Alex Crews (ACSOD) breaks down his introduction to shaping, copping scathing criticism from his brother and former World Championship Tour surfer Mitch and what sort of wild sled he crafted alongside Jason Woodside at the Vissla Sydney Surf Pro.
Like a lot of shapers, you actually started by shaping boards with your Dad. Tell us about your first few shapes?
Basically, for as long as I can remember my Dad always shaped as a bit of a hobby. So naturally, I got in the shaping bay with him. Everything we did was totally self-taught. The first few boards we did were really experimental. Because we were doing everything from scratch there were a lot of f—ked ones and a lot that were really good. We were basically just messing around in a shed really and doing everything ourselves; sanding, glassing, the whole lot. It would have been the worst thing for our health looking back.
What was the first board like?
I tried to make your normal, standard shortboard, which was about 5’10 or so and to me it felt amazing in my arm and surprisingly it went kinda similar to other boards I’d ridden. I think a lot of it was that I’d made something I was riding and I was just stoked it didn’t go backwards. It made me want to make more and sparked the passion.
A lot of shapers I’ve spoken to say there first boards were good, but as they shaped the next few they weren’t that good because they got more complicated. Would you say that was true with yourself?
To an extent yes. In my case, I was so pumped on my first one that if the board went half okay then it was a win. I went from screwing around on the planer doing handshapes and they went pretty bad. Then I began playing around using the design software and getting boards cut down, which was still a tricky thing to learn. The first few I did on that, I made a few errors and things would happen like the board would come off the machine with a nose that was 3mm thick. It was ridiculous. I made a lot of bad boards before I got one that I thought ‘this is magic.’ Something that really helped me shape better boards was surfing on boards shaped by other guys. My brother Mitch would always have boards that other shapers had made, so I had the opportunity to jump on his. Also, being mates with Jack [Freestone], I could always grab one of his to see what people were making him.
Was there a specific shaper whose boards you tried and thought, ‘this goes incredible?'
One that comes to mind – and it was before I began making boards – was a [Stuart] D’Arcy. I bought it second hand at a shop called The Boardroom, which was up at Miami on the Gold Coast and to this day it’s still one of the best boards I have ever ridden. I was doing junior comps at the time, so I was probably surfing the best I’d ever surfed. As far as shaping goes though, what Lee Stacey has done has had a huge influence on me.
What things did he teach you over those formative years?
The main thing I love about Lee’s boards are how clean they are. Everything from his logo to his tail templates are neat and tidy. Darren (DHD) is another shaper who I’ve seen a lot of and ridden a fair few of his boards through Jack and everytime I pick up a board I’m in awe of how good his rails feel in your hand.
While Jack and Mitch have always ridden other guys boards, what sort of feedback did they give you that helped you along the way?
They’re pretty brutal and because we’re so close they’re not afraid to hold back. I’ve made both a bunch of magic boards and a bunch of terrible ones too, especially in the early days. I think taking that intense feedback helps a lot. I think getting some of that criticism makes the positive feedback so much more special when you make them a board they genuinely love. Putting their thoughts into my shapes has been amazingly beneficial.
Do you remember how you felt the first time you copped negative feedback?
It’s funny with Mitch because we’re brothers and give it back to each other. You can be shattered when you get criticism after you’ve made a board that you’re proud of, but if you open yourself to learning from the feedback then it’s not that disheartening. I try and ask the surfer to breakdown exactly what they didn’t like about the board and learn from it. I definitely try not to take it as a personal attack.
Is the feedback from an average punter just as important as the feedback from team riders?
For sure. You need to take feedback from everyone. If there’s a guy who has just come in and got a board off the rack and then messaged me and told me it’s felt insane then that’s just as satisfying as a team-rider telling me they’re happy with a board. The average punter has come along, paid a lot of money for a board and put his faith in me, so if he’s stoked then it means I’ve done my job. That gives me confidence in what I put on the rack.
Is having a forgiving board key to the average surfer?
Totally. The stuff that good surfers can make work is pretty amazing, but for an average surfer that same rule usually doesn’t apply. Even with myself – I consider myself an average surfer, so if I can get on it and it goes well for me then chances are it will go well for most people.
Tell us a bit about your experience in Manly at the Vissla Sydney Surf Pro and the board you shaped for Jason Woodside and the two others you made in the Vissla Shaping Bay.
I shaped a Street Stripper model which is a little all-rounder that is refined enough to fit into really good waves as well. I also shaped a Monster, which is a smaller performance hybrid for smaller surf and then for Jason, I was going to shape him a Two Fangs twin-fin but it became a collaborative piece. I’m going to have to wait for him to ride it before I see if it works as we chopped five inches off the tail and gave it a wild and deep swallow. I’m waiting to hear from him.
Moving forward, what are you working over the course of the next 12 months?
I would love to get more hands on with my customers and talk more to the local customer base. As far as models go, I’ve just began working on a new performance model which I have done for Toby (Mossop), I’ve done one for myself and I actually made two for Keanu (Asing) which he picked up during the Quiksilver Pro. That model is going to be called the White Ferrari and designed for decent surf in winter. There’s a new small wave groveller called the Neo Pill which I’m releasing also. Basically, it’s a double-flyer, round-nose. stubby board that I took to Japan last year and it went so well, I figured I’d release it here as well.
Words and Images: Ethan Smith