I sat down with esteemed North Shore shaper Jeff Bushman this afternoon at his home at Backyards. We chatted about surfing, shaping, North Shore living, religion, surf spiritualism and longevity. When I left I felt like I knew more on each of these topics than I did at lunch. Here’s what he had to say about shaping:
SE: Tell us how you and the Bushman craft came to be.
I came here in ’88. I never thought I’d live in Hawaii, I was trying to emigrate to Australia at the time. I’d been to Oahu a couple of times before and Kauai and I actually wanted to move to Kauai, but back then without reputation as a shaper, and as laid back as the island was I probably would’ve starved. So I decided to come here and see if I could shape at this level because I considered the shapers here the best in the world.
Which guys on the North Shore in particular?
The thing with the North Shore is you have guys like Pat Rawson, Eric Arakawa, Dennis Pang, Chuck Andrus, Glen Minami, and nowadays Wade Tokoro, they’ve all made such great boards that to be in the mix with these guys and be associated with them is an honour. And we’ve all pushed each other, everybody’s stoked when somebody else does well, there’s none of this ego conflict. Over the 2o or so years that I’ve been here I’ve seen a real camaraderie develop. It’s been a really amazing place to build boards.
How or why did you get into shaping?
When I was young I was in and out of college but I was always into shaping, I’d tried making a couple. And then after one trip to Australia I came home and bought five blanks and the second board actually turned out pretty good. It grew out of a hobby, something that was pure joy. If I’d have realized how bad the boards were back then I probably would have stopped. Then I opened my first surf shop in Ventura, the first week I took 8 orders and that was the least amount of orders I ever took. When I moved over here it was a case of right place, right time. Pat Rawson was the man over here, he’d been doing Tommy Carroll’s boards, all the guys. Back then, before the advent of shaping machines the surfers really relied on the North Shore shapers. I happened to arrive at a time when Pat got too busy and Karen Gallagher of Sunset Beach Surf Shop at Kammies asked me to shape boards for the groms. It turned out that Pat kept Kalani Robb but he was the only one, I ended up with Pancho Sullivan, Tamayo Perry, Jack and Petey Johnson, Shawn Briley and about ten other kids that were the best groms in the world.
What would be the key attributes of a good shaper?
My gift and my curse is that fact that I’m an average surfer. So I could never rely on my own feedback, I had to listen to the guys. I always listen to the feedback, whether it be a top pro or an average Joe. The worst thing that can happen is if a guy buys a board and doesn’t tell you if it goes good or bad. Or they only tell you that it goes good. You have to be open to criticism.
What kind of numbers would you be doing in a good season here?
In a crazy pro season I’d do 40-60 a week, this year with the economy being what it is I’m probably doing 30-40 per week. Now that the pros are gone it’s calmed right down, to the point where I don’t want to be doing huge numbers, because I want to surf. I want to tow, I want to stand-up when it’s flat. I want to have the lifestyle as opposed to working myself into the ground. This year we’ve had such great surf though, everybody’s confidence level is way up, so that everybody has been charging so hard. I feel really privileged to be here and be part of it.
How much room for a constant evolution exists within North Shore boards? It conceivable that you’d reach a point where you’re changing things for the sake of it?
Well, no. The refinement of Hawaiian guns has been a subtle thing, it’s foil, volume distribution, the advent of the shortboards. In 1980 I walked into Energy Surfboards in Australia and saw the first two original thrusters. I went back to California and built the first ones there and this one pro surfer laughed at them, ‘Piece of junk.’ I said ‘You’ll see, everybody will be on these in 6 months,’ and sure enough that’s what happened. Before that you never had all the great shapers in the world working on one design at the same time, and what actually happened was in two years time, it had evolved so fast that Simon’s boards even though they were the originals were no longer the best at the time. Everybody jumped past him. Now of course he’s reinvolved himself and his boards are incredible, but the point is that just because there’s a standard design doesn’t mean that things are static, quite the contrary.
On the Wall at Bushy’s; tools n pics. Foto: Paolo Evani
The thruster was the dominant design for so long, how do you view today’s thirst for other configurations?
We’ve ended up with a whole generation of surfers that’ve only ridden tri-fins. So you bring in the retro movement, single-fins, and everyone is stoked on that, and everything between, up to the four fin. The four fins we were building in the 80’s were either super fast of super loose, but they weren’t fast and loose. One night I was asleep and woke up and just though, “With the modern rocker the four fin is going to work incredible…” It’s presented a high performance board for guys used to thrusters, but an alternative. You’re not riding a fish, you’re not riding a single fin, but you’re putting yourself in different spots on the wave. You can say oh yeah it’s retro, these baords have been around for ages but it’s not true, the four fins we’re building now are not the same. It’s going forward, just like the level of surfing.
What about Kelly’s recent dabblings?
What Kelly’s doing is amazing, but you have to remember that’s Kelly Slater. He’s the best competitive surfer, and one of the most creative surfers, ever. For him to be able to ride these boards, doesn’t mean the average guy isn’t going to be able to. But what it does is it opens the average person’s mind to new things. That side of it goes back to when Curren rode that Fireball Fish in Bawa, and ignited a global craze, changed everything. It’s important to ride different equipment.
What is state of the art in surfboards for real Hawaiian surf right now, 09/10?
For the top guys, for the last few years everybody has been dropping everything in length and volume. Not just the pro guys and QS guys, it’s all the top surfers on the North Shore. A while back the average board would be maybe a 7’0″ in solid surf and now guys will ride their shortboard up to 6ft Hawaiian, then if their shortbaord is a 5’10” they’re jumping up to 6’1″ to ride the next level. There was a time when people would jump to a 7’6″ – I dont know if they’re just getting stronger, fitter, but guys are realizing they don’t need that much board once they’re up and riding. That goes back to Pipe and how everyone rides deeper on shorter boards there these days.
One of the newest new borns anywhere at the time this interview was being done (20/12/09, 4pm): somebody’s 8’0″ Sunset board.
What about Waimea? Nobody was riding 6’1″s in the Eddie. And Sunset? It’s still gun club out there, no?
Well Sunset is just a football field of a wave, there’s no getting around that. But like Pancho for example, the biggest he’ll ever ride out there now is a 7’6″ on the biggest it gets. The biggest change I’ve seen in the Eddie for example is Twiggy’s boards. He showed up with a board with a wide nose and tail that looked like an old guy’s Sunset board. The boards I built for Twiggy last year had 93/4″ noses, now they have 123/4″ noses. 9 1/2″ tails, now you’re talking 11 1/2″ tails, that’s a huge increase. I think all of those thought you needed to have narrow and tight and here’s a guy, a lightweight 150lb guy who blew that misconception wide open.
ALOHA THE END