Rebooting a brand that was once synonymous with world champions from Sydney’s Northern Beaches .
Becoming the custodian of a powerhouse surfboard label is no easy task. Especially one with the legacy of Aloha Surfboards. Founded in 1978 by Greg Clough, on Sydney’s Northern Beaches, Aloha was Australian made, channelled Hawaiian spirit and featured a curled edge logo that brought to mind the magic of Aladdin’s lamp. Back then Sydney’s Northern Beaches were rapidly becoming the epicentre of world surfing with more world champions and pro surfers based and living on the wave-rich, 25km stretch of coast than anywhere else in Australia (and probably the world). The refined shapes of Clough became synonymous with elite surfing in the 80s and 90s as Barton Lynch, Damian Hardman and Pam Burridge all claimed world titles with Aloha shapes beneath their feet.
After more than three decades at the helm, steering the brand through the surfboard industry’s volatile landscape, Clough parted ways, selling Aloha in 2003 to Nicola Penn, part-owner of the NRL club the Manly Sea Eagles with husband Scott Penn. Since then Aloha has been rebirthed with the brand now based in Byron Bay and spearheaded by head shaper Jonno Cole. At 37, Cole has had over 25 years experience having refined his skills alongside Byronbased shapers Bob McTavish, Paul Hutchinson and Simon Jones.
At Aloha Cole produces a heritage line of customs out of his Ewingsdale shaping bay as well as designing a range of models that are both PU and epoxy. “I love boards where you mind surf them the moment you glance at them,” he says, taking a break from laminating a classic twin fin. Despite the brand splitting itself with a line of boards mass produced overseas and distributed through company, The Surfboard Agency, Aloha has maintained an authentic connection to its roots thanks to a shaper firmly focused on raising the bar and crafting surfboards designed for maximum fun.
When did you first get interested in surfboard design?
I went to school with Hayden Cox of Haydenshapes and I remember there was a few of us at school who would talk about boards and board design. I made a scrapbook when I was 16 or 17 and I had cut out all the technical stuff about concaves and fins and shapes and compiled it all in this little scrapbook. We started with dings. Me and a mate would absolutely destroy all the ding repairs we were trying to do. We would always just buy beat up boards, make them water tight and go surf them.
Can you remember the first board you shaped?
I’ve still got it. It was a little swallow tail thruster. It actually went well. Well, I made it go well because I was so into it but it was a pretty piggish shape. I just got a bit of wood to get the curve and then outlined that and flipped it. It was pretty archaic. One of my mates, Jamie Perrow, his dad, Nigel Perrow, let me shape it in his shaping bay and he showed me what I had to do. He let me watch him shape a few boards and then I shaped that. I did my first dozen boards with him and he would come in from the house and give me little pointers and bits of pieces.
Byron Bay has always been a hotbed for shapers. Bob McTavish, the Sky Surfboards crew, Maddog surfboards back in the day; there’s always been a bit of an institution there. Who were some of the characters and people who were an influence on you?
Well I remember Jim Banks used to come through and he would run a discerning eye over my shapes sometimes. Brett Munro as well and I did some work next door for Tony and Squirrell, Paul Hutchinson and Simon Jones. Those guys were good to work with and influenced me a lot. Also to have Bob McTavish to talk about shapes and his son Ben, who is also a really fantastic craftsman as well.
Now you’ve become the principal shaper of Aloha surfboards. Can you tell me how that opportunity came about?
It came from Kurt Henson, he’s someone who I did labouring work with in Sydney before I moved up here. I think he was saving for a surf trip and we just got chatting about surfing. Then I bumped into him up here. He’s a really good surfer and was always interested in what I was surfing so we’d talk about surfboard design. Then he just put it to me in 2015 if I was interested in doing some work for Aloha. He had the opportunity to take over with his brand The Surfboard Agency and they wanted a shaper and designer on board to develop it.
You’re not starting from scratch when you become the principal shaper for an iconic brand such as Aloha. How does that sit with you? Do you feel the weight of expectation, excitement or a mix of both?
I was incredibly flattered when they came to me with it and then daunted not knowing the scope or scale of it, knowing it was such a well known international brand. But it’s been a slow build and that’s the way I like to do things. I look after the custom stuff in Australia and it’s been really fun developing different models for them.
It was a powerhouse brand during that period of the 80s and 90s. Guys like Dooma Hardman, Barton Lynch, and Shane Powell were on them – Aloha was the brand. How much of that have you dug into from the back catalogue or found through being brought into the fold?
