Paper Sea Quarterly: Issue 4, Board Stories

Paper Sea Quarterly is back with “The Hand Made Issue.” Like last quarter, they’ve given us a little taste of the contents with “Board Stories.” If you enjoy what you read, be sure to purchase the mag here

Board Stories

In his forty-plus years of designing and shaping surfboards Maurice Cole has established himself as an untiring proponent for the innovation and progression of surfboard design. Maurice Cole Surfboards are internationally recognised for their impeccable quality and performance, tested and pushed by some of the world’s best surfers, including, of course, Maurice himself. Maurice’s fundamental values regarding his surfboards are best summed up by a mantra that is written on his shaping bay door, ‘If it’s not fucking perfect, it’s fucking shit’. Paper Sea Quarterlymet up with Maurice, in the chook shed where he shapes boards to check out some of his favourite surfboards from the decades of his ongoing shaping career.

Maurice recently joined forces with Matt Biolas, of Lost Surfboards in America, to collaborate on a series of surfboards. The partnership represents a regeneration for Maurice Cole Surfboards and comes with more of a focus on fine-tuned designs. Maurice is excited about having his surfboards back in the spotlight in the lucrative American market while ensuring that the quality of each board doesn’t slip below perfection.

‘It’s pretty hard to make long term plans when you’re next year of life is so uncertain.’ I usually like to plan ahead for the coming seasons but battling cancer has forced me to take a step back and rethink things. I have moved from shaping five to eight thousand boards a year to three to five hundred a year. I have spent all that extra time and energy working on design at the distress of my beautiful wife. Even at my ripe old age I still have so many ideas on ways to make surfboards better. Right now I feel like I work from the strong foundation of both great technical understanding and great design. I can shape everything from a ten-foot-six-inch gun down to kids’ boards and my passion remains fierce. This new project with Matt will be an exciting outlet for that passion.

‘I see a world of board design that is a bit stagnant and conservative and I am going to change that. When I leave this world I’d like to think I left a lot of new knowledge and had a positive impact on life, the planet and on surfing.’

The Mermaid called Bruce

I had to shape a board for Trent Munro for a competition in France. There was no swell over knee-high and he asked me to shape him something smaller for a competition heat in forty-eight hours time. I contemplated what I could do to a board to make it surf really well in small waves. I decided to make it shorter but not so short it was a fish because I wanted him to be able to transition easily from his normal boards to this board and back again. I increased the tail width, slipped a little concave in the bottom, tinkered with a few other things and there it was, ‘The Mermaid’, so called because it was half fish and half normal board.

Trent won that competition in France and then another because it was in such small surf. The following year in Torquay, the Bells Pro was completely flat and the competition was moved to waist-high surf on Phillip Island. I told Trent that he was going to have the edge, that the Mermaid was made for those waves. His face dropped and he looked mortified, he told me that he hadn’t brought his mermaid board.

After deciding against sending his partner home to get his board I remembered that I had shaped a board for a bloke called Bruce who lived in the USA and hadn’t collected it yet. I showed Trent and he lit up because it was the same shape as his mermaid. Trent went on to win a Bell’s Pro title at Phillip Island on a mermaid called Bruce.

My Sunset Gun

I have been going to Hawaii since the winter of 1973. It feels like a second home to me. In 1991 I spent a lot of time with the best glasser in the world, Jack Reeves. I shaped this board for myself and chose to have it glassed in a great magenta pigment that Jack had. I remember one particular surf I had with this board. I was wandering past the lifeguard tower on Sunset Beach and I dropped in to see the guys in there. Lifeguard Derek Doerner told me to get out there fast. I looked out and it was really crowded but Derek said they’d all been out there for a really long time. It was a beautiful day of eight to ten-foot waves. By the time I paddled out the back there was only four guys left in the water, it was unbelievable. I remember clear as day eight waves I caught, big barrels and some great turning waves, it was the most uncrowded surf I’ve had at Sunset. This is my board for Sunset beach.

The First Reverse Vee

I received a container of surfboard blanks (unshaped templates for surfboards) and they’d taped them up incorrectly at the factory. The taping had created extra lift through the nose and the tail of these blanks. I was trying to do a flat-bottom board, all flat so I grabbed a blank but it had a bump on the right and a bump on the left so I shaped a Vee under the front foot going back to being dead flat between the fins. When I finished I looked at this board and scratched my head and thought what the hell is this thing.

The previous year, Tom Curren (who went on to win a total of three world titles) had ordered a quiver of eleven boards ranging from six-foot through to eight-foot-three-inches and he said each one of those boards was magic. He won a world title on that quiver. I gave Tom the new Reverse Vee board one night in France, a bit before sunset and he took it for a surf around Anglet. He called me up later that night and although he’s usually a man of very few words he said that the board was insane and raved about the speed and carve of the board. I thought he’d picked up on my twisted sense of humour, I thought he was having a go at me so I said, good on ya why don’t you return all of the boards I shaped for you last year then.

The next morning, Tom drove up with a car full of boards. Here he was with all these other boards that he’d ridden to a world title and he said this board is so much better than all of them. It was then I realised that I’d stumbled onto something special.

That year I made sixty-one surfboards and fifty-nine of them were Reverse Vees. I worked out the theory behind the magic, it was that water flows onto the fins at about thirty to forty-five degrees not straight on as we’d previously thought, so the reverse vee was making the most of that, it was a bit of a quantum leap in board design.

My Favourite Board

The first time I surfed my favourite board was on a six-foot swell in France and I didn’t fall off on a single wave that day. I was having trouble with my other gun surfboards and I knew I needed something a little different to get me into the heavy French beach breaks. I made this thing, which was a bit thicker than normal but still short enough to fit in to the barrel. I gave it an orange bottom so people could fucking see me coming and get outta my way, which I still use for that same reason.

For thirteen years in France and the Basque country, every time the surf was over head-high I used this board. Over this period of time, I am confident that no other board in the world rode as many barrels as this one. There would be months at a time when I wouldn’t do a single turn, I was just barrel riding. I was in the water a minimum of eight hours a day for months on end just riding barrels, there were no turn sections and the French waves are so close to the beach that there isn’t much paddling either. 

This board has never slid out on take off, I can ride it up forward and right back, I can go left and right. It could handle the meanest, thickest, steepest waves and this was my pride and joy, like Linus’ blanket, it was like it had some intrinsic magical qualities that became stronger the more radical the waves became. Of all the boards I have in my shed, this is my favourite. This board has fifteen years of memories in it.