The Man Be­hind the Word

New Zealand Surfing - - Exposure -

For the last year each is­sue we have had the priv­i­lege to share with our read­ers 47 years of tech­ni­cal and philo­soph­i­cal ex­pe­ri­ence straight from the heart and mind of one of NZ’s most di­verse shapers, a man who early on had a vi­sion of what surf­ing was to him and built his craft to suit that vi­sion. He was never dis­tracted or mis­led into fol­low­ing the masses and spit­ting out the same old short-boards that every­one else was de­sign­ing and rid­ing. This was Roger Hall and we thought it was time you learnt a bit about the man be­hind the word, the man who was given credit by the god­fa­ther of the short­board Bob McTav­ish as one of the Top 5 de­sign­ers in the World that he ad­mired and en­cour­aged to keep push­ing the bound­aries of surf­board de­sign.

Roger moved to Ruakaka in 1966 aged 8 and fell in love with the white sand beaches and the surf and the al­lure kept him planted here un­til this very day. Un­der the watch­ful eye of his fa­ther, Roger was build­ing his own boards by the age of 13, his dad en­cour­aged him to de­velop an eye for curves and learn how to mea­sure and cap­ture key el­e­ments of de­sign. Those early traits of ac­cu­rate record keep­ing of de­signs are what set Roger apart from his peers and is still one of his pas­sion­ate de­sign philoso­phies to­day.

Rogers pas­sion saw what started as a hobby tran­spire into a small busi­ness to cot­tage in­dus­try to a life­times work. His ear­li­est la­bel Wood­en­ships was born in the early 70’s where Rogers de­sign spe­cialty were twin fin keel fishes, as in­spired by the Steve Lis Fish. While Roger had also been heav­ily in­flu­enced by the kiwi crafts­men that had pi­o­neered our own in­dus­try, up there in his Bream Bay shap­ing bay, Roger was spong­ing up all the info com­ing in from over­seas mag­a­zines on surf­board de­sign, and he couldn’t get enough. He had his own per­sonal thoughts on what surf­board de­sign should be and when those said crafts should be rid­den. At the time there was a world­wide push across the ma­jor­ity of man­u­fac­tures to­ward fol­low­ing the masses and pump­ing out the same short­board de­sign that the top ech­e­lon guys were rid­ing. Roger couldn’t quite get his head around the idea that you had to ride what some­body else said and felt that if it was small or soft that why wouldn’t you ride a long­board or a fish on those days.

He dreamt of craft­ing newer more light­weight ver­sions of the dunga that he and his mates had grown up rid­ing. It was around this time that a trip to Hawaii in 79 saw Roger have a chance meet­ing with a guy by the name of Ben Aipa. Roger was awe struck, here on the South Shore of Oahu were all these great waves of dif­fer­ing types and Ben would shape and ride dif­fer­ing boards ac­cord­ing to what con­di­tions or wave he in­tended to ride each day. This was a ca­reer defin­ing mo­ment for Roger, ev­ery­thing that he had dreamt and thought surf­board rid­ing was in his head way back in NZ was be­ing per­formed by one of the most re­spected surfer/shapers in the world. Ben was work­ing for Sur­fline Hawaii and the two hit it off and Roger was wel­comed into the realm where he took it all in and more. While he was lov­ing ev­ery sec­ond of this ex­pe­ri­ence at the same time he was itch­ing to get back to NZ to test these the­o­ries in our own waves and share the ex­pe­ri­ences through his shapes with his cus­tomers.

Roger was joined by surf­ing buddy Colin Unkovich, who spe­cialised in the man­u­fac­tur­ing du­ties and the busi­ness ex­panded. For the next 26 years the part­ner­ship be­come syn­ony­mous with in­no­va­tive, high qual­ity crafts, spe­cial­is­ing in in­cor­po­rat­ing mul­ti­ple stringers, wooden tail/ nose blocks and in­tri­cate in­lays. The Wood­en­ships la­bel was phased out and Roger be­gan to man­u­fac­ture on li­cence Sur­fline Hawaii which later sim­ply be­came Sur­fline.

At the time and with all these de­sign ideas spin­ning in his head, Roger was be­ing held back by the range of foam blanks on of­fer here, but where there’s a will there’s a way and an­other strong trait that still sits within Rogers mantra was born; if there wasn’t any­thing avail­able then it was sim­ple, Roger would make it!

So, with a cer­tain de­sign con­cept in mind Roger brought two 7’3” blanks, cut the cen­tre out of one and joined the two to­gether so he could get the width re­quired to give birth to the 7’ x 22” Round nose de­sign which he named “Wave-walker”, boards de­signed as ul­ti­mate fun ma­chines and the type that weren’t cur­rently seen in NZ line­ups. With fur­ther trips to Hawaii and with his friend­ship with surfers such as Greg

"Roger Hall is one of the Top de­sign­ers in the world that I have ad­mired and who en­cour­aged me to keep push­ing the bound­aries of surf­board de­sign." (Bob McTav­ish)

Page and Rod Rust, Roger was also at the fore­front of bring­ing the mod­ern long­board to NZ, fur­ther adding to his open-minded ap­proach, where the pos­si­bil­i­ties are only lim­ited by imag­i­na­tion. Roger’s long­stand­ing be­lief in the quiver the­ory, where rid­ing dif­fer­ent boards am­pli­fies the amount of fun and en­joy­ment a surfer gets in a wider range of con­di­tions. This is at the root of the spirit and pu­rity of surf­ing and ev­i­dent in mass at the midst and ap­proach of Rogers de­sign and shapes.

Not one to stop learn­ing and evolv­ing Roger kept his mind open to fresh ideas and shap­ing stints in Cal­i­for­nia, Europe, West Aus­tralia as well as rub­bing shoul­ders with our own surfers and shapers across the coun­try in Auck­land, Raglan, Christchurch and Dunedin fu­elled Rogers in­quis­i­tive mind, and fur­ther de­sign the­o­ries were carved out in the bay and tested in the salt­wa­ter tank out front at Ruakaka and across the coun­try’s line­ups.

Roger doesn’t be­lieve in fol­low­ing the rules as a shaper and loves the chal­lenge of de­sign­ing dif­fer­ent boards, he has never pi­geon holed him­self into one de­sign or man­u­fac­tur­ing method with his di­ver­sity a hall­mark of his rep­u­ta­tion. On any given day, pinned to the or­der form wall in his bay, he can be shap­ing a tra­di­tional long­board, a high per­for­mance short­board for a grom­met, or an ex­per­i­men­tal board for those that aren’t in­ter­ested in con­form­ing to what is thrust upon us as the norm. Roger is cur­rently im­mersed in de­sign­ing fin­less boards and he hasn’t per­son­ally rid­den a board with fins for the past six years, and ev­ery­thing he rides now is ‘way out of the box’.

Per­haps Roger was 40 years ahead of his time, but the cur­rent trend more than ever is see­ing surfers across the world rid­ing what they feel works for them and what suits the waves they are rid­ing, the same thought process that Roger stood stead­fast in for all these years, per­haps now the world is ready to lis­ten.

Thou­sands of boards shaped by hand in the early years

6’4” “Wave­walker” mini long­board circa 1982. Man­gawhai Heads stomp­ing grounds.

Roger at his home break in Ruakaka

Pic by Peter Koens

Dur­ing the mid to late 1970’s con­struc­tion of the Mars­den B power sta­tion caused the for­ma­tion of a con­sis­tent surf break within a stones throw of Roger’s shap­ing bay. Twin Keel Fish test run Circa 1975.

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