Welcome to the 5th episode of the 5th Series of The Temple of Surf – The Podcast!
Today with us, from Australia is former pro surfer (1973 Australia Surf Champion) and shaper (with over 50 years experience) , Richard Harvey (www.harveysurf.com).
We discussed with him about his surf adventure, discovering Padang in Bali, surfboards shaping and much more!
You can find the episode on all major podcast platforms or read the transcribed version here on our website (please forgive us of spelling mistakes)
TTOS: Aloha Richard, welcome to the show, where are you today?
I'm at Barley Heads today, I've just come home from work. I've been in the shaping bay, in the glassing bay… bits and pieces, everything…. Today the surf is absolutely cracking on the gold coast, Kira's been five to six foot, barrels going off everywhere….
TTOS: what is the most important thing in surfing?
Having fun! that's the best thing! Enjoying… I always say to people, when they have a good day in the surf, they don't come home and yell at the misses and kick the cat … if they can find a surfboard that makes them happy then life's pretty good.
TTOS: Surf has such an impact on our soul and it is helping to solve a lot of problems, right?
Well, it takes you into a world that a lot of people don't really understand; when you ride waves, we are not riding a piece of water, we are riding the energy of the universe, we are riding the wind and the tides and the spinning of the play. This is why surfing is so addictive, because we are hooked into all of these energies and when you get a hold of that and it becomes part of your life, it's part of your life forever. Whether you are in the entry level of surfing or whether you are been surfing for a long time, it's this same thing….you get hooked on that energy and life is just opening up for you.
TTOS: I totally agree with you and this topic of energy comes in a lot of podcast episodes that I have done. And it definitely is something that you cannot explain without trying, right?
It's like, in a certain way, like a glass of water, you can look at it and it's totally clear, but as soon as you taste it, it becomes refreshing and quenches your thirst….. simple things in life are pretty good.
TTOS: I totally agree with you….. what was your first surfboard? we go back in the time, right? How did you start surfing?
I was really young, I was a country boy… I used to live in the in the backwards of New South Wales,we used to go to the beach for our Christmas holidays. I was seven or eight year old, I was a little bit intimidated by the surf, I didn't like all that frothy stuff, I liked all the swimming that we had along the edge of the beaches. Then when we moved to the coast, I ended up riding a surfer plane, which was like one of those rubber blow up surf mats (Australia was pretty famous for their surf mat , these were very popular in the fifties and sixties). Some of the boys that were around the area just started riding boards that were balsa boards and, we can say, I started my surfing career on balsa boards.
They weren't around for too long (it was only about 58 and 60 that also started to disappear) and then foam came in and then I ended up buying second-hand boards off the local hotshots. That's where it pretty much started for me, I lived near the beach walking distance, probably only a couple of hundred meters from the beach, so after school, all the mates and mw we'd all hang out, down the beach and “run a muck” <laugh> as the Australian expression goes.
TTOS: do you still have some of those boards or they just disappear?
The one that I had, I think it might have been a cut down from a big old balsa board, it was very thin and very flat. I've never been really a collector of any of my old boards, because I've had a couple of situations where people that are collectors go “oh, this one's for sale”. They want to pay so much money and I think that I could build 10 boards myself for something like that….. Collecting boards is not for me, you've gotta store them somewhere and you've gotta carry them around, when you move from one house to the next, they get damaged, they just get old… I rather have surfing as a memory, rather than the surfboard. I always say the surfboard is the vehicle that we use to go surfing on and it's riding the waves…. that is the important thing. Boards are important, but the riding of the waves is what it's really about.
If you look back and you look at all the good surfers that coming outta California, or even Australia in the early sixties, the good surfers were all shapers and they were the ones that were building boards that were just for them to ride waves on…..the better the board, the better the surfing….
That's the revolution of surfboards.
I came from a different angle, I was very one of the very early professional surfers along with Nat Young and Midget Farrely in Australia, I used to get paid not very much, it was about $15 a week. I'd get a car with some petrol that had the my sponsors name written all down the side…. when there was no surf, I'd go into the factory and I'd go “I wanna do something, teach me something”. For about six months, all I did was cut plan shapes and then for another six months, all I did was get this big electric planner…. that was probably about 15, 16 inches long that the carpenters used to use and cut down all the blanks.
My first surfboard was probably not so much a board, but an experience of learning how to cut plan shapes and use the planner and work my way into it…
My first surfboards to tell you the truth, weren't very good <laugh> but I suppose a lot of people say that when they first started….
