Nick Blair’s shaping career started in South Africa where he focused on producing boards for the sucky beach breaks around Durban. A period spent travelling throughout Europe helped improve his understanding of higher volume boards and the ways they could be put to use in the weaker waves of that region. His broad knowledge of equipment finally landed him in a place well renowned for its variety of waves: Australia’s East Coast. After an extended period based on the Gold Coast Nick is now in Sydney working with legends like Luke Howarth and the Warner family, where he will no doubt continue to fine tune his broad shaping knowledge.
SW: So you started your career shaping under Peter Daniels in South Africa. What was that like?
NB: I was based just north of Durban in Ballito and the first few boards I just tried to do the whole process by myself. I eventually worked out that this was my passion so I would go to Cyril Budd and Peter to have my boards glassed and that is where our relationship started. Peter mentored me quite a bit and really gave me a head start on how to use a planer and how to think about design in a broad sense.
And Peter was shaping for Curren and Frankie (Oberholzer) at the time?
Yeah that was around the same period and it was something that really inspired me. Frankie and Tom were a couple of my favourite surfers and Peter had a great relationship with those guys. Eventually Peter went over to Spain to shape for Pukas and I started travelling to Europe a bit where he introduced me to some guys, like Jeff Johnson from Hawaii who really influenced me to get into guns and that kind of thing.
So coming from the European and South African background did you find it hard to transfer your shaping skills to Australian waves when you moved over here?
I think it’s been beneficial. Coming from Ballito where you get heavy waves coming out of deep water you are shaping a specific board for powerful waves and then in Europe I had to adapt and learn how to shape boards with more volume for weaker waves. When I came to Australia I was fortunate to shape for a lot of the top guys on the Gold Coast and learn about their style of shaping. I was very lucky to cover a lot of areas and benefit from them all.
I suppose the heavy waves of South Africa and the fatter waves of Europe set you up for the variety of waves on offer on the East Coast of Australia.
I think Australia has some of the best diversity of waves in the world, for sure. And the thing is we are always learning. I have been working on some boards down here in the last six months since I have moved to Sydney, but even that small jump down the coast means you need to try new things. I feel really fortunate to have access to all that diversity. The other benefit of shaping in Australia is the bed of talent that you have the opportunity to get feedback from.
I see on your site you are doing the full range of boards from retro to tow boards. Do all the boards influence each other or do you look at them as exclusive to what they are designed for?
The principles of design can be applied across the board, and I think a lot of shapers from a hand shaping background would probably agree with that. That experience enables you to apply so many design principles across your range. I would say it’s all interlinked, but you approach it with the particular waves in mind. Obviously the approach I take on a ten-foot gun is different to a round nose fish but, in essence, we’re talking about water and about how to get the board across that water in the best possible way to feel good and perform well. And I’m lucky here in Australia because you have access to all these guys who surf different waves and different equipment. Being on the Gold Coast I was lucky to work with Dean and Mick at different times and that was invaluable.
On your site you mention a lot of older shapers and their influence on board design over the years. Do you think those guys are given the credit they deserve?
I guess from an insider’s perspective I have a different view than that of the general public. At the moment the industry is a lot more accessible than it was in the past with computer shaping and that kind of thing. I think it’s a lot easier for someone to come in and get their start in shaping. So that has influenced the respect we have for the guys that have come before us. I feel that these guys have laid the foundation for my generation to shape. Australia has a pretty strong understanding of its surfing heritage, so fortunately guys like Simon Anderson are highly regarded and there is a healthy respect for older shapers. – Steve Nicholson