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 joined Nick Blair in the shaping bay to discuss the Fireball Fish he shaped at the Vissla Sydney Surf Pro, his shaping origins in South Africa and why experimentation keeps him invigorated.
Talk to us first about the boards you've shaped at the Vissla Sydney Surf Pro.
I've shaped a design that's not necessarily one of my own, but it's one that's made famous by Tommy Peterson. He's a really well known, ah, character in the industry of Australian folklore, and the shaping industry, so hopefully I did him some good service, and shaped a good one [laughs]. It’s basically got a step on him with six channels off the step, so a little bit more interesting shape and it’s a really fun board to ride.
I mean that was obviously the Fireball?
Yeah, the Fireball fish.
What made you want to emulate that?
Growing up when I was a grom was when Tommy Curren was riding some of his Fireball fishes. I used to go down and visit my grandparents in a little south coast town south of Durban and Frankie Oberholzer was Tom Curren's wingman and he used to have a few fireball fishes that he'd bring back and ride. I just saw him as really interesting in the water and I would just be going, ‘Man, I'd love to shape one of those.’ At that point, I'd shaped like two boards in my life by then, but I was frothing and I always wanted to shape one and that was something that never left me.
How did you actually get into shaping, I mean, what's your own journey?
Well, it's kind of funny, because, the first guy I ever saw shape was at the Gunston 500, it was Spider Murphy from Safari Surfboards. I was 13 or 14 years old and it was in a booth just like this here at Manly, and that inspired me to start shaping. So, hopefully at the end of this week there'll be a few groms, running around, who to get stuck into it as well. That's what started the journey, a couple of months later an article came out in the local surf mag, Zig Zag, with a step-by-step how-to and I sort of took it from here. I had a mate with me and we each bought a blank and just scrubbed one out and, yeah, they were pretty bad, but we got them glassed, we surfed them and now my mate is in advertising, I'm, I'm still shaping [laughs].
What is it about shaping that really drew you into the thing?
I guess, I love working with my hands and with my mind. You know, you're obviously envisioning curves in your mind and you're thinking about what you want the board to do and trying to relate that to the design. Basically, anything where you can work in the moment. If you have a vision of something you kind of always put it down and translate it into the blank and as you get better, the joy of actually being able to do that is quite amazing.
Sure mate, and where do you think the future of shaping is going, especially, not only, just in general but for yourself more specifically?
Well, hopefully not 3D printing, [laughs] but for myself, I'm really lucky to live where I live in Freshwater on the side of the hill there. I've got a young family, I've sort of focused on the kids a lot over the years, being young and I'm really been involved in their lives which has been great, but now, they're sort of stepping out on their own and I'm looking forward to sort of beginning to experiment a bit more with my shapes again. So in other words, I want to look at shaping some different things, push things in some different directions and reinvigorate my passion for it.
Words and images: Ethan Smith