Former tour surfer Shaun Cansdell gets ready to take his shaping to the next level.
One of the things that makes surfing closer to an art-form than a sport is the surfboard itself. Back in the day many of the world’s best hand crafted their own boards and rode them to glory. The big names from the world tour became the big names in surfboards: Mark Richards, Michael Peterson, Gerry Lopez, Wayne Lynch, Simon Anderson, Terry Fitzgerald. The pro surfer/shaper model has faded now that the tour has become more demanding and its athlete’s much wealthier. You just don’t hear of pros shaping their own surfboards any more.
Mulloway’s Shaun Cansdell has long been attracted to mowing foam. It’s in his bones, genetics or where ever the shaping urge lives. Even before he qualified for the world tour he was dabbling in foam and resin. “The first proper board I shaped was when I was 16. I didn’t have a shed or anything, so I just set it up in the backyard. I didn’t have any templates either, so I used a hand plane and went to town on it. It was a fun experience and it turned out all right in the end. Even before that one I was making little hand boards to muck around on,” he says.
Many consider Cansdell one of the most gifted and stylish surfers of his generation. His time on tour was relatively brief but he did manage to finish second in Fiji, giving the world a glimpse of his true potential. Shaun says that even when he was on tour, he was knocking out backyard shapes at home. “I’d come back home and if I had a month off I’d make a board from scratch using a hand plane and glass it myself.”
Shaun never rode his own boards on tour, but he was known for being very attentive to what he was riding – even sanding back boards while on boat trips. Over the years he’s ridden shapes by JR, JS, Gunter Rohn, Rod Dahlberg and Luke Short and learnt about design by being a test pilot for them and finding out what works in what conditions and why.
After learning to shape by hand and teaching himself to sand and glass Cansdell now uses a shaping machine and is getting his boards expertly glassed up in Yamba. “I’m very grateful for the help and mentoring I’ve had from guys like Nick Popes, Rod Dahlberg, Luke Short and Woody Jack over the years. Using a shaping machine has been good too. I love how you can make really subtle changes – even down to one mm. You couldn’t do that with a handshape.”
Perhaps the biggest hurdle that every shaper must clear is making surfboards financially viable. Cans has three kids to provide for so he’s still working a day job and treating shaping as a sideline for now. “I’ve been working in construction for three years now. The hours are five to five, so I don’t get much time to surf. I feel like I’ve barely surfed for three years.”
Cans is upbeat about doing less construction and more shaping and surfing in the future. “I’m in the process of setting up a shaping bay at Woolgoolga at the moment and then we want to open up a shop in the future,” he says. While most of his boards are super high performance, he wants to get into retro-influenced shapes and to learn how to air-brush artwork on his boards. The thrill of creation is evident when he describes riding one of his own boards.
“It’s like that buzz you get when you surf on a brand-new board but ten-fold.”
Shaun Cansdell shaping a future beyond pro surfing. Photo: Duncan Macfarlane