HE IS THE FASTEST 51 YEAR OLD IN THE COUNTRY BUT FOR DARREN HANDLEY, BECOMING ONE OF THE WORLD'S MOST SUCCESSFUL SHAPERS WAS A MARATHON EFFORT. BY MATT GEORGE
Darren Handley has a secret formula.
It is not a conscious one, but it is one that allows him to shape the most high performance surfboards in the world for the world's best high performance surfers. Both male and female.
This secret formula has lot to do with what Darren learned growing up in the backstreets of Coolangatta, a neighbourhood that Rabbit Bartholomew once nicknamed "The Gaza strip of the Gold Coast".
Darren Handley grew up poor. Very poor. And he grew up disliking wealthy people because of it. Even though he was to become wealthy himself one day. Considering his childhood background, a tangle of divorces and living with aunts and uncles and orphans and half-brothers and drugged out strangers that slept on the oor and partied with his parents … it is a miracle that Darren survived at all. Early on, he learned two of his greatest fears. Drowning and jail. A surfer, the drowning part is easy to gure out. The jail thing is a little more complex.
It seems Darren was born with a very deep, introspective intellect. He could see things in the future. He had a gift of being able to see where things were going. He had to in order to survive.
Teachers couldn't gure him out until later, much later, he was diagnosed with severe dyslexia.
He has never read a book in his life. Can't remember a single one.
So as a kid, supporting his bohemian, party animal sort of parents, he stole things to help make ends meet. Mostly sh*t like milk money off the neighbours porches on the way to school. But being around a lot of the grown up's drugs back in Coolangatta, it wasn't long before his crafty ways drew the attention of the small underworld scene there.
Darren took a look at it. But mostly looked at the older fellas. Studied them. How strung out and f*cked their lives were. The stories: cops, beatings, blood, jail, knives, guns, homosexual rapes, time in the pen, scary tattoos, the stink of booze and mull and coke and losing at life. This would instil a lifetime fear of jail and petty crime that Darren still sweats out to this day.
So he stopped stealing and he looked ahead, like he always did, and bailed on the whole scene. Pretty heavy decision for a 12 year old. But, having never had any real guidance from any conventional parents, Darren Handley continued to raise himself like a wild animal.
The family was always hungry. But after his brush with crime, Darren, a keen surfer at this point, walked into Master Shaper Murray Bourton's surf shop and started sweeping oors for 2-dollar coins.
It was with pride that Darren was able to put some food on the table. Even though sometimes it was just a loaf of Tip Top bread, and scrapings from the butter tub. It always made his Mother cry. But that bread was really something. Because Darren Handley was looking ahead. Looking ahead at the empire he swore to himself he would build without getting anywhere near a Jail.