Sharpy sat down with the man that gave us three fins for a chat on shap­ing, the Olympics and much more.

First up: what the hell are you do­ing in St Agnes?

I’m here work­ing with Jeremy at Wal­ters, shap­ing some new boards and sort­ing out the boards we’re do­ing. That and ac­tu­ally go­ing surf­ing, sounds like we timed it well as it’s been re­ally fun. Plenty of swell, good con­di­tions, it’s been nice down at Porth­towan. We were sup­posed to go for a surf this morn­ing but we had to meet up with you so thanks for that ... (chuck­les).

Right. Let’s get to the meat of it: In board de­sign is there much ex­per­i­men­ta­tion left to do or is it more re­fin­ing what we al­ready know?

Good ques­tion ... I guess there’s ex­per­i­men­ta­tion left to do. I’m not sure who’s go­ing to do it. Gen­er­ally if you’re go­ing to come up with some­thing it has to ful­fill a need you might have. In surf­ing to­day, es­pe­cially at a pro level, the way they’re surf­ing on a wave it’s hard to imag­ine what more they need from their equip­ment. They’re go­ing higher than they need to go on aeri­als. They’re go­ing so fast on a lot of oc­ca­sions they have to grab the rail to keep the board in the wa­ter. So I don’t know where the in­spi­ra­tion is go­ing to come from, but if there’s a new de­sign, a new step for­ward, it’ll ob­vi­ously be a great thing for all lev­els of surf­ing.

Was that how it went down when you con­ceived the thruster, how long did it take for ev­ery­one to adapt to the clas­sic three-fin set up?

That’s kind of what hap­pened, it didn’t just help me com­pet­ing on the world tour at the time. It helped all lev­els of surfers. It took me a good 12 months to adapt, it gained ac­cep­tance after about six months in ‘81. I’d won a cou­ple of events and was lead­ing the tour so it was pretty ob­vi­ous it was work­ing. Pretty much after the comp sea­son in Aus­tralia it was ac­cepted world­wide. There were still doubts how it would go in Hawaii. That was my mis­sion for the rest of that year: to prove it in Hawai­ian waves.

If de­sign is pretty much lev­el­ling off are ma­te­ri­als the next big leap?

Yeah, maybe, I’m al­ways hope­ful there are bet­ter boards around the cor­ner. That said, I’m not a chemist, I’m not good at sourc­ing new ma­te­ri­als. Ob­vi­ously there are peo­ple work­ing on that kind of stuff. We have a sys­tem. If it ends up un­der the feet of the crew on the WSL then that’s all the val­i­da­tion you need. I keep my eye firmly on those guys to see what they’re do­ing and see what they’re surf­ing. At Tres­tles a lot of them were surf­ing epox­ies. There’s been a bit of a merry-go-round with epoxy tech­nol­ogy for a while but it seems to be gain­ing trac­tion. It’ll be in­ter­est­ing to see where it leads. There are a lot of new com­bos of car­bon and stuff, it’s mainly cos­metic, stylish even, not sure how func­tional it is.

It seems what­ever shapers try we al­ways loop back to the clas­sic con­struc­tion from fifty years ago?

Yeah that’s right, that’s been the case over the years def­i­nitely, we al­ways end up back with reg­u­lar foam and fi­bre­glass. It’s a damn good com­bi­na­tion, it goes well, it’s fairly durable, easy to shape, it looks good ... it’s our stan­dard. If a board doesn’t look like a nor­mal board there’s been a prob­lem with that in the past. The mar­ket­place now seems to be more ac­cept­ing of dif­fer­ent look­ing boards, new tech­nolo­gies, and eco-friendly con­struc­tion and all that so it’s in a healthy place right now. Get­ting back to your ear­lier ques­tion there’s no new stuff, there’s just the ap­pli­ca­tion of com­bin­ing old style with mod­ern el­e­ments.

Which shapers have in­spired you?

I’m al­ways look­ing at what’s com­ing out. When I was learn­ing how to shape I was in­spired by the lo­cal north­ern beaches crew in Syd­ney. I had guys like Ge­off Mccoy, Terry Fitzger­ald and Col Smith to as­pire to. In the case of Col and Terry they were great surfers and good shapers so I was lucky enough to be around those guys and learn from them. In the years after the thruster came out Al Mer­rick and Rusty did a lot of good work with the shape of that style of board. Of course a lot of guys con­trib­uted to the shape of the mod­ern surf­board we see to­day. More re­cently Tomo is do­ing some re­ally in­ter­est­ing stuff. There are a lot of shapers I keep an eye on. If I see any­thing that I like, the fact we work on lap­tops with shap­ing soft­ware is so use­ful, if you see some­thing that catches your eye you can com­mit it to the pro­gram and pump out your take on it. It’s a nice time to be a surf­board de­signer. In the old days if you wanted to try some­thing new you had to do it from scratch from the blank, it took quite a while to shape it, to change a board just slightly was a dif­fi­cult thing back in the old days. Th­ese days you can you can make an eighth of an inch ad­just­ment nose and tail and be fairly cer­tain it’ll be ac­cu­rate.

