BIG SKY WIRE: SIMON JONES
BIG SKY WIRE is a regular Coastalwatch column produced by Michele Lockwood & Andrew Kidman. This week, Andrew Kidman interviews Morning of The Earth Surfboard shaper, Simon Jones.
All photos by Andrew Kidman
Surfboard builder, Simon Jones, was working with Michael Peterson on surfboard designs up until Michael’s death in March. They had a unique relationship: Simon being shaper, whilst Michael passed on his knowledge, ideas, templates, fins and foils. Simon had been making Morning of The Earth surfboards for ten years when the Peterson family approached him to help them keep Michael’s designs alive.
Recently, I asked Simon if he would make some of Michael’s boards for Mick Fanning for the film I’m working on with Albert Falzon – Spirit of Akasha – a film celebrating 40 years of Morning of the Earth. I thought it would be interesting to ask Simon about his relationship with MP and making the boards for Mick.
Andrew: How was it working with Michael on the boards, as the designs are far more than just period remakes?
Simon Jones: Apart from being a huge honour, it was always stimulating. We got some good laughs out of it too. He was observant and had his opinions of modern surfing in place. His recall of some surfers was amusing. Because of his opinions it made working on the "Riders" (modern single fins) a very positive experience, as they are very functional as everyday boards.
There are features within these boards that are distinctly Michael's and are critical in making it his work, not just some conversation piece with his decals on them. Vee under the nose, his beloved tucked edges and some curves from the end of the single era when the wide points were coming back to centre, are some of these features.
Did anything stand out in particular about Michael’s knowledge of surfboard dynamics? From the boards I’ve seen that he made they were very different to other boards of the period. I’ve seen boards he made in the 70s with a modern box rail. When he was surfing he was definitely able to refine the boards so he could surf how he wanted to. Was he able pass on this kind of knowledge onto you when you were shaping for him?
His understanding of bottom shape and fin design were always to his advantage. The speed he could generate from his boards was incredible and is clearly evident in footage of him at Bells and in MOTE. This footage to me displays his knowledge of board design with clarity. Apart from his raw ability, his boards put him so far ahead no wonder the other guys didn't stand a chance. He had a saying, "When you go south of the border everything changes," bottom and rail shapes changed at this line in the sand. North of that line was the domain of displacement hulls and lower rails, heading south was concaves and neutral rail shapes. These later elements still exist today as standard features of modern surfboards. Through these conversations I really benefited as a shaper.
The D’Bah special, that was kind of the final design you got to work with him on, it’s really a very modern board, with a nod to the past. How do you find that design?
There were some periods late in his life when you would get this flow of memories. Channel bottoms, swallow tails, dropped flyers and all these measurements that would be clear as day to him, as if he'd shaped the board that afternoon. The D'Bah came from this. We really pushed the tail area out here to free them up for surfing beach breaks of varying quality, and in the context of where surfers and surfing are at now. You’re right in saying that it’s a modern board as the plan shape is very now. Similar to where many modern short boards are at. It has an extra 1" in the tail compared to Michael's own version, which had concaves, neutral rails and a stiff wide based fin. No flex! He was always checking that fins didn't have too much flex at the tip. I find the D'Bah and the Channel bottom swallows my favourite: Forgiving and fast, great everyday boards.
How’s your experience been making the Morning of The Earth boards? They are kind of based on the designs ridden in the film with a modern tweak. People really seem to be enjoying them.
I've been making the MOTE boards for about 12 years. It’s been a great experience. Albe's so cool and calm to work with. At first it was like being in the orchard with all this low hanging fruit and no one else was picking. Initially they were remakes. This was a great phase to go through, as so much of this early work was important and valid. A lot has gone on in surfboard design in the last 40 years, mostly positive, but in the great rush forward great things were left aside. One such thing is the 70s foil or foam distribution, where the volumes of boards were massive by today’s standards. I'm not advocating here that everyone should return to this in its entirety but I do believe a lot of people struggle with their boards, all in the name of keeping up appearances. There’s nothing quite like gliding into a wave and having options rather than being exhausted and dropping out of the lip. It was important from the outset that all the boards were stand alone objects you grew attached to and could be confident of getting years of good surfing out of. Laminating with tints and pigments has brought longevity and beauty to the boards.
What do you think people like about these kinds of boards?
I think it’s this foam distribution that people resonate with. The modern short board, which is an incredible object, marginalises a whole group who either can't or don't get it. They still want to ride shorter boards and this extra foam under the chest which rolls off to a sweet rail opens their surfing experience up. For older blokes they can still chase waves down on a shorter board, Albe’s 60 and he rides 5'10"s. Young blokes find the early entry opens up a whole new approach to setting up a wave from the outset.
How was making the boards for Mick Fanning for the Spirit of Akasha film. When I showed Albe the footage of Mick riding them he was really blown away by it, he really thought the boards brought out what a beautiful flowing surfer Mick is, do you think single fins lend to this notion of flow and finding the energy points in the wave, rather than dominating the board completely?
Making these boards for Mick Fanning was a huge honour on many levels. The movie, Mick's friendship with the Petersons and to see MP's work being still clearly viable in today’s context. I was freaking at first over volumes, as my instincts were to run with what I knew. On the other hand there was Mick's normal dimensions and a conversation with Darren Handley pulling me another way. I ran with the instinct and some sage advice from Darren. In the end they were at least 1/4" thicker than his everyday boards and that was with the 70s foil, so they are significantly thicker. On that first morning that he rode the MOTE model I arrived late and Mick was back at the car by this stage, but clearly stoked with the outcome, the footage you showed me was a young man at the top of his game surfing so smooth and with power and grace. Yes there is a flow and smoothness that one fin brings to surfing, and a deeper lesson learnt of wave energy. That knowledge gained from riding them well, enhances the surfing experience.
What are you enjoying about shaping at the moment?
All the boards are hand shaped from the blank. This is physically demanding, but a rewarding process. The control you have with good materials and tools is what makes this. You can have each person in mind from beginning-to-end and make adjustments for them right there and then. The full hand shape with each person’s needs at play in that moment is what I'm enjoying.
Jerome Forrest, Noa Deane, Garret Parkes & Adam Melling
Words from the WA hellman
The June Report
A heavy beachie barrel
A heavy beachie barrel
The June Report
The story behind his recovery
Could this be the job of your dreams?
Imagine packing up and having perfect waves wherever you went
Or can you beat it?
Words from the WA hellman
Deeper than the last?