Builders Q+A with James Cheal (Chilli Surfboards)

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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.

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James Cheal of Chilli Surfboards chats with us about consumer trends, keeping up with technology via simplicity, and not getting complacent as a shaper.

I know we talked a little bit last year, but how have you seen surfboards changing in say, the last 18 to 24 months?
For me, what I've seen the change is nothing real crazy, different carbons, it's more been the four ounce glass and getting that glass stronger and treated with less heat-treating process, so you get a nicer, more original flex through them. I think we're finding what we've got, like the actual individual materials, like the beads and the foam. We've just started building this twin technology, and it's really, really simple; two strips of carbon down the center of the bottom of the deck, but it's more the quality of the EPS resin. It's more how the beads are blown, because we're using EPS blanks so it's more, the bond in the beads and how many beads and all that. I suppose it's like a food recipe, you can make it so many different ways, and it's all the individual ingredients, so they help, make that board something really special.

And how's your own shaping changed in that time as well? I mean you said technology, and the simple stuff is what you're fine-tuning but how have your own shapes changed as a result of that?
With me, I've done my normal work with Mitch Coleborn and Jay Davies and we're just finding stuff and always making it better. Mitch is really happy with one design I do, so the fun thing there is we build three of the same board out of different technology if you want to say it like EPS-1 and PU, and similar with Davies too. I've just actually built him a new board with vee up the tail, it's a groveller, but cause he's so strong and he can generate so much speed, I felt that little bit of vee at the tail would be really nice for him because he does those big blow tails and big carves so, they're only slight changes and not like creating anything new, but that's what I've been working on that. Off to the side I've been working on a mid-length board for more of a bigger guy in his mid-40s like myself, and I've built that board so I can stand off the tail and surf like a normal board or you can just cruise up the front. And that's an EPS because it's a small wave board; it's 7-foot, but you can throw it around.

And have you seen consumer habits go that way? That mid-level guys are looking for boards like that?
Well, years ago no one would make bigger epoxy boards. It used to be just traditional PU so, I've noticed heaps of guys are going towards that EPS for the smaller waves, even if it is a seven-foot board. So yeah, consumers are changing all the time... social media is so hard to keep up with.

You spend a little bit of time in Bali, as well as over in the Northern Beaches; do you often find that you're shaping different boards for different people in different conditions when you're bouncing between different waves like Indonesia and Australia?
Yep, like Lee Wilson in Bali, he's great. We'll do a whole variety of boards. Say we're going to make the same, similar board here, we'll just build it a bit heavier for him over there. But Bali, is traditionally more rounded pins for places like Deserts and obviously then little fish boards for beachies for over there. Back here it's heaps of epoxy and heaps of twin-tech, which has been going really good.

Unreal mate and to dovetail it into the Vissla Sydney Surf Pro, what's it like having an event here? Not only one that you can surf in as part of a Shapers Cup, but also shape in front of an audience and give people a look at what you do?
Shaping can get a bit monotonous when it's your job, everything sometimes gets a bit boring, so for me it's really cool to see people blowing out at you shaping a surfboard and it makes you realize that we are lucky. It's kind of pretty cool to be a shaper; it's actually a fairly unique thing, so that just reminds me Im fortunate. I have worked a lot of years so sometimes you can just drift off. I mean you don't forget how hard you've worked but you can forget how interesting and cool the job is.

For sure, and basically you can say that it is easy to get jaded.
For sure, it is. You get complacent and... I was just shaping before and there was a couple of guys there just blowing out at me cutting a swallow tail into a board, something I've done a million times and they think it's amazing, so, it's good.

www.chillisurfboards.com
Instagram / @chilli_surfboards

Words and images: Ethan Smith