Aired on 2021, Sep 22nd  in Legends and much more! / Podcast / Shapers

Interview with Johnny Gill - Keyo


Welcome to the 17th episode of The Temple of Surf, The Podcast.

Today’s guest from Australia is Johnny Gill, surfer, shaper and in charge of maintaining the legacy of Keyo surfboards an historical surf Australian brand.

We discussed with him about surf, surfboards, Keyo and much more!

You can find the episode on all major podcast platforms or simply read the transcribed version below (please forgive us of spelling mistakes)


TTOS:  Aloha Johnny, welcome to the show…where are you today?

I'm actually knocked off work, I need it, I'm sitting at home, I've got a pretty special little place up on the central coast, just north of Sydney.

TTOS:  What is in your opinion, the most important thing in surfing?

I do it for the joy. It, strangely enough, I do the lifestyle for my age. I'm still pretty fit and I put it down to just surfing a lot.

TTOS:  Is that frankly something that is giving a lot to all of us, right?

Oh yeah. Why would you do it without that? I guess…., but the lifestyle aspect, that is a commitment! it's hard to have the surfing lifestyle because it comes at a price…..

TTOS:  I mean, depends also, what are you doing right? Even if you are 80 years old, you can just go on a long board and just cruise…..

What was your first surf board? When did you start surfing?

My first surfboard that was bought for me, I should really say I had a few off the scrap pile, but my first one was a Riley shaped by a guy called Lee Riley from wild beach, Sydney's Northern beaches. He made boards for all the good guys around our area. He made all their boards and everybody wanted one of his and yeah, I was able to get my hands on one of them as one of my friends was sponsored by him.

TTOS:  Let’s talk about a legendary name in the surfboards industry, Keyo….it all started in 1957, 64 years ago….. what are the key moments of this journey?

It has been founded by Denny Keogh, but he changed the name to Keyo because it sounded more Hawaiian and that was, I call, surfing back in the day.Its significance in history really comes down to the people that worked for him and surfed for him, like straight off the bat, Midget Fairley, he was the first guy in to help Denny with the workload and he went on to win the Makaha invitational, that put Keyo on the world stage a very long time ago. That was probably the first significant moment in Keyo history, but there's been many others, Danny was quite a pioneer and he embraced not so much technology, but forward movement. You know, he always wanted to be on the front foot with the best boards and have the best riders riding the best boards.  It is pretty cool to have such significant history behind….

Bob McTavish, Nat Young, Midget Fairely are part of the Keyo history…

TTOS:   How do you do keep Keyo brand legacy today?

I work very closely with surfers, I've got some team riders guys and girls as well, long boards that seem to be where I've had most success. Now I work closely with a young surfer called Tom Payne, we work side-by-side on the computer to design my boards these days, we can sit down at the coffee table and we can throw out a design. Tom often comes up with a notion of “I'm going to surf, like Midget Farrelly did in 1964 or 67 in particular” and I'll go “all right, all right, so where do we start?”. You know, working with a computer, you've got a lot of files from previous boards and you've got a lot of data at your fingertips and you can pull it as board out.

You go…. “we'll add it here and we'll add it here, we'll put more V in here, we'll fill up the rails, we'll change the template, we do all that from scratch and we pop out a board more often than not.”

Some boards are more dramatic than others and require a bit more R/D as we might not nail it first time, but when you work with the team rider that has a lot of input and a lot of ideas, a lot of understanding about what he's riding and the way he wants to ride it. I think that's why we have so much success….

TTOS:   How do you deal with the research and innovation?

All my staff has a classic background everything from the fish and the eggs to even some of my classic midlenghts. Longboards all have a historical tie in from some angle, I just angle it and adjust it to make it perhaps more rideable, a bit more accepted by the masses if you like. As far as materials I prefer the traditional methods, but if you make a board last it's eco-friendly, you know if, if people are riding it for 15 years and they're not replacing them with snapped boards out time after time, that's eco-friendly, to me….

A lot of my customers come back three or four times and they'll have four of my boards. They'll have a workable quiver, not in inches or in small increments, but in design and length from small fishes, five foot, two gliders, 12 foot, and everything in between. Although I might not getting repeat customers of the same design they're coming back for another reason and that's to get another feeling from another of board.

Keogh family is a very tight, tightly bonded family and we try to get our customer to buy into that and become part of our family. A lot of my customers become my friends, we stay in contact and I would hate to know the amount of contacts on my phone, just, you know, and some of my best friends started off as customers

TTOS:   In fact, actually I was reading in your website, you talk a lot about community and the power of community is so important for you as a person and for Keyo as a brand….

I feel good about the way we go about business, we're not big on marketing and all that sort of thing and, as you said, that word of mouth thing, it means a lot to me

I get very humbled when I hear some people talk about me. I don't feel like I deserve it, but it is very, very nice to hear.

TTOS:   what is that key teaching of Denny Keogh?

I think just move forward. He was so into working with the youth and the free thinkers. And that's basically what he's renowned for…. letting the freethinkers loose and letting them create, not really doing that with the label. But back then, I think that's what separated him from the others, a lot of the other brands had the head shaper, the boss guy, and everybody did what he said, where Danny was going to let these guys loose….let's see what they can come up with. I think that's the coolest thing to come out of. Keyo is Denny, let these guys go with their ideas and they come up with, you know, the v- bottom and the plastic machines and all that sort of thing. His shapers, were rockstars, he let them loose on their own. They couldn't have done all that, he had the business, he had the establishment and he used them. That was his marketing you know, surf what the best surfers in the world are making.

TTOS:   It is something you could do in the future, maybe?

Definitely, team riders in particular, probably want their input towards the boards.

That is something that I would like….for fresh new shapers to shape under the Keyo brand, just as they did in the old dice. It was a shaping stable, you know and people shaped under the brand…. yeah, that'd be cool to do again.

TTOS:   I think so, you know, because maybe you have like some great guys that they looking for a chance you can give those chance to them and they can come up maybe with a new design or very good boards. Why not?

Yeah, it'd be good to have, someone's got to invent the next big thing, I guess. I'd like to be in a position to be able to provide that, I think it'd be really cool when educate that legacy of what Denny did back then and keep that going now. I think that'd be really cool. I hadn't really thought about it too much, but I'm still happy doing all the shaping at the moment, but I'm not getting any younger and yeah, so maybe it is time to start thinking about the future.

TTOS:   We are going to finish our interview with a short Q/A session, please answer the first thing that comes up to your mind….

The best surfboard that you ever ridden….

Oh, too many to remember, but I must admit the board I'm riding at the moment is right up there…. riding my twin fin model seven foot and I have a GPS on my watch and it is doing some pretty phenomenal speeds.

TTOS:   Your favorite shaper of all time?

I think I'll have to say Midget Farrelly, he heavily influenced me, he influences my team riders and I get my blanks from his old company surf blank Australia. I'm still dealing with his daughter to this day.

TTOS:   Personal question, your favorite song.

I'm a bit of a disco fan, so I would have to say Purple Rain by Prince.

TTOS:   Your favorite surf spot

It would have to be off rocks in my hometown of Avalon. I no longer live there, but every time I return it's the first place I go.

TTOS:   Your favorite surfer?

I don't have one, but it'd have to be Gerry Lopez.

TTOS:   The last question we ask everybody in the show, nothing to do with the surf ….we want your best relationship advice

Apart from picking the right partner, communication.

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