Australia's Best Shapers: Misfit Mad Minds
Are you as surprised as we are to learn Misift surfboards are turning 15 this year? 15 years of production, how time flies... but doesn't it seem only yesterday Otis Carey flew into view on chop tail micro-fishes with his inexplicable twisty jumps? Well in fact, shaper Dave Howell has been blasting out these high performance oddities from a dusty Mona Vale factory the whole damn time, and it shows.
Sleek and unique, the boards are as diverse and intriguing as their maker, who proved to be quite an elusive fella for this interview. But that's ok, with a brain bursting full of ideas, Dave knows his answers are beyond comprehension... questions; redundant... and time; a mere construct of human perception. So instead, this reporter parked his sweaty self next to Misfit brand manager Chris Chong to experience life inside the Mad Minds thought bubble...
There's no shortage of ideas flying around the factory, where do you and Dave draw inspiration from?
Initially, Matt Biolos was a big inspiration for Dave. He started Misfit back in 2002. At the time he had acquired the license for Lost surfboards in Australia, so Misfit was almost like a bit of a little brother to that. This was around the time that Lost was powering with all it’s fishes and small board hybrids. I became involved in 2009, in 2010 we rebranded and the boards and brand as you know it now have been the same ever since.
Where did Dave learn to shape?
Dave’s early business partner at the time was a shaper called Cole Adams from WA. He makes amazing guns and incredible shortboards, so Dave was acutally taught to shape by him in a lot of ways. This is a guy who specialized in really amazing clean line shapes. The interesting thing however, is under license, all the Lost models Dave and Cole pumped out were hand shaped. This was pre-machine shaping, before you could get your boards profiled. They hand shaped literally thousands of those things, so imagine trying to scale up from 5’2’’, 5’6’’, 5’8’’, 5’10’’, they did all of it by hand. This was how Dave really honed his craft.
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Does machine shaping play a role in your production now?
Yes it does. Profiling now just allows better accuracy. It allows you to scale boards, and work with adjustments without having to get in there and mow out a blank. The reality is it allows for efficiency because you can get more boards done in a day. More importantly, they’re just so precise.
Would you agree that the aesthetics are just as important as the function of good design in your range?
For sure. We make boards that are aesthetically pleasing, not only in design, but in the amount of energy and time we put into sprays as well. The figure of how many boards we make with colour is staggering compared to a lot of the other shortboard manufacturers. Probably 10-20% of their stock would be sprays, for us it would be 90% plus. I definitely think it's important to have boards looking their best for the rider to put under their arm.
Could it be a subconcious thing for the rider? Look good, feel good?
Perhaps. If it looks good you’re going to be drawn to it. The next crucial test is obviously putting a board under your arm, and again any experienced surfer will be able to do this, and feel whether it is the kind of rail shape they like, the rocker and curve that they like, that they like where the wide point sits in the outline. We put a couple of hundred boards under our arms, over the course of our surfing lives, and that feeling becomes intuitive. How it should be foiled, how it should be weighted, where the curves should be, it all needs to feel right. Aesthetics are great, but good design has always been paramount for us.
Talking about artwork, which artists inspire you?
The origins are set in the boards, and between this and the apparel we’ve always had a stable of artists that collaborate with us, on a lot of the sprays and artwork. Our two biggest influencers would definitely be Jack, and Rad Dan. These guys still do a number of sprays themselves, especially Jack, he’s in here every week spraying boards. Then the rest of it is the stuff that I do. We’ve always liked a lot of colour in our shapes. We put time into developing seasonal sprays as much as we design new concepts for the shapes themselves.
Hey by the way, sick logo, who designed it?
Some wanker from Coffs Harbour [laughs].
Boards today have shrunk dramatically in length, as everyone goes shorter and beefier. Where do you see the next big breakthrough in surfboard design happening?
