Blog: The Uki Experiment
Big Sky Wire
Michele Lockwood Shapes Her First Surfboard
Gallery by Andrew Kidman
As you get older it becomes harder and harder to try things you haven’t done before, and it’s not because there’s a shortage of new things to try. In my case, the excuses of lack of time, money and energy have calcified the supple part of my brain that used to impulsively scream, “Yes! Filth! Fucken Do It!” Thinking back, I couldn’t recall the last time I did something completely new. It seemed my comfort zone had violated all boundaries, taking over the entire content of my life, with little space left for unsolicited exploits. But I was not going to be led down the road to mediocrity that easily. There was something in the back of my mind that had been quietly beckoning my subconscious, a secret curiosity that I’d been considering but failed putting into action. I wanted to take a stab at shaping a board.
Now I need to preface this by saying I have a few advantages on my side when it comes to such an undertaking, but even that’s putting it lightly, to be completely honest, I am an over-privileged 1 percenter in the world of surfboard shaping and I am embarrassed to admit that considering I am a ‘hands-on’ type of person, I had never before taken advantage of these advantages; some of which are as follows. Firstly, the father of my children/life partner/main man (I can never decide on his title) is wholly obsessed with the subject and in our home, surfboard banter is the norm; long-winded discussions about plan shapes, concaves, reverse vees, fin placement, wide points, tail rocker, flyers, swallows, wingpins and channels are common discussions amongst the menfolk who come and go through our doors. I can tolerate this talk up until a point and admit that some aspects of surfboard design really interest me, the practical things like, what makes some boards go faster than others and how different designs can help you get on a wave earlier, but often when these yarns start to spin they seem to never end. After 30 minutes or so my mind listlessly wanders and the murmuring negotiations of rail thickness become my exit music as I gladly Rhumba the hell outta there.
My confession continues... About a 100 metre walk from our front door is a shaping bay complete with every necessary tool needed for carving foam including a proper respirator mask, and a library of historic templates; your mouth watering yet? Having the luxury of bypassing the sausage party that is a surfboard factory was integral in my decision-making. I don’t think I would have done it otherwise. From my personal experience, surfboard factories are an intimidating boy’s club where the only women you see are the ones pinned on the wall with their tits out. My intention is not to stir up a gender war nor turn this into a feminist rant. I also don’t want to disregard the male shapers who are not part of this pre-historic circle nor discount the female shapers/glassers that I know are out there – I salute you. But for me personally, I have never been comfortable in those places so they just wouldn’t be conducive to creativity.
I know this is sounding rather like my comfort zone’s big fat ass has not got the hint and is still curled up on my inner sofa eating a tub of rocky road, but really, it’s not how it looks. If you only knew the semi-paranoid personality that lie in the way of me getting my inexperienced hands on his precious tools and templates you’d think I was mad to even consider it. I’m asking for a green light to invade his space and what’s more, I’d need to negotiate with his already overloaded brain for help in laying out the basics on how to turn this blank into a board. Not to mention if he could, “possibly snap a few pix along the way, that’d be great.” Wait for the smoke from the ears...
His first question was, “And what do you want to achieve from doing this?” A fair question I thought. I had to think past my initial impulse of just tackling it as something new to do and dig deep for something good. “I’ve been wanting to do this for a long time though I never said it. I think it’d be fun to have a go, y’know see what it’s like to get in there and do it instead of just watching someone else do it. I’d like to know if I can do it. Plus, I like the idea of sculpting a block of foam into something rideable!” As the words left my mouth I sounded like a kid getting busted for stealing a car and immediately decided that was a good thing.
I am not being completely fair, for in the department of ‘shaping-your-own-custom-board’ it would be hard to find someone more encouraging as to what Andrew is. Hell, he wrote a book and made a film on the matter, but all he could say in response to my request was, “Hmff.” I’ll take that as a yes!
None of these conveniences eased my encroaching case of the fear of the unknown. The idea of stepping into that little flouro lit shoebox of a room was as exciting as it was stomach churning. I accepted these jitters, they were exactly the decalcifier I was after and although I knew what I wanted to shape, I couldn’t help feeling like I was going to stuff it up. I reminded myself that the project was to be an experiment as much as anything. The board was being made, not out of need but more for an excuse to have a go, to have fun, to try something new. So fucking relax already!
It happened to be that my good friend Louise Wright was coming up on the weekend for a visit with her new baby. Besides being a long-time surfer, Louise is an architect with a steady hand and solid design principles that put her on par with what is required to shape a surfboard. She’d make the perfect ally in the shaping bay. And it only took casually mentioning it for her to take the bait, “I always wanted to shape a board,” were her words.
