THE RISE AND FALL AND RISE AGAIN OF ONE OF AUSTRALIAN SURFING'S MOST TALENTED MEN.. BY SEABIRD
Ten years ago Shaun Cansdell seemed destined for a long and fruitful career on the World Championship Tour. He'd just come off a promising rookie season, a season highlighted by a runner-up finish at pumping Cloudbreak in just his fourth event, and despite missing out on Rookie of the Year honours, all signs pointed to the explosive goofy-footer going from strength to strength in his sophomore year. Unfortunately, it didn't pan out that way. Following a less than stellar run of results that saw him rarely make it past the dreaded second round, at the end of 2007 the kid they called Cans found himself being bounced back to the WQS.
What followed was not the swift resurrection to the big leagues that both his fans and peers expected, but rather a frustrating and inexplicable period of competitive struggle for one of Australia's most prodigious talents, a surfer who'd long been compared to a modern-day Occy. In all, Shaun chased requalification for four years, but despite the odd victory and consistently enthralling performances outside the competitive arena, the solid results that had landed him on tour to begin with somehow eluded him, and so, with a young family to look after and dwindling sponsorship support, he made the decision to pull the pin and with that it seemed like one of Australian surfing's brightest names had been left by the wayside.
Thankfully, after a period of transition, that name is making a comeback, and not in the competitive sense you might expect, but rather under the feet of surfers up and down Shaun's native Coffs Coast.
"I probably did my first shape when I was 16, just in the backyard," says Shaun of the childhood interest that has now become his passion. "It was pretty rough, the sun was beaming down and I didn't have a shed, but I enjoyed it."
Always gifted creatively, Shaun was drawn to shaping as a grom because he felt the knack he had for drawing could be applied to the act of shaving foam, and so, even as his surfing career began to take off and he suddenly found himself pin-balling around the globe from one contest to the next, he still managed to find time to shape the odd board. His skills were never worldclass, but when his days as a pro were over, the knowledge he'd acquired combined with years of riding countless boards left him with a pretty good idea of what he should turn his hand to next, and so the Shaun Cansdell Shapes label was born. But that doesn't mean it's been easy. "The first couple of years I put the time in to learn the glassing and sanding and all that sort of thing, " says Shaun of his efforts to take his board-making skills to the next level. "I had to work other jobs while I was getting a feel for the boards and mastering the craft. There were hard times, but I wanted to make sure I knew what I was doing. It's been a good learning experience."
Although Shaun is still working another job to support his shaping business, the effort he put in in those first few years is beginning to pay off. And not only in the form of a gradually expanding customer base, but as a former top-level pro whose career depended on him being able to tell a great board from a good one, it's in the water where he's really noticing the difference.
"I'm pretty critical of my boards," he admits. "As a shaper you're always thinking, 'Oh, I could do a bit better there', but I feel like I've got my boards to a point now where I could go and compete on them and do well, so I feel like I’ve accomplished something by getting them to that point."
And while Shaun believes his previous occupation has definitely come in handy with the testing side of the board-making process, it's the process itself and his commitment to learning and bettering himself in the shaping bay that's helped him improve the most, he says, not the fact he's a former pro.
"I think when I first started it was sort of assumed by some people that I was going to be automatically skilled at shaping," says Shaun. "But I feel like I had a pretty realistic idea of the time it was going to take and is still taking. You can't just jump in and be automatically good at it just because you surf good. That whole hype of I was going to be automatically good at it probably worked a bit at the start, but now I've got customers because I'm doing better boards."
With a growing confidence in his craft and positive feedback flowing in from both the guys riding his equipment and his own personal performances in the waves, Shaun is again looking to take his shaping to the next level – and not just in a business sense, but a creative one as well.
"The next stage for me is to get into shops and branch out a little more," he says of his immediate plans for his label. "But also, after getting my shortboards to a point where I'm really liking them, I wouldn't mind getting into a few different things - retro boards, single-fins, whatever. I don't want to pigeonhole myself into just doing a certain kind of board. I'd like to be a diverse shaper. I think that's part of the fun of making boards."
Once a name associated solely with high-performance shredding, through a combination of circumstance and hard work, Shaun Cansdell now finds himself in a place where he was always headed, a place that combines his passion for surfing with the allure of being creative—and it suits him just fine.
"I love surfing and I love the art of surfboard-making, " Shaun says simply. "It just happens that they work hand in hand."
GIFTED GOOFY FOOTER, SHAUN CANSDELL, WAXING UP ONE OF HIS OWN CUSTOM CRAFTS.