We’re really excited about modern planing hulls. They are so much fun, you really need to ride one to realise how much of a different surfing experience it really is, they are so fricken fast! Another thing that we’ve had a lot of success with of late is boards like The Nu Waver Single Fin, which was a modern take on a traditional 70’s pintail single fin. Then we released the Beach Cloud Twinny last year, which was again a modern take on a traditional keel twin fin. This year we’ll be carrying on model from the Beach Cloud, which is going to be quite unique in itself. We’re really pumped on modernizing some traditional styles of boards. The other thing that’s got us excited is that we’ve been working on some construction advancements over the last year or two. Majority of surfers still love the feel of PU, but there is definitely an emerging desire out there for Epoxy and EPS boards. We didn’t want to just jump on the bandwagon of that kind of thing. We’ve got to make sure that it functions well and for you’re traditional PU lovers that it also feels natural and feels good, because Epoxy has it’s limitations too, but it is definitely a great construction and is becoming more popular. Now we have an offering here, I'd say we will be bringing a range of models in this construction to the SW CAMP.
How integral has Otis been in this evolution?
It's been such a natural partnership. I'd like to think that we played a large role in helping him find success. He’s been so integral to our designs over the past 7 years, because he’s just got such a radical approach in the water. You could almost look at the timeline of design over those years and see what desires Otis had within his surfing. For example, with The Space Dolphin six years ago, he was after a chop square shortboard, and he rode that thing religiously for two or three years. Then he wanted to move towards something that was short and narrow and more parallel in the rails and that’s when we developed the Mermaid Killer. And then he wanted to put a little more width into it and that’s when we developed the Diamond Dancer. And there’s been other models in between that he's influenced as well. He has the same desire as us – that reference to true conventional shortboard design. A couple of years ago, we really wanted to start putting some energy back into conventional shapes and that’s when the Suspended Particle and the Truffle Shuffle came out, and he’s been right there with us every step of the way. He’s just naturally such a big part of the family.
What’s he been riding lately?
Otis still rides a lot of Suspended Particles, that’s his go-to shortboard, and the thing that we’ve been developing with him over the past 12 months is the Diamond Dancer 2, which is almost a blend of the original design with a shortboard. It has a shortboard nose but all the other design elements of the original model; the diamond tail, parallel rail, flyer, deep planing hull. He’s been religiously riding those over the last 12 months. He’ll be riding those at the SW camp and I reckon he’ll blow a few peoples minds, because he just goes so quick on them.
Does having a smaller team give you better dynamics between the shaper and rider? More intimate perhaps?
For sure, but it’s all about how you approach it. Some of the big guys, say for example Channel Islands, back in the day, Al Merrick would have worked super close with all of his team and they’re still reaping the benefits of that 30 years on. I think it’s all about how you prioritise working with your team and your customers. If you lose that connection with your surfers, then you’re product will suffer as a result. Dave is a genius at interpreting what surfers want. Oat is definitely very articulate when it comes to board design, but Dave will spend hours upon hours sitting there designing boards, not just with Otis but with anyone on our team, or any customer who walks into the factory. Dave will make sure that every board is specific and tailored for that person, and how they surf.
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What’s the number one challenge in shaping for elite athletes?
You definitely can’t rest on your laurels, you’ve gotta be prepared to continue to develop and design and evolve. This also means revaluting the ones which have are your best selling models... shapes which are tried and tested. You need to be prepared to redevelop and try to make boards better. This is the demand that high level surfers have. They need to further their careers, and they need radical boards to bring the best out of their surfing.
What models are you bringing to the SW Camp this year?
We will have demos in all of our models, bar maybe one or two. I feel like on weekends, a lot of guys wanna try fishes and different fun shapes, twinnys and quads. It’s such a great location to test our boards, we’ll probably end up having maybe 30 or so demos of all the weird and wonderful shapes that we make. There’ll be a few different variations of twinnies, a few different types of Diamond Dancers, and we’ll bring a few Epoxy EPS boards too. It’s a great opportunity for us to showcase that we also build great conventional shortboards, for guys who want to ride clean line shapes.
Any last words for crew who wanna go for a test drive?
Come and see us at the Misfit tent, every single one of those boards is up for people to ride, I’d prefer it if there was nothing left in the tent and 30 boards in the water. I can't encourage guys enough to take advantage of Shaper's Alley and trial every different board, that's what these weekends are for!
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