Two of the best shapers alive collaborate on one surfboard…
If you were going to compile a list of the world’s shapers, right now, you wouldn’t have to extend your thoughts for long, especially since the concept of individual shapers has been squashed in favour of surfboard models.
So who you gonna sling in there? Darren Handley, Jason Stevenson, Matt Biolos, Jon Pyzel, right?
The guns. Reliably brilliant.
Handley has eyes for Fanning, Wilko and Gilmore; Mayhem’s gaze falls on Tyler, Carissa, Kolohe and Mason. JS whispers huskily at Joel, Julian, Freestone, Owen and Mikey Wright. Pyzel is all John John, and that’s all that matters.
I thought it’d be interesting as anything to pull cards from the two most thoughtful of the pack, Matt Biolos and Jon Pyzel. Get ‘em to collaborate over email for one surfboard. Toss the CAD file back and forth until the board is ready to send through the machine, cut out and deliver to the various team riders to examine and test.
It’s a long process. The Trestles contest came and went, which stole most of their time, particularly Biolos ‘cause its his home break and he has horses of both genders surfing for cash but the back and forthing on email makes you feel like you’re there, watching ‘em disgorge their thoughts in the blue-glow of offices adjacent to the shaping bay’s they spend their lives in.
This story is the process, as revealed by email. What do the pair make of each other? What are their design signatures? How do we even design a surfboard over email? What sorta board do we make? Is it high-performance? An every-man design? Who’s going to cut it out? Where do we glass it? San Clemente (Biolos) or Waialua (Pyzel)?
Here are the email exchanges, me, Matt and Jon all cc’d.
DR: Matt, when did you first hear of Jon? And do you ever weep tears of jealousy over his team rider?
Mayhem: I first heard of Jon while traveling to the North Shore in the early 90’s. Some friends of mine had a backyard factory at a house on Jockos. Jon was working there a bit with them. I remember, years later, but still maybe 12 to 15 years ago, he had a full-page shot in one of the mags, maybe SURFER, standing in a shaping room. That’s when he sort of got known outside of the North Shore or his home Santa Barbara scene. His teamrider? Yeah, he’s a one man wrecking crew. Too easy. Mr Automatic marketing machine. I run around building boards for 50 “pro” surfers, to try and get as much exposure as his one guy gets. That said, you can’t be jealous, only be stoked that JJ stuck with him. They both have grown a ton in the last six-to-eight years. JJ was a prodigy in the heavy surf but his typical small-wave performance game was a step behind while growing up. He wasn’t like Carissa or Kolohe or Bobby Martinez, winning all the kids comps. He stood out, but never dominated or looked like the best guy. People talked about him needing better boards for California and even to do the QS. I remember Pyzel fuming about one well-known Aussie brand brazenly saying to him
” We are going to take your team rider”. But the two Johns both quickly stepped up their game. JJ focused his ridiculous gift into an all-round game and JP continually refined the boards. They did what they had to do. And look where they are now.
DR: Jon, tell me, what do you make of Matt as a shaper? Has he had an influence on you? What’s his influence on board design, overall?
Pyzel: I had never meet Matt until I was invited to be a part of a “shape-off” contest honouring MR at the Del Mar Fairgrounds. Lost was doing the MR boards in the US and Matt was on the judging panel. At that point, my only real thoughts about him were that he was making some good boards and that Lost had tried to scoop up my best team rider, John John, when he was about 12 years old. To be fair, that move probably came more from the O’Neill camp (who owned Lost clothing at the time, thus they would get two logos on the boards for the price of one) than it did from Matt, but I still had some pent-up hostility from that. I wasn’t sure what Matt was like at all, but that whole thing had been a lot of stress on me and I was eggy about it. Then, on the other hand, my close friend who owns Arctic Foam was selling Matt blanks and had told me that he was a good guy so I had mixed feelings about meeting him. When we finally met at that show and started talking it got pretty funny when our conversation was interrupted by a guy who works for a big Australian surfboard label which had also tried to get JJ on their boards. They were really arrogant, aggressive and lame about it. I don’t think the guy even knew who I was when he walked up, but I called him out right there and told him that they were fucked. It felt great to get that off my chest and Matt was laughing at the whole thing too.
