreage. But as a general consensus regarding performance surfboards, it is good to know the volume that you like in your board as a reference point. Then you can work from there with all the other elements. What is different about the board cultures in Australia and the USA? I moved to Australia in late 1993. I was given the opportunity to work at a very energetic factory in Mona Vale, The Laminator, and was stoked to be in that environment. Much of it rubbed off on me and I hoped that my enthusiasm and experience influenced others in that factory as well. Our board cultures were much the same I have to say. Although the rivalry was alive and well... Is the custom-shaping culture still alive and well for the independent shaper in Aus? I’d like to think the custom culture is still thriving here. I’m banking on it. It’s the only thing that is keeping our industry alive here. If not, the whole thing just moves to Asia for people seeking larger margins and everyone is riding generic boards. It bums me out to see the industry going that way and dying out in places that have cultural roots to not only the sport, but the craft of surfboard making. You have been shaping since the 70s. Is this the Golden era of design, given that there are so many different styles of boards that surfers have license to ride? I love where surfboards and surfing is at right now. You’ve got a whole gamut of different styles of boards that suit the surfing that’s happening. I dig it all, shortboards, longboards, retro; it’s all-good as long as you’re ripping.
Left to Right: Rex working on his winning recreation of an Al Merrick design. Rex Marechal (on the right) with Al Merrick at the ‘Icons of Foam’ shapeoff, which Rex took out. Rex test-driving one of his own craft on an overhead pearler.