I was always more interested in surfing than shaping, but I found that by building good surfboards, my surfing improved, and I wanted to understand the dynamics of how our surfboards worked. That's where I've spent a lot of my later years in the surfing industry of just trying to work out what's what works. Now, as we understand the smaller dynamics of design, it's gone into the intricacies of surfboard shaping rather than just a planner and fins….
TTOS: For you it was an opportunity to be around shapers, to learn their craft, but then, down the road, is the job that you did for the last 50 years, right?
Yes, some of those shapers, there were some great people that came in. Bob Kenon was one of the guys that was one of the early shapers in the sixties, he's still shaping now as far as I'm aware. I know he is still around down at Crescent heads, he came into my shaping bay when I thought I'd shaped a really good surfboard and just did big circles and crosses and things….he went, “that's a hollow, that's not right, that's wrong” <Laugh> .
He, sort of opened, my eyes to what surfboards were and then, as I moved around the world and shaped with different people, whether it was people like Malcolm Campbell over in Hawaii, Peter Cornish or Dick Van Strallen, I would gather information from all of these people and learn “that's really good, that technique is really good or I really like the way they do that”.
Even today, when I do my surfboard shapers workshops, where I teach people how to shape, there might be somebody that comes in and does something and I go “that's really a good technique, I'm gonna utilize that technique”. My shaping journey hasn't stopped and hasn't got to a point where I go “I think I've got it”. It's just a continuation of an evolution, just like surfboard designing in general.
TTOS: it's interesting also that there is a huge amount of people that have different kind of needs and surfboard shaping is definitely something that can help them to have a better surf to have fun, to spend time in the ocean…..
In 1956, there was an Olympic games held in Melbourne, it was called “the friendly games”. In conjunction with that, they brought two Californian lifeguards out from California and they put on a surfboard demonstration, they brought out the Malibu chip to Australia, and that changed the whole direction of surfing. Not only in those Olympic games, but when we have big events like that, then people's eyes are open and things change. I’m referring not so much at the demonstration by The Duke when he came out for a swimming exhibition or Greg Noll and Tom Zanne when they came out with the Olympics, but things surrounding it, that changed people's eyes and allow people to think about different things. They'll start to think about technology and things that we didn't have back then.
People will make discoveries that they haven't sort of thought about before, just like when the fin systems has been introduced, the guys that introduced the FCS system, he was a sander and hated sanding around fins. he went “wouldn't it be easier if we just had a couple of plugs that we can screw the fins into?”… FCS was born.
Such a small thing can change the whole direction of what surfing is and what surfboards are. I mean, the shaping machine obviously is one of the big things that's changing, but I guess I'm a little bit from the old school where I still do everything by hand. I find that hand shape, surfboards are a bit like a piece of art as compared to a board that's come off a shaping machine that is a bit more like a print and a piece of art, original piece of art has a motion to it and it changes. As the light changes on a painting, whereas a print will be the same all the time. I lived in an era where we surfed a bunch of waves, where we shaped a bunch of surfboards and I've got no complaints about it, but the world's changing and I'm just going “well, I had my time and I had my era and I was happy with it, but I look at it now and I'm going, I'm glad I had what I like, what I did in the time that I had.”
I'm an artist more than a collector <laugh>.
TTOS: we said, what is the most important thing in surfing…. in your opinion, what is the most important thing in shaping?
There are two things that we have to match up when we are shaping…. one is the person, which is their personality, their weight, their fitness, their attitude and the other thing is the waves that we want to ride. The purpose of the shaper is to build that vehicle that suits both the rider, with their ability and all the things that they can do… and the wave with a vehicle that is the board that sits in the middle, it connects the person to the wave.
That's the whole goal of building surfboards. The most important thing of shaping are the little things… I have broken down into about 65 major parts of a surfboard.
As an example, the rails of a surfboard with the release in the bottom and the softness in the middle and the buoyancy in the top, they can all be adjusted depending on how high the board needs to ride in the water, how much direction it needs, how much softness it needs, depending on whether we are riding choppy, little beach breaks, or whether we are riding long line boards. And then as the board, as the surfer gets better, the board will rise and sit higher in the water because the surfer can generate more speed, they can generate the speed by their maneuvers, by the position on the wave…. the lit edge helps people on entry level of surfing, not so much surfing itself. By breaking up all the parts of a surfboard, as I often explain, it's looking at a really nice car driving down the highway and you go “that car looks really nice. It's a four wheel drive, it's nice color, it's got white leather seats inside it, all of that”, but it's the gear box and the brakes and the engine that makes the car work and people don't go saying “that's a nice car, what's the valve clearance or what's the tension on the brakes, or what's the whatever”…that's the manufacturer's risk responsibility, just like it is with the shaper.
