Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Red Faded Into Blue

I was always fascinated by what made surfboards work. By the time I was twenty years old, I thought I had a handle on how my boards should be shaped. I used to go up to Melbourne, to the M.T.B. factory, and get boards for the shop where I worked. One of the shapers, was Robert Strickland. I mentioned to him that my last board wasn't working. I began to dazzle him with hydrodynamic nomenclature, he held up his hand.

"D'chew check the surf?" He asked.

"Ya, it's chest high, kinda side shore." Says I.

"Let's Go." He said.

We paddled out at some crappy beach break. I was nervous. Robert watched me and he took very few waves. He told me to come back next week.

Most shaping rooms were a disaster, empty resin, paint, hardener cans, masking tape in bundled balls. The floors were ankle deep in foam dust. They all had random pictures of boards, surfers, nude women and waves, not Roberts. It looked more like a surgical room. He had a vacuum hose hooked to his planing tools, that removed all the dust. There wasn't a thing out of place. It was as though nothing had ever been shaped there.

"You sit there." He said in a quiet commanding way, pointing to a stool in the corner.

It usually took a good shaper a few days to shape a board. He used a template for the nose and tail. The rest of the measurements he made by hand, as he dragged a metal ruler down the length of the blank. He began to plane the foam in slow methodical movements so confident and deliberate, I knew I was in the presence of greatness. He would occasionally pause, hold the blank up by the nose with a finger, and look down it's length. An hour or so later, the board was completed.

The board was magic, it was airbrushed, red faded into blue. You never forget the great ones, even after you lose them.

I went back to Melbourne to look for him and get another one of his boards. I asked a shop guy where Robert was shaping and he told me he had died in a kayaking accident.

On January 18th, a company that makes eco friendly surfboard blanks, sponsored a shape off to honor Robert. The shapers had two hours to duplicate one of his boards. Greg Noll, a big wave surfing and shaping legend, was the emcee. The winning board was put in the Cocoa Beach Surfing Museum.



Ms. Moon said...

Nice tribute to a real craftsman.

Anonymous said...

Very cool.
My luck was such that I met various shapers of the sort you first described, usually while they were in the process of capturing some poor frog or bug in a resin tomb.

As a result, I don't think I ever got a proper fitted board. I just tried several and stuck with one that worked (I think).

I have a new(used) Quiet Flight fun-shape I wanna try though. Anyone? Anyone?

juancho said...

totally, meet me at Lake Ella for dawn patrol.

Anonymous said...

hmmm, I guess the RA is diversifying the training regimen.

Human Wrecking Ball said...

I think there is room in the world for both kinds of shapers. I got some good boards from local guys too. R.S. was one of a kind man. I never saw anyone set a curve by hand before.
I had a couple magic Spectrum's too, shaped by Bullock, and Lucas. Why does anyone sell good boards?

juancho said...

The RA will have land, air,sea attack capabilities.

Human Wrecking Ball said...

Smart money says my Bastards will take you robots any day.

juancho said...

Your Bastard Army?

Well, you were a drummer so I guess I believe it.

Anonymous said...

some of us seem to be dual-enrolled in the RoBastard Army; how many spaces up and over can one move as a pawn?

Human Wrecking Ball said...

If you are a BASTARD! you can do whatever you want. We don't play by rules that's why we are BASTARDS!

JeffreyJDavis said...

I had Strickland shape 4 sticks for me when I was in college at FIT. all pretty much magic.

I still have the last one, a 5'10" channel hull thruster. Too bad I way 210lbs now. Works with a kite though!!

Anonymous said...

RS was great to me. i lived in cocoa beach in the early 90s and he took me in as i worked at the first longboard house that randy owned. robert made me some awesome boards. i hope his son is doing good. i miss him. RIP robert.