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 caught up with the forefather of the thruster movement, Simon Anderson, after shaping at the Vissla Sydney Surf Pro to discuss his roots in shaping and hear his advice for young up-and-coming shapers.
Talk to us a little bit about your foray into shaping? How did it all begin and where did the love start?
It began in 1971. I was working as a ding repairer at Shane's (Stedman) Surfboards in Brookie. I won the Australian Junior Title against all expectations and so then I was offered a rise in position of anything I wanted to do in the factory, so obviously I didn't want to be a glasser or a sander so I chose to be a shaper. There were a lot of top shapers in Shane's at that time, Terry Fitzgerald, Butch Cooney, Frank Latta, and few others. So, I was able to learn off some top blokes there. I guess working as a ding repairer and seeing how tough it was and how the top guys in the factory were the shapers so I wanted to be a shaper.
I mean I've heard a lot of people from Victoria talk about the tutelage they received from Maurice Cole. Did you feel the same happening under Shane on the Northern Beaches where a lot of renowned shapers came up under him?
You know there's no apprenticeships in surfboard making really. And once you've got some knowledge, it's natural that you tend to end up with young guys hanging around the place. Yes, Shane's were the number one board-maker back in the day and there was a lot of shapers working there and a lot of shapers going through there and I was one of them. I've worked with a few young guys myself as I've gone along. Darren Symes, Luke Short, Mike Psillakis just to name a couple. So it's how you do your apprenticeship. You basically bother someone who's a real shaper and get them to teach you how to do it (laughs).
How have you seen that job transpire over the last few decades since you started in the 70s? How have you seen that change and are you finding a lot of more upstarts that are using the whole suck-it-and-see approach to get into shaping?
There's always been upstarts and always guys doing it in their garage and then having a shot in a proper factory. It’s a tough assignment. Making boards for your mates and thinking that it looks alright, but you know it's a tough road. Unfortunately, it starts up from that backyard-manufacturing situation to someone charging very low prices and then they become a proper label and it's very difficult to get the price to go up so you actually make money and not just doing it for the love of it. Because in the end, the love kinda runs out a little bit. We all do it because we love doing it but if you've got to make a living then obviously you’ve got to start somewhere but you’ve got to get serious.
At what stage did that happen with you? How far into your shaping life?
Well, as soon as shaping starts interfering with surfing time. You always love to get back in the bay and shape the next surfboard for yourself or for a friend or you know a good client. It's always nice to get the feedback: "Best board I ever had." That sort of stuff.
You started surfing on single fins and twin fins and then become the forefather of the thruster or inventor of the thruster. Have the design patterns that have happened since then ever been hard to keep up with?
No, because it manifests on the tour. If it's a successful design then you see it ridden by Kelly or someone. It's pretty visible these days. So, it's not too hard to keep up with.
A lot of older style boards are making their way back into the line up now - and I spoke to Gunther Rohn a bit about it yesterday - where a bit of old school sort of outline is being put into people’s own heritage line. Do you think that what's old is becoming new again?
Yeah, absolutely. Sensible surfboards, boards that are user-friendly are very popular these days. We went down that path of super high performers for everyone. You know, everyone's not ready for a super high performance surfboard. They need something that's more sensible and a hybrid and retro and all that really fits the bill. It's a healthy situation because you know there's really a lot of choice and shapers and board makers are doing a lot of different stuff. It's good to see.
Where do you see it going in the future, do you think it's going to get more sensible or a little bit more out there in the years to come?
A little of both. Hopefully, there's always the out there part of it because that's helps us go in the direction up I suppose. So, more sensible stuff and the world tour which is another level and the level of athletic ability of those guys on that tour is just beyond the normal person so it will be separate. Two paths.
What advice would you have to anyone who wants to shape a board or seek to make it a profession? They could be words of warning even (laughing).
Well, I don't know. If they're serious they're going to do it. If it gets in their blood they're going to do it and want to do it and it's better than a real job, I would say go for it. Have a shot. It's tough and there's not a lot of credit around for good work but stay at it and you'll get there.
And just finally mate, I remember Mark Richards once saying when I interviewed him that he always thought of himself as a shaper who surfed. Would you say you're that or would you say you are a surfer who shapes?
If MR said that, I’ll say I'm a surfer who shapes (laughing). Did he say shaper who surfs?
Well there was no career when we all first started with this shaping and stuff. When I was 18, there was contests and a few local events that were semi professional but no tour. So, really you had to get a career of some sort and shaping was a pretty good career. So, I guess we were shapers before we were pro surfers that's for sure.
Words and images: Ethan Smith