A lot of people, nowadays, they just buy a surfboard by the appearance, I like to tell people not what to ride, but what all the different things do and let them make the decision and then when they get on it, they'll go “oh, I want more of this, I want less of that”and then their surfing starts to progress because they're on the right piece of equipment or the waves that they wanna ride.
That to me is the getting the right surfboard, that's the most important thing
TTOS: Let's talk a little bit about your career, in your opinion, what was the defining moment of your it?
I surfed competitively through the sixties and by the end of the sixties, I'd sort of had enough of competition. In the early seventies they went “oh, we are going back to hold a competition back in Margaret River”, big left hand, as it's sort of like Sunset in reverse, that's probably the best way to describe it….I was really successful there….because of that, I got invitations to go to Hawaii, to compete in the Pipe Masters (The Duke’s contest), I went to Hawaii and competed in all of that, there were a lot of good surfers from all over the world there, it was like a the Coliseum, everybody was in there trying to create their career and build the whole thing. I sort of went “I'm not really into it that much, all I want to do is go surfing…..” About six months later, a friend of mine who was Dick Hill who was making some surfing movies and said “do you want to come to Bali?”.
That sounded pretty good….we'd seen a bit of the movie “Morning of the Earth” and then we sort of went “okay, let's go”….
I went over there and we surfed with Rabbit some really big lefthanders and me, being a goofy footer living in Queensland, I'm surfing, backhand all the time….going over there and all of a sudden surfing forehand in really big, long hollow waves had just changed my whole approach to the enjoyment of surfing.
We were surfing big waves in Uluwatu, probably about 15 to 18 feet, Rabbit and I were the only two guys out there… Rabbit caught a wave and managed to get back into the cave, I caught a big long wave and ended up halfway down the point around, towards the next little beach. I noticed a little corner where the waves were wrapping around, later, that month I ended up paddling down the coastline all the way right back through it and discovered all of those breaks like Padang, Jimbarang Bay and all of that.
That was probably one of the turning points, my excitement of discovery surfing, finding breaks that were just perfect.
We went back there the next year and Bill Delaney, who made a movie called “Free ride” and Dick Hill made surfing movies as well, they filmed it all, by the time those movies had sort of come out, I ended up going to Europe to do some shaping in England and France and by the time I'd come back the word was out and now it has got hotels <laugh> out on the end of it. For me going there at that particular time was probably one of the the turning points I would say in my life and the things that led to it were going back and competing in the Australian titles, going to Hawaii and going “what do I want to do? Do I want to compete or do I just wanna go surfing?” that was my goal and by going surfing, I went, I guess I've gotta fund it somehow. So I went, well, the only way to fund going surfing is shaping…. they were two things that sort of fitted, fitted together, really surfing and shaping and they still are, although I'm not surfing that much these days on, you know, getting on in years and getting a bit slower and it's a bit hectic here on the gold coast with the young crew. I had my time and now I can leave it to them and they can, they can have it…..
TTOS: thank you for sharing in effect. I, I read about you discovering Padang and I didn't really understand, but now I understand….. when you do discovered it , there was nobody, right? It was like fantastic.
In your career, you were saying that you met a lot of surfers all across the world, a lot of people…. was there a particular meeting with a surfer that was very meaningful for you that you will remember forever?
I've made a lot of good friends around the world and a lot of good shapers.
Probably the ones that really stand out would be Dick Van Straalen on the coast here, we worked together with the Barley Head surf company, I learned a lot from him and one of my good friends Malcolm and Duncan Campbell over in Hawaii, they are people that I've keeping in touch with….we have a very good head space between the two of us where we mightn't talk to each other for a year or two, and then just carry on, like it's just was yesterday.
TTOS: I have a question in effect, I had a lot of interviews with surfboard shapers, but I never had any interview with a fin maker, I know that you do amazing things, I saw online….what's the craft behind making them?
All parts of the surfboard are important, not only shaping, but glassing, sanding,fins with modern FCS two and future fins… I find the bases are a little bit too complex to do by hand, but I enjoy the art side of building fins, I enjoy the foil line There are two types of foils in fins, one is a parallel foil, and you look at a pattern on a board and the color, if it runs up the back of the fin is parallel to the back line of the fin, but the other fin that is really important is a fin that has an expanding foil…now the expanding foil is where the lines of the foil line come off the base and expand as they go towards the top….what the fin does it expands, or the base is wider than the middle of the fin and then the tip of the fin, so the fin is tapering, not only through the foil, but it's tapering through the height of the fin as well.
