Let's get a little closer to Jon Pyzel, the shaper to world champion John John Florence!
Some of the most exciting surfboard design is coming out of a little factory in Waialua on Oahu. Here, you’ll find the shaper Jon Pyzel, who is forty-eight, building boards for the new champion of the world John John Florence. Pyzel is also, nominally, the “best shaper in the world” after winning a blind-fold contest starring Dane Reynolds, that appeared in Stab magazine.
Pyzel has been making boards for John John Florence, who has just-turned twenty-four, since the kid was five; since his mama Alex brought the boys to see him at his old bay at Sunset Beach and gave him two-hundred dollars for materials to build John a board. The yellow four-six with halo of orange rails is “hideous to look at” but now exists as a memorial of sorts to a boy destined for greatness.
This interview was recorded between Waialua, Oahu, and Bondi, Australia.
BeachGrit: Is that the fabulous Mr Jon Pyzel? Tell me everything! Tell me about your current emotional position. Your boy wins the world title; you scoop up the Stab prize as #1 shaper.
Pyzel: I don’t know about fabulous but it’s Jon Pyzel! I’m pretty fucking happy. Happiness mixed with a little relief. I don’t know. It seems like it’s been a long road.
BeachGrit: You must’ve seen John’s world title coming a long time ago…
Pyzel: I felt like it was coming for a long time. It’s one of those things, you never know until it happens. I believed in it, but cautiously believed. I knew he had the talent, put it that way. And I think the one thing that stands out the most to me in this whole thing, especially being in Portugal and seeing his whole situation, was that I literally feel like he…chose… to win the world title. And it happened. He just went, ‘I’m really going to do this.’ Without sounding arrogant, because that’s not what I mean. I feel like the guy can do what he wants in surfing. So he went, ‘Ok, now, this is what I want to do.’ Choosing to be in that frame of mind, cleaning his way to do that. Pretty fantastic.
BeachGrit: In the final, he really loosed himself.
Pyzel: That was the after-party right there.
BeachGrit: Tell me about his little crew in Portugal?
Pyzel: He was staying with his girl Lauryn (Cribb), his filmer Erik (Knutson), and a good friend Brandon Wasserman, who’s like his road manager. He does everything. Makes everything easy. That whole group, they get along really good. It’s not some team that’s…working. They’re a group of people who are happy to be around each other. No one’s discussing heat strategies. All the pieces were already there.
BeachGrit: I was surprised Mom John wasn’t there when the champagne rained.
Pyzel: I know, Alex was super bummed. I mean, she was super stoked but sad she wasn’t there. Those guys didn’t know the numbers, that he could win the whole thing there. No one was breaking down numbers at the dinner table. Once he was in the quarters, or maybe even the fourth round, there was a point when we realised… you can win this. It got down to, win three heats and you’re the world champion. Six good waves. It was pretty radical.
BeachGrit: There was very little negative electricity clouding the air when he scooped up the title cup.
Pyzel: Such a good thing, such a good feeling. Even the guys who could’ve won it were stoked. I talked to Jordy and he was stoked for John. No one was, like, ‘Fuck that guy!’ The best surfer is the world champ. That’s a cool thing to see happen ’cause it doesn’t always work out like that. As surfers it’s killer. It validates pro surfing. This is the guy we think is the best surfer and he won.
BeachGrit: Did you dance the night away?
Pyzel: Everyone was drinking beers at a nine-thirty in the morning. There was a big fridge of Coronas and Sea Bass was leading the charge. Even Kelly was drinking a beer and that’s rare. After lunch we split. I went back to my hotel and had a nap. Woke up at six, went to John’s house and him and his friend Kieron were just getting in from surfing. He’d gone and surfed for two hours.
BeachGrit: Is there any amount of money, you think, that could convince him to ride for another company?
Pyzel: I don’t know. You’d have to ask him. We’ve been through a lot. He’s had people obviously come to him, and he’s ridden different boards. And there’s been different times when I felt some pressure coming from big companies. And I’ve told him, too, ’cause we’re pretty close friends, don’t feel like you have to ride my boards, because we’re friends or because you owe me anything. What has happened, for me, having a kid of that calibre, is it’s challenged me and kept me working hard. I don’t want him on other boards. I want him on my boards. I don’t think money is a worry for him. He’s doing alright. If he was losing, or doing shitty, he’d be looking for different boards. He’d change it. We’ve had times when the boards weren’t working great so we worked on it.
BeachGrit: In detail, can you describe his go-to board for average three-foot waves. For waves most of us schlep around in?
Pyzel: The Bastard is his favourite. He’s been riding it for three or four years now. (Either a 6’0″ by 18.63 by 2 1/4 or 2 3/16ths.) More than a lot of surfers who ride a totally different board in different conditions, he prefers to have a consistent feel – straight up, standard short boards, made a little bit for better waves than worse waves. He’ll make it work when it’s less than perfect. My boards tend to be a lot flatter than a lot of shapers. But this design is pretty curvy, with a single concave through the bottom and a tiny, tiny double concave in the fins. It tends to have a little more volume though the nose and under the chest. Being bulkier up front helps in landing is when the front foot is on the nose. It stabilises stuff there, keeps the board out of the water.
He also tends to ride boards small relative to his size. He has a narrow stance, watch him pumping down the line. Wide boards and narrow don’t fit. The board will also hold. The things aren’t sliding out. It’s not going to let go. He likes sensitive boards that you can push hard.
BeachGrit: What’s your design philosophy?
I don’t have some sentence written down, but if you look at my boards, they’re simple, they’re clean and I try to make ’em look pretty.
BeachGrit: What did you shape today?
Pyzel: I shaped a ten-five, four inches thick, a monster for a six-eight water polo playing guy. I just shaped a couple of six-o’s for Jack Freestone. I shaped a ten-o, an eight-six, two six os, I shape everything. And I just cut a new ten-five for John, another big Bay board.