Interview by Archi

Photos by Greg Rabejac

A rejuvenated Maurice Cole welcomes us into his shaping bay at Surf Odyssey in the industrial zone of Capbreton. There’s a twinkle in his eye, constant smile on his lips, you can nearly hear him chuckling to himself in his shaping room. What could be behind this newfound youth? Sure enough, Maurice hasn’t returned to his country of adoption empty handed. For the last 18 months, he’s been working in utmost secrecy with long-time friend Ross Clark Jones deep in the backwaters of Victoria, far from curious onlookers.

SE: Does it feel good to be back in France?

MC: For sure, it’s great to catch up with all my friends, shape a few boards, get back in the water. The only bad thing is having to speak French again (laughs).

SE: It seems like you have a fair few new projects on at the moment?

MC: Yeah, working closely with Ross has given my shaping new life. I’m having a lot of fun in the shaping room and in the water again. Both of us are heavily into our tow-in surfing and I think us working together is really going to offer new opportunities.

(Maurice picks up a carbon fibre tow-in board)

MC: Over the last two years, we’ve made a lot of progress with these boards, look at the concave and the rails, this is the future of big wave riding. Ross rips 30-foot waves on this like he was surfing some average beachbreak. The rigidity of these carbon fibre boards offers a huge increase in speed and we’ve been able to test one shape after another at South Australian secret spots. You know, this is what the future of pro surfing is going to look like, guys at WCT level that can rip in the big stuff.

Personally, my aim is to offer them the best available tool to do it. With a surfer like Ross and composite boards, it won’t be long before the mythic 100ft barrier comes tumbling down. The forces the boards have to sustain at 150km/h, or more, are incredible. And it’s essential to get it just right when you think of the risk involved in those types of waves.

SE: You’ve always followed your instinct when it’s come to shaping. For example, take your famous reverse vee, can you tell us a bit more about how you came up with it?

MC: I had ordered a container of pre-shapes from the States and wanted to shape a few flat-bottomed models but with the heat from the journey, the blanks had taken on rocker. There was a fair bit of bend on those pre-shapes and by giving them a few plane strokes I shaped a vee under the front foot position. And just for a laugh I shaped one for Tom (Curren). I gave it to him and then one evening he calls out of the blue and says, “What’s that board you gave me?" and I reply, “What did you think?"

Tom says the board is the fastest he’s ever surfed and it turns great too (Tom already had a full quiver of ‘magic’ boards from MC with which he won the world title the previous year). I thought he was taking the piss and told him to bring back some of his magic boards from last year so that I could make copies. But he was being serious. He came back the next day. I had a look at that first board and shaped him a second one with the vee, trying to work out what I’d done exactly. I shaped 61 of those boards in total for the pros and 59 of them turned out magic! The next challenge was Hawaii… Tom wanted some boards for over there, the vee worked on 6’3s but was it going to have them same effect for 7’0 boards? I gave it a go, I shaped my first reverse vee gun and it was with that same board, the one with the yellow rails, that he won Haleiwa!

SE: Your relationship with Tom is pretty unique, would you say he’s the surfer with whom your work’s been most productive?

MC: Tom was always someone who liked to feel boards in his hands and just go by instinct. He’ll pick up a board and say that he can feel something in the rails or in the thickness, however with Ross, he’s a real technician and will know the exact positions of the fins, the concaves and rails. He’s going to be able to help me in terms of innovation because he knows his stuff, it’s his whole life. Just from paddling out on a board, Tom Curren already knew how the thing was going to go. After two, three waves, he knew whether it was a magic board or not and that’s pretty special. Take Trent Munro, for example, he takes five boards and it will be about five weeks before I get any feedback!

SE: After 35 years of shaping, you still seem really motivated. What inspires you the most in your work?

MC: Just one thing really. Last year I caught the biggest wave of my life, I had the biggest barrel and the best two turns, and at 52 that’s not bad (laughs)! Discovering new stuff, new limits, wondering where tow-in is going to be in two year’s time, the boards, all of that is really inspirational… I also want to develop completely non-toxic shaping rooms. To tell the truth though, I’m a pretty average shaper, I overlook scratches, it takes me a long time, a guy like Rusty, he can shape a board from start to finish in about 30 minutes. I’m less about shaping lots of boards and more about developing new test products. Ross Clark Jones often says that I’m one of the few shapers in the world to test my own boards in 30-foot surf. From a design point of view, I’ve been having a great time in 12 to 20-feet surf. I’m really excited about the future. The only problem is that I keep fucking up my knees, arms and back. My doctor says my problem is I have the mental age of a 16 year old in the body of 80 year old. I’m going to need to find a balance somewhere (laughs). In any case, I’m hoping to stick around for a while and have plans to come and find waves here with Ross in winter.

SE: On the subject of Europe, who are you most impressed with at the moment?

I’m impressed by all the young French talent and think they’ve nearly got the upper hand on many of the Australian groms. The problem in Australia is that we lack variety. Surfing has become very stereotyped, whereas before Australian surfers were considered to be committed and hungry, even a little wild. Nowadays, there are too many coaches, too many sponsors, too many celebs. Like most people, I’ve been impressed by Jeremy Flores but think he’s making a mistake by going onto the WCT this year. If I were him I would have done the same as Taj Burrow and waited a year to create more impact on the tour. He’s still young, could do with becoming more acquainted with some of the bigger stops on tour like Teahupoo, Fiji, Pipe, J-Bay, and needs to make sure he has the right boards. It takes one or two years to learn all that. The idea with Taj was that he would be able to win contests right from the word go. I don’t see the rush… Jeremy has a long and promising career ahead of him. If you don’t think you’re capable of beating AI at Teahupoo, then you’re not ready for the world title yet… and that’s the aim isn’t it? I hope he’ll be a World Champion.