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.
Luke Daniels, NSW North Coast shaper, gives us the rundown on how infectious a customers froth can be and why people in his part of the world are always happy to try something different.
In the last twelve months mate, have there been any noticeable changes in your shapes or design patterns, or you know customer requests?
I've still been riding the asym and trying to tap into those a little bit more. I've made a few for guys, which is epic and getting some good feedback. And then, still doin' mostly twinnies and stuff like that as well and so, it's a little slight different pattern.
Do you think now more than ever though, there is more equipment and more variety out there and choice for people to be able to ride, if they are looking for that different board, whether it be a asym, finless, twinnie or bonzer. Do you think now more than ever, people are spoilt for options?
I think so, yeah. It's definitely going that way, where everyone's offering those options, not just your standard kinda shortboards and stuff like that. It's good because people are experimenting and they're enjoying surfing, different lines, different boards and different conditions. Ultimately, it's just getting people in the water more, getting them more excited and frothing to go surfing and giving them new feelings and that's what we're all looking for at the end of the day.
Where you live on the NSW North Coast, it's a bit of a hub for people that like to ride different stuff. Do you notice it when you go surf, that people are more willing to adopt the change, as opposed to a city beach?
For sure, you know, you go to the Pass and you can have the strangest lookin' board and no-one will look twice at it. It's just business as usual and it's because it is a place for experimentation. The waves are good to try different things and people are into it. People are keen to try different things. The waves are good for testing Bonzers and different things because it's point breaks and good beaches. You can get good feedback on the boards you're testing.
Is there anything that's really sort of spurred you on and inspired you since we spoke last that you have really adopted into your shaping patterns? Or has there been feedback that’s really helped?
I've worked with guys who live up the coast and know their boards and have been pretty involved in the design process. They've dropped around a couple of times, mid-shape to kinda see where we were at and give their little adjustments or what they had pictured the board to be, or what they wanted. It's been really rewarding to come back with some positive stuff and the board really performed and then even bumping into their friends and going 'Oh I saw the board you shaped for so-and-so and they’re ripping. I saw them do one of the best turns they've ever done.' That kind of thing is awesome and I'm stoked because it's been a little collaboration.
You’re not doing a huge retail operation, obviously, so do you think having that connection with your customers, especially when you are getting that feedback helps the whole process, not only for them, but for yourself?
Yeah, for sure. I mainly do customs. I don't have boards in shops, custom boards are what I really thrive on. My job is to work with guys to develop that board, either, something that they really want, have in their head and really want to be made, or just something they come to me with; an old board they liked or a couple of things and we come up with something together. Yeah, the custom road is where I'm based mainly. And then for them to come back once it's shaped and they've had a few surfs on it and they’re frothing, is the best. All those little fine, extra little moments where you're not sure if it's right, just before you take it to your glasser, where you’re just rubbing the rails and checking fins, that kinda almost gives you a little bit of head noise. There's just a game of millimeters from a great board to just an okay board and every board I try to make great. A lot goes into them and then to get that review come back, or the text or the call and their just absolutely frothing on, is the reason why I do it.
Did you ever think this is where'd you end up after shaping that first board with your dad back in the day under tarps?
Nah, I didn't think so. When you’re shaping a board, you are kinda just thinking about the board, you're in the moment. But then to think I could be here shaping amongst some other unbelievable shapers and be making boards for people, it's wild. Yeah, I definitely did not think that would be on the cards. I couldn't be more stoked.
Words and images: Ethan Smith