Are the top level guys that at­tuned they can pick up eighth of an inch dif­fer­ences?

It’s a great thing, es­pe­cially for the high level guys, to get that 5-10 per­cent edge on their com­peti­tors. Some guys will get ten iden­ti­cal boards. Say Mick Fan­ning, he’ll get ten, dis­re­gard

three or four just by look­ing at them, surf the rest and within a wave or two he’ll know if they’ll go good. He can eval­u­ate ten boards pretty fast. You can change a rocker by an eighth of an inch which you can’t see but you’ll cer­tainly feel it.

With boards for the com­mon man is the fu­ture short and fat?

That’s a good ques­tion. The tour guys have been on sim­i­lar equip­ment for a few years, and they’re pretty small. Not sure if they gone that much wider, but the nose and tails are. The rock­ers are a bit flat­ter. They’ve gone down and now they’re com­ing back up. Kelly was on 5’8”s and 5’9”s now he’s on 5’10” or 11”. For the recre­ational surfer they’ve got such a wide range of practical shapes that’ll give them more fun in the surf. One of the chal­lenges of our pro­fes­sion is to make boards that work in crappy one-foot on­shore surf and also go well when the waves are good. Un­for­tu­nately it can’t be the same board.

So the ‘one-board quiver’ is a myth? (Laughs) I reckon it is. I don’t think you can have a one board quiver and re­ally cover ev­ery­thing prop­erly. For me the more boards the bet­ter, ob­vi­ously it de­pends if you can af­ford it, if you can there’s noth­ing bet­ter than hav­ing a proper quiver.

Do you still tin­ker with fin de­sign?

No. No I don’t muck around with fin de­sign. It’s too com­plex. The best ad­vice I can give is find a fin you like and stick with it. That said if a board isn’t feel­ing that good it’s re­mark­able the dif­fer­ence a change in fins can make. So keep an open mind.

Are glass-ons the ul­ti­mate?

Glass-ons have a dif­fer­ent feel, yeah they are prob­a­bly the ul­ti­mate in per­for­mance be­cause they’re su­per smooth go­ing through the tran­si­tion of turns. But you do get used to the feel of fin sys­tems and they’re way more practical. Also, un­less the fac­tory spe­cialises in it, board mak­ers aren’t as skilled as they used to be at do­ing fixed fins. Sin­gle fins aren’t hard, but do­ing three fins has al­ways been a dif­fi­cult job. That’s why the fin sys­tems came out. The lead­ing sys­tems are all pretty good.

Kelly’s pool has been in the news just a bit. You think it’ll be use­ful for de­sign feed­back? I’d like to hire the pool for a week and ‘do some test­ing’ (chuck­les) do you think he’d let me do that? It’d be great but all it would be good for is fine tun­ing. Find­ing that su­per magic board. You could do what we talked about ear­lier. Surf ten boards and see how they go. The wave is perfect, just like Kelly.

What ad­vice would you give the WSL mov­ing for­ward?

Com­mer­cially I couldn’t give them any ad­vice in fi­nan­cial mat­ters as I’m not that smart. To me the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion is idyl­lic, it’s ev­ery­thing we would’ve dreamed could hap­pen for surf­ing. I know the surfers on it have some com­plaints and some is­sues. If I was to give them any ad­vice it’s to lis­ten to the surfers. They know where the sport needs to go and they know the de­fi­cien­cies in the tour. To me it looks it pretty damn good. I know they have to make some money at some point. But I love the prod­uct, I love watch­ing it ... if the time zone lines up.

Fi­nally ... surf­ing in the Olympics? Per­son­ally I’m against it. Purely be­cause some host coun­tries are land­locked. It doesn’t seem a good fit to me. Maybe in a wave pool sit­u­a­tion I’d be in favour of it. It would need to be run like gym­nas­tics not how it is now. It would def­i­nitely be con­tro­ver­sial whichever way they do it. You’ll still end up with John John get­ting an eight and Jordy get­ting a 7.9 and ev­ery­one shout­ing. That said it could be in­ter­est­ing...

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