Dick Van Straalen is the creative mind behind many of the gorgeous, eclectic boards we see under the feet of the open minded Dave Rastovich. Producing high quality, handmade boards puts Dick at odds with what he calls the “pop music” which is professional surfing. DVS thinks it’s time to ditch the crap that goes with modern day surfing and go back to chasing “the feeling.” So listen up…
SW: Tell us about your beginnings as a shaper. You went from Sydney to Burleigh in the late 60s, that must have been an interesting time on the Gold Coast.
DVS: Shaping up here was a whole new challenge (compared to Sydney). Because in the early days in Queensland you could basically only sell boards for six months and then for the other six months you would have to go and do something else. Because it was still really a holiday destination, really seasonal.
So I guess there weren’t many local surfers around at the time.
No, in the early days at Burleigh you would be lucky if you had three or four people in the water.
Sounds pretty good.
It was unbelievable (laughs).
Was shaping for Gold Coast waves different to shaping in Sydney?
I didn’t really think about it. Surfing was going through massive changes at that time. So you just went along with the changes and adapted what you were doing.
Your boards are of a real high quality. How long does it take to shape one?
Not that long. Mentally it takes longer than the physical side of it. Mentally you need to get prepared and think about how you are going to attack it. Having done it for fifty years it’s in your DNA and it surprises you a lot of times what actually comes out. I’ve been through every era and every combination since surfing started. In the computer in your brain you have a lot of information. You just think about what you want to do and what you want to make and it just all comes naturally.
We’re seeing more and more good surfers like Rasta, Alex Knost, Ellis Ericson and Rob Machado riding a huge range of boards. Do you enjoy seeing that?
I think it’s healthy for surfing because the professional thing is so caged. You look at professional surfing today and everyone is surfing the same. Everything is so conformed and manufactured and a lot of kids don’t like that. They like the freedom or riding whatever they want.
Has that conformity pushed it to the point where people just have to get out there and explore different sides of surfing?
Absolutely. Surfing’s turning into gymnastics. They’re really good at what they are doing but you look at it and sometimes it just leaves you cold. They’re giving the same scores for an air as they do a tube ride. I just don’t know where they are going with it.
So you’re obviously more interested in good barrel riding than airs and that type of thing?
I’m more interested in surfing the wave and surfing what’s in front of you than worrying about what trick you are going to do. You listen to guys like Jim Banks who are really good surfers and they are talking more about using the wave and flowing with the wave rather than just going, "Oh, look at this I can do an air here." Surfing is a lot like music and I liken professional surfing to pop music. It’s here today and gone tomorrow. Whereas other guys surf like jazz or classical music. And the same thing goes for boards. You look at what we could call classical boards and people are always going to go back to riding them.
Do you think people are too quick to write off certain boards, sometimes before they have even ridden them?
Definitely, Wayne Bennett said, “Don’t go in with any expectations and you will never be disappointed.” And that’s the thing I love about Dave Rastovich, he doesn’t have any expectations. He will ride things with an open mind. His mind is open to ride anything. Other guys say, "I can’t ride that," and they are already beaten.
And going on from that, what do you think of the new technologies which are just pumping out the same surfboards?
They’re just pop outs. It’s no difference to the way they manufacture cars. And it’s the biggest problem we are having in the surf industry; the more you go into mass production the more likely you are to be overthrown. It becomes price consciousness. But we are starting to see people going back to buying handmade products in all markets because they are better. I’ve never shaped more than ten boards a week, I’ve never gone into mass production. I’m concerned about quality, I’m concerned about the footprint we are leaving on the earth and if we make quality surfboards they last a lot longer.
Is there not enough concern for the environment in shaping surfboards?
For who we are supposed to be, you know we’re supposed to be really groovy, going to the beach every day. But everything you buy is packaged. You buy a legrope and it’s packaged. I don’t understand it; we’re not very switched on about our environment and the ocean. To me it’s ridiculous hearing about professional surfers going through one hundred boards a year. If they are that good at what they do then they can ride anything and adapt to what they are standing on. On my surfboards I don’t even put measurements. People say an eighth of an inch or a sixteenth of an inch makes a difference. We’re not going through the sound barrier or anything (laughs).
We’re just surfing at the end of the day.
Yeah, and there is nothing to prove boards go a certain way. It’s all hearsay. You get three people riding the same board and they will all say different things. No one has ever put a computer on a surfboard to say this is what’s happening. People say certain boards do this or certain boards flex like that but there’s no proof. It depends on the person and how they ride it. It’s about the feeling. It’s such an individual sport. – Steve Nicholson