Beau Foster channelling the classic Fitz surfer/shaper paradigm. Photo Andrew Kidman


With Planet Earth fighting back in the current survival of the fittest, it is little wonder the ‘surfing family’ is maximising water time. The horizon returns as the greatest leveller of all, and despite the growing volume of surfers, smiles return at the water’s edge. After surviving multiple recessions and times of trouble, Mother Nature comes to all, and we really should ‘let it be’.

Surfing (as an industry) does bounce in tough times. International travel is out the door, restaurants, movies, pubs are off limits. Not surfing though, ‘fuck-it… go to the beach!’ A real problem is just keeping up. Supply chains are stretched, craftsmen thin on the ground and with today’s numbers, production? Not dreaming. And in these crazy days, how do you start to live ‘that dream’ at the roots of surfing? Well, you couldn’t buy an apprenticeship in surfboard manufacturing – still can’t. Young blokes started sweeping floors, cleaning shaping bays, and graduating to ding repairs, maybe sanding, glassing and finally – the Holy Grail – shaping. Butchered blanks, smoking hot mixes topped-off with the itch!

In the second surfing century of the modern era, entitlement rules hitched to CNC computer files and instant social media accolades. This ’start at the top’ rite of passage by-passes the realm of craftspeople weaving their magic in resin, and on the tools… but cannot exist without it.

Oh, you have heard all this? Right… I’ll cut to the core: a shaper is only as good as his sander (some sanders have created shapers I’m sure)! And the sander, well, he is only as good as the laminator/glasser before him. Individuals crafting individual equipment.

With all the glamour in shaping, imagine if everybody else in the chain received recognition deserved, new people would roll up their sleeves. Recco and respect will come, just not in 15 minutes. It’s earned throughout a lifetime. Bloody hard emotional work too. Less shake, rattle and roll… more shape, resin and weep.

In the day, there was honour in being up to your elbows in the dirty work. And still is, when the onion is peeled back. Characters all, the heart and soul of the surfing industry. Remarkable really, not glorified, mostly unrecognised! The shame of it is this: there does not seem to be a willingness to pick-up a squeegee or hand sander. As families and mortgages move people on, who is coming down the pipe? Will 417 Visa holders be the only option?

Thankfully, the green shoots are out there! Young surfers, boundary riders, taking up the challenge to do it all. Peeved with corporate voracity, there is a return to the ‘essence of a vision’, and by extension, personal expression. Of course, one man’s production a market cannot supply. It is bloody hard to scale up from 2-4 boards a week into hundreds, especially tugging the finance/industrial complex ball and chain. And therein lies surfing’s moral dilemma: stay pure or blow the cobwebs?

I’m sure… know, there are still ‘resin masters’ out there in the rear-ends of surfboard factories. Hopefully they do not go the way of all the true craftsmen and artisans of any creative industry. Surfing is a weird one: personal, yet prolific; passionate, but, soulless; ‘not for sale’, yet has been said to be riddled with sell-outs; mañana wedded to massive work ethic.

Reflection: contribution? Everybody can! Start with supporting niche craftsmen, creating individual equipment. Okay, the learning curve takes years, and those first boards may be beasts of burden, but they do come right with experience. You never know, perhaps being a Medici to an artiste and team has benefits beyond homogenisation.

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