For the second year in a row we built a pop-up shaping bay on the promenade above North Steyne Beach at Manly, NSW Australia during the Vissla Sydney Surf Pro. The idea behind the buildout being that while competitors pop off air reverses in the soft beachbreaks, shapers could work away in the shack, connect with other foam mowers and ground the event in true surf culture simply by working on their craft in a public space. From this, we bring you our Builders Q+A series: a series featuring questions answered by some of Australia's finest surfboard shapers while they were in the shaping bay working on their boards.
We recently caught up with Chris Garrett and discussed his perspective on major challenges facing custom surfboard shapers and why we need more aloha in the lineup.
When we spoke last time you gave us a bit of a run down about your life, but how's things been in the last 12 months with not only your own business but things?
Things in general?
Yeah. Yeah good, I mean… every year that passes is another good year you know I think you know the year ahead is always going to be better than the one before. So it has to by - inherit by nature has to be better. Otherwise you give up. Business wise its been a bit tough but it doesn't matter. Because I'm doing what I like as an artisan I guess you know if you hated your job and you got less money for it at the end of the week you'd be really disappointed. But it doesn't matter because I absolutely love what I do so. The money is just a bonus.
What do you think are the major challenges you’ve been facing?
From a financial perspective I guess it’s the imports. Cheap imports like Chinese imports and stuff like that could be cut sort of thin. I've seen a real sort of consolidation and brands per say that then hold market-share so the real challenge I think is to educate our clientele or our public that there are actually alternatives out there and the alternatives are really good. You know it’s about connection to that shaper. So, support your local shaper I guess is what I'm trying to say. The coffee generation are just used to the latte now mentality, where they can get that nice walk in the shop and grab that $1000 surfboard off the rack and have it straight away as opposed to working with the shaper and getting in touch with him, where they have a connection and then start a two-to-three week process to get a board.
When you say that you know people are going straight into shops and obviously purchasing that board. Do you think that surfer-shaper connection that has been lost by the fact that they can go and do that?
Totally. That's totally been lost and I think people in general are pretty lost and have lost connection with nature in general you know. They've lost connection with themselves and they've lost connection with their families and they've lost connection with the environment and all the rest of it you know. It's the ‘me-now’ generation you know. Surfing - to a certain extent - is about relationship and connection and I guess that's what I like about this shaping bay Vissla have been doing. Because it’s more of a connective thing and a community based contest scenario rather than just like ‘we are the best and we're going to dominate this line-up for the next week and a half and then pack our show and go somewhere else.’
Do you think something like what you've done here at the Vissla Shaping Bay adds value and reinstates that connection that we just spoke about being lost?
Yeah, definitely. I think it adds value to everything, I think it adds value to the whole surfing experience as well. It brings people actually literally in touch with them again as it relates to the surfboard. I guess its an important part of the whole shebang you know.
Last time we spoke you said you were surfing twice a day still? How's that going?
Oh, I haven't surfed today, but I’ve been on a plane the whole morning and I only surfed once yesterday. I've still got me board in the car so if I get home early enough and it’s light I was probably gonna hit it on the way home or have a look at the beaches on the way, so yeah, I’m still trying to surf as much as possible.
And what about the shapes and the changing shapes you've seen occur over the last 12 months? Has there been any major change or any more sort of shifts in culture with your consumers wanting certain things?
Yeah, the nice things about what's actually happening now, which I really applaud the hipster generation for, is that it’s really given people a reason to sidestep the main cookie-cut stuff. I'm a custom board shaper so that's really what's interesting for me. I can't do production stuff, which is making surfboards for somone I don't even know and that feels a bit alien to me you know. So the trends and stuff I've seen. I've seen anything goes I guess. The weirder it is, the cooler it is. Whether it functions or not that's irrelevant I guess. People and their minds are a lot more open now than they were before. Or maybe it’s just the people I'm hanging around with on the North Coast you know.
Sure. And where would you like to see it go? As far as trends go.
As far as trends go?
Yeah like where you got your opinion?
I'm going to say shorter, wider and thicker. I've been saying that for years, but I still think shorter and wider is still really beneficial, so I have no real concept of where it should go or could go. It’s basically dictated to you by clients and where they want to go with their surfing and I'm really just an interface to make that become a reality for them.
I'm really not interested in trends and fashion because you know as fashionable as we are as surfers, it’s not my thing. My initial interest is the connection between the surfer, the ocean and the surfboard. I love that connection and I just like playing with boards and playing with designs and I'm playing with clients and customers and to get them to think a little different so we can have a bit more fun you know? I guess the most important thing I'd like to see happen with surfing - I'd like to see a little bit more love spread around the lineup, you know a little bit more aloha spread around. A little bit of caring and sharing and a little bit of understanding.
Words: Ethan Smith
Images: Jeremiah Klein & Ethan Smith