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Beach Grit

Long Read: The Most Beautiful Shaper in the World!

Derek Rielly

by Derek Rielly

He is still the most fantastic looking man I have ever seen and what sleepless nights he caused me!

In a photograph kept behind glass in the stairwell leading up to a Coolangatta hairdressing salon, I saw him for the first time. This was many years ago and still the memory of it hasn’t succumbed to the inevitable erasure of age. It’s like it’s been bound, forever, in a red leather book that I can take out and thumb through when I want to be afflicted by jealousy and awe.

The photograph, taken in a studio with a cloud-blue background and most probably using a lighting setup with two umbrellas arranged on each side, and just to the front, of the subject, shows our fantastic looking man from the sternum up.

He is clothed in a denim shirt open to the bottom of the frame with arms placed on opposite shoulders. His skin is lightly tanned and the face is dominated by an aggressive nose and a cuspidated chin. But it’s his hair, rightly, that seizes the attention. It is a blond waterfall that cascades arrogantly over one side of the head, its immense opulence beyond dispute.

“Thats Darren,” said my new girlfriend, who was standing next to me. “You’re going to meet him later on.”

I had arrived on the Gold Coast, from Perth, as an 18-year-old seeking nothing more than the sweetness of easy waves in warm water. Soon, I had met a girl with curly yellow hair and pale blue eyes and she agreed after not much persuasion to be my girlfriend.

It would prove to be fortuitous and torturous that her best friend was the girlfriend of what was then the hottest surfboard shaper in town, and later, the hottest surfboard shaper in the entire world.

I met the girlfriend first. We were in a supermarket and as she walked through the turnstile in front of me she gave it a hard spin so it would hit me in the legs. I wasn’t offended because I knew I was attempting to consort with surfing kings and queens. I didn’t care that she was a mean girl  because, by association, I had been allowed admittance, a sort of restricted admittance like a singing negro, say, in a 1930s Alabama music hall, but admittance nonetheless.

Darren was older than me by some years and while I wouldn’t say he took me under his wing, he was kind enough, certainly kinder than custom in these situations demands.

He even agree to shape two blanks for me at $50 plus blank apiece which I could then take to his friend to have glassed for a further $280. These two surfboards were very important to me. I was convinced they were the difference between being a poor to intermediate surfer and becoming as instinctive as the surfers I now associated with and they deranged me slightly, as we shall see later on.

At a backyard cricket game at Darren’s house I sat with the girls as the cream of the local boardriders club whooped it up. Darren seemed to bat a lot and he was very good at it. It was a good natured game and I was asked a few times to join in.

“Go on play,” said my girlfriend.

“No,” I replied. “It’s ok.”

It wasn’t ok. It marked me, to my girl, to Darren, to his girl, to everyone, as unimpressive.

Inside the house, I was given a tour by my girlfriend. She opened Darren’s wardrobe and said, “Darren has such good clothes. Such amazing taste. You should borrow some. He’d let you.”

“Cool,” I said.

At dinner at an upstairs Mexican restaurant, my girlfriend asked Darren if she could look at one of his rings. Each of his fingers was wrapped in an elaborate silver ring and my girlfriend chose his middle finger.

Instead of using, say, two fingers of his other hand to twist the ring off, he put the finger in his mouth and used his teeth to drag it slowly off the finger. My girlfriend stared. I stared. It was such a bold thing to do. So many things could’ve gone wrong. He could’ve gagged. He could’ve struggled futilely and only achieved a wet finger and a bemused table.

Did he practise this erotic, alpha move?

My girlfriend took the wet ring and admired it. I did too. It was a fine ring with ornate detail, probably from Bali.

Since I was sitting next to Darren I finally raised the important matter of the spray on my new boards. I hadn’t been able to sleep ever since my girlfriend had told me she’d mis-specified the spray.

“Just tell him,” she said.

But I couldn’t. What, just pick up the phone and call?

My chance arrived. I said that I was reconsidering increasing the width of the rail spray from one-and-a-half inches, which my girlfriend had incorrectly specified, ha ha ha, to two-and-a-half inches which would achieve the aesthetic I was chasing.

“About this wide,” I said, bringing my own hand into play. (Note: girlfriend didn’t stare.)

“What, about as big your dick,” said Darren.

He laughed. My girlfriend laughed. His girlfriend laughed and laughed and laughed some more. I laughed too.

But I wasn’t really laughing. I was out of my depth with these people and I had failed every attempt at integration. I deserved nothing and they owed me nothing.

I belonged on the lower rungs, among girls with brown hair and boys who never really get how to surf, with the the slack -breasted and the pot-bellied, the underachievers and the inert.

Just a lonely servant boy without a voice or a fast pair of heels. And, that night, I knew that was all I was ever going to be.