Well I’ve wanted to keep a lot of that alive. We’ve developed a heritage range, which is separate from the shop stock that are custom order only. There’s a twin fin, single fin which can have channels or a panel vee and then a 90s thruster which is like a late 80s or 90s thruster, which is like a step-up, or to be ridden as a slightly longer board. I wanted to borrow from a lot of those old designs but not replicate them. I think there’s been improvements in boards so you can make them lighter, tuck the edges more and make them more crispy and high performance by borrowing from some of the older styles of it. When I started with the brand they gave me all the archive logos, a whole cabinet worth, of every logo from back in the day. I spent about two weeks rifling through them looking at the
outrageous ones and basic ones. I’ve tried to incorporate them into the models as well.
How has the customer base responded to this new incarnation of the brand? Have they warmed to certain eras or are certain shapes getting requested?
It’s been a slow roll but the 90s thruster step-up has been a popular board. Even from people ordering them locally. At the same time there’s been a surge of interest in the twin fin design so they’ve been popular aswell.
Twin fins have even exploded across the whole east coast of Australia. Why do you think there’s been this push to revisit the twinny?
I think novelty plays highly into surfing and if you can have a board that’s got a novel approach, it suits the waves and you don’t have to spend weeks working it out I think that helps. And I think because we had such a crummy summer of waves and we haven’t had big swells over winter, it’s been chest to head high for about a year now and it feels so perfect for the twinny.
I find surfers or at least the ones that I know, are nostalgic by nature. I guess that’s quite a positive thing for a brand like Aloha when you’ve got this heritage line that you’re talking about. Why do you think we are so caught up with nostalgia being surfers in 2019 looking back at shapes from the 70s, 80s and 90s?
It’s funny. I’ve even questioned that myself. For a while I was making a lot of 60s Pigs for Rhythmsticks and I was thinking why am I even nostalgic about an era I wasn’t even born in. I think with the Aloha stuff I just remember it so I’m nostalgic to that period because that’s when I first got hooked on surfing and remember seeing guys flying through a lineup on them and seeing pros at the time riding them. It just sort of embeds itself in you. And whenever you look back at the past it always looks rosier as well. Surfing is such a dynamic thing and such an engaging sport. When guys get hooked on surfing everything in their life just falls by the wayside. You look back at sections of your life, favourite boards and if there’s a brand attached to it then there’s a fondness for them. Aloha had a large stable of team riders when Greg Clough was the custodian of the brand. Is that something you are planning to develop once again? It would be fun. From a business sense having team riders doesn’t really do anything because you’ve got to put all their boards to the front of the queue and they usually don’t respect how much work and effort goes into it. And it doesn’t really equate to sales, it’s pretty much just giveaways unless they’re Parko or Fanning or a really marketable character. But I think on more of a personal level it would be great to work with some red hot surfers so you can see your designs put through their paces and surfed the way you’d love to surf them and to have a relationship with them so you can tune them up. Feedback is a lot of the satisfaction. No one would get into board making for the money side of it. Even selling it it’s hard to make money out of it. The whole industry is pretty tight. But one of the joys of making boards is having them come out just the way you want it and seeing them surfed well.
I know you mentioned Greg sold Aloha to the Penn family. But has he had any influence or has there ever been an opportunity for you to connect with him?
I’d jump at an opportunity to… Even just to meet him would be great. But as far as I know he’s washed his hands of it now.
What is your ambition with the brand Aloha and where would you like to take it?
I’d love it to be a long journey with them. Already I’m stoked with what we’ve produced and the wholesale range that is available to the shops I think are great. Every model is a fantastic board that’s been tested and performs well. Half the reason I got into boards is because of the lifestyle and I just want to live a surfing life and have it supported by a brand I enjoy and am proud of. That’s sort of my short and long term goals. To surf as much as I can and keep making boards that are better.
Jonno Cole is the shaper spearheading the revival of Aloha surfboards. Workman
Main: Barton Lynch unleashing in the 80s. Inset: Aloha surfboards founder, Greg Clough, alongside a rack of dream-rides. Nolanan
Main: Alohas now and then. all won world titles on Alohas. Inset Top: Pam Burridge (pictured) Barton Lynch and Damian Hardman Inset Bottom: One letter delivers instant recognition for an iconic brand. Workman Nolan Workman