GARY MCNEILL AND THE WOLLONGONG CONTINUUM
Gary McNeill is an unlikely guru. He’s from Wollongong for a start, the blue collar capital of the East Coast. The closest thing to sacred geometry in the ‘Gong is a hunk of coal blasted from the Bulli mines. But after decades in the trenches, ghost shaping and production managing for some of Australia’s most iconic board designers, Gaz blasted off alone into interstellar orbit with the idea for a performance twin-fin featuring a geometric curve described by cosmic scholars as “the most foundational pattern of energy flow in the universe.” He needed someone with an open mind to ride it and shaped the first one for Dave Rastovich… who promptly threw it under the house with the rest of his boards and forgot about it. Dave surfed it a year later and has surfed almost nothing else since. The pair have been out there for a decade now, working together to turn magical thinking and some fringe design theory into high performance boards. – SD
SW: I was curious where the seed for the whole performance fish came from?
GM: Do you remember when Martin Potter was 15 and he was on that green T&C and just going warp speed and surfing so good? That was really inspirational to me. And then I saw him later on in 1990 when he won the world title and he looked good, but he never looked quite as fast. He was riding a thruster in 1990, but back at 15 he was riding a twin fin. He was flying. I rode twinnies in the ‘70s when I was a grommet. I grew up on them so I knew them quite well, but I just remember coming into the ‘80s and thinking they were too loose and too skatey and too hard to control. But yeah. And then obviously years later on I met Dave Rastovich and I watched a movie called Thrive.
Thrive is where the torus channel came from. Sitting there watching it one day and I just had the light bulb moment. Nassim Haramein explains how everything in nature has a torus, everything that flows has this channel, this torus channel. And I’m like, there it is, I can put this on the bottom of a surfboard. I did the first one and the channel was only three inches wide and a quarter of an inch deep, but I could feel it. I made one for Dave, I gave him this board at Christmas time with a torus channel in it, but it sat in his shed for a year. A whole year. That board could have come out a year earlier but it got lost in the pile and he just forgot about it. Then one day he rings me and goes, “Hey, remember that board? I’ve been riding it at Lennox and it goes unreal!” He never got off it for three years.
Can you explain the torus theory and how it works?
Well, Dave call it the Venturi effect, where if you put something in a hose and it goes from a big hose into a smaller hose, the water is squeezed and has got to flow faster. It has to; it’s got nowhere else to go. So when you pull in a torus, it’s wide at the nose and then it narrows through the middle and then it widens at the tail. The board has to go faster. And then something that Mitchell Rae said years ago stuck with me about wetted and unwetted surfaces. The channel now is about three-eighths of an inch deep and on either side of it you’ve got a panel and when you’re going fast, the board sits up on those panels. So that means there’s no drag for the middle. If you’ve got less wetted surface, you have to go faster.
It seems like pretty basic physics when you think about it… so why aren’t there torus channels on all boards?
I’ve watched a lot of guys mimic it, copy it, whatever you want to call it, but they don’t run the channel the whole way through. They only run it halfway.
Because they feel they need to run a traditional bottom contour through the tail?
Yeah, exactly. And that’s because they’re still basing everything off thrust. Everything in the thruster is tail, tail, pivot, pivot but the twins are completely opposite. Everything in twins, is that one fin and one rail. But instead of having one edge at your front foot with the torus edge you’ve got two. So you’ve got twice as much hold when you’ve got it up on one fin. When you run these channels through it, it gives you twice as much grip.
When you first struck out on your own, I remember you were working in the Europcar hire car lot at Cooly airport. How hard was it to establish your own label?
I’d just left JS’s and I had a big house on the hill at Kirra with a big mortgage to go with it so I had to work two jobs. I was shaping and then working that job as well cause it paid really well. I finally got rid of that house and bought this house in Fingal and went back to one job, shaping. I got a really good tip off Taylor Steele at the time. He was telling me a story about when he had this whole film studio with 20 people under him in and he had to let it all go. He said, “Don’t be afraid to start again. Don’t worry about it. It’ll all come good.” And it was really good advice. Don’t be scared to back yourself.
How does a guy from blue collar Wollongong become the guru of cosmic twin-fin surfboards?
That would be Dave Rastovich again. I think his design sense gets overlooked quite a bit and if he was a shaper he’d be scary. He’s got a lot of knowledge about how boards work. I think we’ve been working together 12 years now. When I was working at the airport I got approached by these Japanese guys, and Dave was big in Japan at this point. He was that alternative guy and a lot of Japanese surfers are into that. They were very alternative so they were loving him. This is pre The Cove. The Japanese guys approached me and asked, “Do you know him?” I used to be his team manager at Nev’s when he was 16, so I approached him and asked if he wanted to try some boards. He was already riding for Dick Van Straalen and getting boards off of Akila Aipa and Chris Garrett. He had plenty of shapers. I asked if he’d try some boards and see how they go, and that’s how it started. I’ve been pretty much with him ever since. I said, “Look, I’m going out by myself” and he said, “Well, I’m coming with you. You’re the shaper.” Dave backed me, so that was really nice.
At the time you guys started working, performance boards were really standardised and pretty white rice. Was the plan to do something leftfield?
I used to ghost shape ten 6’0” squashtail thrusters a day. Let’s talk about brain numbing. So I was so happy when I met Dave because all of a sudden I was challenged, mentally challenged to come up with something better, as different as you want to go. The weirder it was the more amped he got on it.
Full interview in SW412, on sale now.