She later told me as we shuffled through templates, that every summer holidays she’d do odd jobs at Greg Clough’s bay at Aloha in Brookvale and he’d make her a new board as payment; “but you know, back then, as open-hearted as Greg was, I never thought to ask him about shaping or about different boards. I guess it was the early 90s, such a poor time in surfboard culture. You just got your Thruster and that was it.”
Before we began, Lou and I discussed basic design points. I told her of my approach to take components from boards that were aesthetically attractive and put them together to see how they worked. My theory, admittingly naïve, was that “if it looked good, it would work good”. Ultimately I wanted to make something that looked different from all my other boards, I wanted it to be an experiment, not minding if it looked rudimentary – it should just be its own individual machine.
We agreed it would be a single fin, I said I love sharp knifey rails and she suggested to keep it around the 6’5” mark. “How about a square tail, kinda wide all the way through; something to ride on small days?” “I have a picture of this weird shovel nose in my head, something to contrast all the round nose boards I’ve got.” “Let’s get started!”
Looking at the 7’11” monster of a blank, I remembered some sage comments once said around the dinner table, “Whatever you make, it will go. You can ride the blank as it is and it will go; to a degree.”
It seems those endless design theory conversations got sucked into my consciousness by osmosis. This thought was my mental icebreaker as we went in to get our first step-by-step from Andrew.
Sitting at his computer, he grabbed a bit of scrap paper and a pencil and quickly started scribbling, “First you’ve got to look at the blank and see where the rocker is, both in the tail and the nose. You’re going to have to find out where you want to put your template on the blank based on that. Then you have to mark out your points, mid, nose and tail, then you’ve got to ...Okay, that should keep you busy for a couple of hours.”
We took his words in carefully and then closed the door. Sorting through innumerable templates and trying them out on the deck brought to mind the similarity of using templates in dressmaking; both principles being very similar. Once we decided on our measurements, the blank was marked out and templated in about 40 minutes, communal high-five!
By this point, nervousness was left by the wayside because anticipation had been replaced by doing. It was that simple. And after the excess ribs of foam were hacked off and the raw shape was sitting there on the stands, a feeling of total elation took over. We might as well have climbed a fricken mountain! We scrubbed the rails square and set it up against the wall to have a look, not bad for a few hours work.
Outside the day was turning to night and the light of the waxing moon lit the path back up the hill. I couldn’t stop thinking about the potential in this raw shape and what I wanted to adjust and rethink. So many thoughts were rushing through my head and so many glimpses of things I had witnessed other shapers do in the past now made sense to me. I was frothing to get back in there.
Louise’s presence was invaluable. Since the majority of my work is done solo it was especially nice to have someone to collaborate with, as opposed to me, talking to me. However, being a new mum, feeding times come before surfboard shaping and her lovely little three-month-old bub took rightful priority. You can add raising babies to the list of why more women don’t shape surfboards.
There is no doubt that shaping boards is hard, dirty, loud, physical work, a total assault on the senses. But it is these harsh aspects that keep you focussed on the task at hand. Your mind doesn’t have space to wander; it is in this heightened state of creative production, where every bit of your sensory palette is being called upon; maybe with the exception of the olfactory, unless something unexpectedly catches fire!
The very physical work of using the planer to zip off layer after layer of foam was as thrilling as the micro finetuning of gently passing 180 grit over the rails to get them just right. In the end, I was surprised by how naturally the whole process unfolded. I took my time to complete it, walking away and then coming back – yet another luxury. Overall, it was a lot easier than I thought it would be and like any creative pursuit, if you rely on your instincts and get out of the way of yourself the result can be really gratifying. If I can do it, anyone with a bit of patience and an imagination can do it. As I suspected, you don’t even need a penis to shape a surfboard, having tits worked just as good!
All joking aside, paddling out on this board that I’d crafted myself (with the help and guidance of a couple of close friends) was a thrill that can be matched by little else. I felt that somehow I had contributed to surfing by taking the time to learn a little about this ancient craft we’ve all come to take for granted. I have a new appreciation for shapers and hope that more surfers, especially women have a go at it.
Did I achieve what I set out to do? Undoubtedly, yes and then some. A little part of me has matured and changed, my confidence in my abilities has expanded and I’ve discovered another avenue for creative expression. Winning! I look forward to shaping the next one.
Big Sky is the property on which Andrew Kidman and Michele Lockwood live with their two children in Northern New South Wales. Once a week they speak to writers, photographers, surfers, artists and musicians for Coastalwatch's Big Sky Wire. To follow Andrew Kidman's film celebrating 40 years of Morning of The Earth, head to the Spirit of Akasha blog and to check out Michele Lockwood's blog click through here.
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