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.