These are things that I really enjoy foiling a fin and getting these lines really nice and they become something that's really quite pretty when you shape the line down like the curves in a wave or the rail line in a surfboard, the foil line in a fin becomes a really, a pretty thing to look at. As much as it's, you know, picking up a, a heavy sanding pad and grinding away fiberglass and resin and getting all itchy and all of that, it's still a nice piece of function art that really makes the board work well. A good fin placed in the right position just can contribute to a really good surfboard, it's just part of what building surfboards is about.
And some people go, do you still like sanding? And I'm going well, sanding is part of building a surfboard. I like all the parts of building surfboards, I design my own logos. I do all the bits from right from the very beginning, right through to the very end of building a surfboard. I like doing it all myself and there are some great craftsmen out there. There's a, a guy down in Newcastle called Sam Egan that builds beautiful timber boards and he's a craftsman does timber cabinetry work,I really admire his work that is just really pretty to look at, a nice sort of feel to it. It's got nice hand, hand feel. It just looks, looks nice. I think all these things, whether they're fins or rails of surfboard, they all should fit and make us feel good.
if we pick a ball up and it makes us feel good, whether we're a collector or whether we're a rider or whether we are just somebody that likes the graphics on it. I think all of those things are important. I've got friends that are developing printing on fiberglass. I look at the big graphic that's in behind you on your the temple of surf background there <laugh> and all of that it's all printable on fiberglass these days. So you don't have to print it down onto polyesters or things like that. You can just print it onto fiberglass. And even now the technology is that you can print upside down on the underneath side of the fiberglass. So if you actually touch the fiberglass, you don't take the, take the paint off. These are all things that have been worked on with technology or part of the building of surfboards, doesn't matter whether they're, you know, foam and fiberglass or EPS or epoxy, although I'm not a real fan of using epoxy on sort of an old school timber and, you know, polyurethane and polyester resinand I look at all the old blokes that are, you know, been around from the beginning of foam and fiberglass in Australia. in their nineties and most of 'em are still, you know, kicking and doing fine.
TTOS: We are gonna finish our interview with a short question and answer session. So please answer the first thing that comes out to your mind….
the best surfboard that you ever ridden….
The best surfboard I have ever written was a bossa surfboard that I made with company or a business in France with a gentleman called Monsieur Balons a very famous engineer who used to build parts for the French aircraft industry. He had access to balsa from Madagascar and those slabs of balsa were some of the best slabs of balsa that I have ever seen in my life. I made a balsa gun out of them… all chambered and Balon had an engineering area for in his surfboard,a little surfboard factory off the side of his big engineering company that was so modern compared to what we're doing today. I built that surfboard in that factory, and that was the surfboard that I ended up taking back to Bali again. That was 1975
TTOS: Who's your favorite shaper of all time?
There's so many good ones out there. I can't think of who that would be because I think there's a lot of people that have contributed to the best surfboard…..
TTOS: One particular personal question, your favorite song…
I'm a bit of a fan of Bob Dylan, that would probably be one of the one of the favorites that I'd have. I'd have to go back and, and think about it, but like, like surfboards and shapers, I enjoy a lot of variety, as somebody that writes music and plays music and is poetic and captures a sign of the times, I think of those all of those Dylan songs would be what I'd consider some of the best stuff that I'd like.
TTOS: What's your favorite surf spot?
Barely Heads in 1970s…..the sand was tight to the Headlands. We had lots of storms swell, so we got lots of big swell. We got lots of power and because Burley is such a long wave when it's good and it have all these different little sections in it. It'll have little wedge bits and hollow bits that drive you down the line. So definitely Barely in the seventies. And I haven't seen much of it like that since then. Although looking at the photos of Kira for the last two or three days, I'd say that's, Kira's probably some of the best waves that I've seen for a long time too, but Barley's my favorite spot….
TTOS: Who's your favorite surfer of all time?
I suppose the most influential surfer would in my era, would've been Nat Young….
I saw Nat do a lot of things that I hadn't seen done before, when we were in France, he was riding a keel and we were riding eight foot.. … he was riding back hand and the keel was taking him right up into the lip, in the top of the waves, I could see the backs of his knees…. he was that high in the lip….Wow! He was running really big, long lines. In the sixties, we surfed together before he went to the world titles in California and even now that longboard surfing is still some of the best longboard surfing that I think I've ever seen even compared to stuff today.
TTOS: I had a, the opportunity to talk with Nat Young couple of months ago, it was a very interesting interview, I really liked that.
He is a good bloke, we were competitors together, but over the years we've become good friends.
TTOS: Your best relationship advice….
Be nice to everybody, just be nice to people and life or will be good.