AEG Shaper Series: Darren Handley
"I don't consider it a job, it's a lifestyle and I love my lifestyle."
A DHD logo on the rail of your surfboard generally means you are riding a board that is a fine tuned piece of design refinement. The board of choice for many an elite surfer. A board of choice for World Champions. Darren Handley is the man behind DHD and he spoke to SW about his life as a shaper and surfer.
Let’s be weird and start at the beginning. Can you remember the first time you went surfing?
My dad was a surfer, he was actually one of the founding members of Narrabeen. We were living in Sydney and when I was really young we moved to Queensland, I was about seven. He introduced me into surfing at Kirra there on one of his boards, a big old fat seven footer or something. That was my first time and I was hooked.
When did you progress from being someone just consumed by surfing to taking the steps to becoming a shaper?
I was hooked on surfing, I wanted to be a surfer and my parents told me I had to get a job so I got a job as an electrician. I finished that and then I took a year off on the dole to become a pro surfer. I realised then that there's just not enough money in surfing and only such a small percentage would make it, I knew I didn't have the talent that the other people around me did. A window opened and I dove through it to become a surfboard manufacturer.
And how old are you at this point?
I was 20. I worked for Murray (Bourton) at Pipedream there. He said there was a job available so I got off the dole and went in there sweeping floors and learning the trade of making surfboards and I worked for there for 11 years. Surfboards when I went into Murray's, they were a lot flatter, there was no big machines around to cut stuff, boards were heavy, so I had full reign of changing designs, changing materials, and changing surfboards basically in Australia. I was just a young kid that was so keen to surf perfect Kirra everyday - and it used to break so much back then - and make boards to go good in these waves, and that's where some of my best curves got going and that's why I had such a following in such an early time because it was very hard for these good surfers to get good surfboards that fitted in the beautiful waves we had here in Queensland.
Kirra was so good back then, surfing must have just revolved around there.
Things happen for a reason. If I didn't move to Queensland, if Kirra didn't break and we didn't get those cyclone swells in that ten year period of great waves, then all the other people that Murray employed who are now quite big surfboard labels as well, Queensland and surfing in Australia wouldn't be as prominent as it was. Murray started something.
And when you're shaping for such high profile competitive surfers, are you riding the rise and falls of their careers with them?
Definitely. Having Mick and having Steph winning World Titles and twice winning it in the same year has been the Holy Grail for me. So I have had the really big highs, even Joel was riding for me when he won the junior world title.
And when you're shaping for someone like Mick, he's at the very forefront of high performance competitive surfing, has there been a lot of change in the last few years in the boards he's riding?
The changes are more in his body and strength. The year he won the first one he was riding 6'1s. The next year he was riding 6'0s. Then he won again the year after that and he was riding 5'11s, he had one magic 5'11 that won him four contests. This year after sitting down and working it out we've realised that 6'0s are the length for him to win this year. We're back on 6'0s. The widths and the thicknesses and the concaves and the fin measurements, they just change millimetre by millimetre depending on the board and the conditions.
And what's the lifeline of one year shaping for Mick, when do you sit down and experiment and work out what you're doing?
It all starts two weeks before he goes to Hawaii, that year is coming to an end. Whether he is winning or losing we sit down, we talk about it, we look at footage and then I'll make him two or three boards for him to take to Hawaii, small boards to play around with. After he's finished with there he arrives back on the Gold Coast around Christmas time and I have ten to 20 boards waiting for him, and then by late January he's basically got his boards for the year. In that time, from November to January, he would have had about 40 or 50 surfboards. Out of that he'll have ten good ones and then I'll flick him boards throughout the year, a couple a week, a couple a month, just to put some fresh stuff under him and if he likes it he'll keep them in his quiver. The biggest thing right now is there is a contest in New York that is worth $250,000 for first prize. So what we're doing now is making boards for that contest. And those boards are completely different to his 6'0s. He really wants to win that contest, we all want him to win that contest.
How has shaping changed for you in your time in the industry?
Because I've followed the tour for such a long time, I've come through three generations of top surfers, Tom Curren, Pottz, Kelly Slater, Mick Fanning, Occy etc, but where I've seen it change for me is I used to be able to surf these boards at a high level at Kirra and the great waves here and now with what they're doing on surfboards… Dusty Payne was in here the other day and I was asking him with this little nose-pick thing he does, what is he looking for in a board when he does that. So I'm relying on these guys to give me the feedback on how they want the next generation of surfboards to do the manoeuvres they want. And what I'm doing now, is I'm nearly 50, actually enjoying riding what I consider the next generation of surfboards for guys my age. Guys that still want to get out there and have a lot of fun and come out of the surf with a smile on their face.
Yeah, it must just be a massive buzz creating something that allows people to surf waves as well as they could possibly surf them.
I love making surfboards. I don't consider it a job, it's a lifestyle and I love my lifestyle. Shaping and surfing. - Dean Gordon