In a day and age where countless people are feasting upon the billions of dollars that make up the surf industry there is a sub group who supply the most important equipment in the surfing world and receive the least in return. Shapers have long suffered as the honorable craftsmen who toil in the dust of a shaping bay so the rest of us can enjoy the fruits of their trade. While pro surfing prize money rises and companies float on the stock exchange the shaper hangs in the shadows crafting beautiful boards for us to have the time of our lives on. Albert Fox, one of Angourie’s most well renowned craftsmen, thinks it’s about time things changed…
SW: Where did you get started and what got you into shaping?
AF: I started when I was about 18 or 19 at a place called Warilla where I grew up just making boards for myself, my brother and a couple of our friends down there. I didn’t make boards for many people down there, just our friends and stuff like that. Then I moved up to Angourie and started making boards up here. I’ve been making boards for about forty years now, quite an interesting trip (laughs).
Have you been in Angourie most of that time?
Yeah, I’ve been up here about thirty five years now.
Is it difficult shaping from a smaller town as opposed to being down in Sydney or up on the Gold Coast?
Nah, not really. It’s been quite good here, there are some great shapers. Rod Dahlberg’s here, Luke Short. There are a whole lot of good shapers in this town considering how big it is. We don’t really rely on just the local area for business, we can do boards for all over the place. It’s been good because we can all bounce off each other.
Are you working on any specific design ideas at the moment?
Not really, I’m just trying to refine everything, improving on what we have been doing for the last couple of years.
Is it difficult as a shaper to watch so many people making a lot of money out of surfing when you guys don’t seem to get the credit or financial rewards you deserve?
It’s ridiculous. The price of boards hasn’t changed at all over the past fifteen or twenty years. Expenses keep going up but the price of boards doesn’t go up. The trouble is there is stuff coming out of the Chinese market and anyone can become a shaper now. It makes it harder for the guys who have been shaping off the blank for years who know exactly what is going on. Nothing against the young guys but a lot of them wouldn’t know which end of the planer was the sharp end.
How could the industry change to give more credit to the guys who essentially produce the most important part of the surfing experience?
That’s a really good question (laughs). I just don’t think you ever will. The surfer gets the claim but the suhaper doesn’t get much of a mention. The surfer gets the glory which is fair enough but if you didn’t have the board manufacturer you wouldn’t have the board, would ya? They always talk about this surfer is sponsored by so and so but they should be talking about the guy who made the board.
I suppose the clothing label that pays the surfer a packet could help out the shaper, who is doing so much for that particular guys surfing.
That’s exactly right. Something needs to be given back. Take someone like Simon Anderson, he’s made that many boards, he invented the thruster, but the poor bloke’s got bugger all out of it. He’s worked his arse off since the year dot and he gets nothing out of it. The professional surfer will go and win a contest on someone’s board, walks away with 30 or 40 grand and the shaper gets nothing out of it.
So where do you see shaping going over the next few years?
I’m not too sure. The boards are just going amazingly at the moment. You’ve got the four fin boards and you see guys ride them and it’s just unbelievable the things they can do on a board these days. You also have to consider that you’ve got a board made of foam with two layers of cloth on it and then you’ve got the ocean with a million tonnes in it and there aren’t that many boards being broken. It’s an amazing construction for something that is so light to be able to survive like with tonnes of water smashing on it. And you just get so much out of them, so much fun. That’s what surfing is about, just having fun! – Steve Nicholson