The Man Behind the Word
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
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.