SHAUN CANSDELL

THE RISE AND FALL AND RISE AGAIN OF ONE OF AUS­TRALIAN SURF­ING'S MOST TAL­ENTED MEN.. BY SE­ABIRD

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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."

PHOTO: SHIELDS

GIFTED GOOFY FOOTER, SHAUN CANSDELL, WAX­ING UP ONE OF HIS OWN CUS­TOM CRAFTS.

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