Being a surfer from Melbourne can be a tough gig. Not only are you in one of the coldest cities in Australia, you are also an hour from anything even resembling a decent wave. Worst still, locals down the coast often have no regard for blow ins from the big smoke. Despite this the biggest Victorian surfing population comes from Melbourne, according to Neil Oke. He should know as he’s been shaping boards for the forgotten surfers of the coffee capital for over 40 years.
SW: So tell us about the roots of the company.
NO: My brother Alan started the business in 1968. I shaped my first board when I was 14 in 1970 when I was still at school and I was around the company as I was growing up. Then I started shaping boards for George Rice from Mordy surf shop for about 12 months. Then I came back and started shaping for my brother Alan and I took over the business in 1975, and I’ve been here ever since.
Always from the Braeside factory?
We started in Edithvale and moved out here once we started the glassing company. This is the third factory we’ve had in Braeside. We stayed in town because we became the last manufacturers in town.
Is there a good market for a surfboard company based in Melbourne?
Well I figure Melbourne has a good population of surfers. For them to get boards repaired or manufactured down the coast means they have to keep going to one coast all the time. We’re central and for people living in town they can get boards or repairs done without having to be obligated to go down to a particular coast. You can get your boards fixed here during the week and head to the East Coast, Philip Island or the West Coast on the weekend. And there is a big population of surfers in Melbourne. There’s a bigger population of surfers in Melbourne than there is down the coast.
Is it difficult being away from the Coast?
The difficulty of being away from the coast is we can’t surf as often as we would like to. So to get workers in our industry in Melbourne is pretty hard. We’ve had heaps of guys come through the business but they end up moving down the coast because they want that lifestyle down the beach.
You guys are doing a board called “The Elevator.” It’s a double end board with a quad set up at one end and a thruster set up at the other, tell us about that one.
The guy surfing that loves it, he is having a ball on it.
Is there much potential in those becoming a mainstream board?
No I wouldn’t think so. The reality is a mainstream board for performance still is your 6’2" by 18" and a half inch wide rounded square. They go well and no matter how many times you change to your twin fin or your little short, fat things the performance area is set in that style of board. You can have fun mucking around and trying lots of things out but when it comes down to it you can always go back to that board for performance.
I guess the other boards are fun for a different experience though.
Exactly right, you have to have variety. It’s no good riding that 6’1" and never changing it, you’re surfing’s not going to go anywhere. So you change your boards and you can have fun on the little wider, fatter ones and then when you go back to your regular board you will be surfing better because you haven’t become stale.
What about fins? Can they be improved on at the moment?
We use Speed Fins. They are attached at the front of the fin and the back edge flexes so you get a lot of drive through your turns. When they were presented to us quite a few years ago it was the same principle to what we had done in the seventies. We used to put hacksaw cuts in the back edge of the fin to try to get that back edge to flex. The way the Speed Fins are set up we get that back edge flex and you get a lot of drive through your turns and it’s really noticeable.
Are you looking at any innovations for the future?
We just keep up with what’s going on and work on a few trends of our own. – Steve Nicholson