Looking back now, I think we bonded over that and it turns out that Matt is a nice guy, even if he’s looks a little grumpy from the outside. When it comes to surfboards, Matt has been so solid for so long that you can’t help being impressed. I especially admire his small/weaker wave high-performance boards because I believe those are some of the hardest designs to have work really well. I also know he can handshape well, which may not mean much to anyone outside the industry, but to us it shows that you have paid your dues, not just bought a shaping machine and CAD program and started a business. I actually trip out at how long he has had his hands in this business because I think he’s a year younger than me, and that feels pretty young still.
Sure, I would like to fondle any of Pyzel’sboards. I only ever ever do that with permission. I’m not the guy walking around the comp area grabbing other guys’ boards. – Biolos
DR: Matt, When you look at Jon’s boards, what do you see? What is his signature?
Mayhem: I don’t think I have ever needed to see what was going on with his boards until John John lit up the Margs event. That was special in how the board held in to the wave face. I could tell the outline was pretty familiar to some things the have been done before but there must have been something in the rocker. I have since seen a few of them in stores and looked at them, but you can never really trust the shop board to tell the whole story. Whether out of negligence, or out of honour, I have never picked up one of JJF’s personal boards.
DR: Matt, would you like to pick up one of JJ’s Ghosts from Margs?
Mayhem: Sure, I would like to fondle any of his boards. I only ever ever do that with permission. I’m not the guy walking around the comp area grabbing other guys’ boards. Anyways, evidently the tail-rocker is pretty straight. I would have guessed otherwise, but then it makes sense as well. Knife’s in. But, regardless, that was one of the benchmark performances and you gotta give the board credit as well as the surfer. Like KS on the single concave-kicked tail rocker or the way Andy, Parko and Fanning were surfing in the early 2000s on Gold Coast-developed surf designs. Or what Toledo is doing in small waves now and Dane on the stubby shortboards. Even when people first saw our Round Nose Fish allowing so much more performance than other “Fish” twenty-plus years back, as a shaper, you gotta look under the hood and make sure your not falling off the bubble.
I didn’t try to steal John John. At the time I was making a lot of money from apparel and fricken energy drinks etc. I wasn’t too worried about shaping for a few fat and easy years there. That’s when JJ got a few boards. – Biolos
Jon’s correct about the O’Neill thing. They paid for me to make him a couple quivers. I didn’t try to steal him. At the time I was making a lot of money from apparel and fricken energy drinks etc. I wasn’t too worried about shaping for a few fat and easy years there. That’s when JJ got a few boards. Of course they (O’Neill ) wanted to double down on the logos. It was good for them, but I think it was also the team manager (Garth Tarlow) knowing I had success and experience with young athletes ( Wardo/Cory ) and the urgent demands of getting them from grom to greats etc. Kolohe was kicking everyone’s ass in all the grom comps. Jon Pyzel was still pretty much unknown and unproven at the time. Garth was hedging his bet on his investment in more ways than one. Like I said, the coolest thing is Jon and John stuck together and both made it to the top together. I never ever went out of my way to pursue JJ.
Pyzel: Yeah, I never got the “steal your kid” vibe from Matt. Just like he says, Garth Tarlow was only trying to get John John to have boards that he thought would help give him an advantage over there and I was still unproven. He would give him a pile of Timmy Pattersons and Matt’s and get him to try them all. He did end up riding one at Nationals one year (he took it to J-Bay too, filming with Sunny Miller for something and won a grom comp on it there too). Those times were gnarly as a small shaper on the North Shore with no reputation and no money behind me. I was just trying to keep up with shaping tiny boards for a kid who was so fucking good already. I had to figure out what to do on every single board I made him as he grew and his surfing improved. It felt like uncharted territory, not just for me, but for any shaper at that point. I would fly to California for NSSA Nationals and just hang with my kids and the Florence family do my best to help JJ do well. We would hide out at Uppers until right before his heats, away from all the scene, building forts out of driftwood and having a great time. JJ won two years in a row in the grom division and then kind of gave up the whole NSSA deal at a pretty young age. He was in the Triple Crown when he was 13, so maybe Nationals lost some value at that point.
The Ghost is a version of something I’ve been making for a long time now. It came about by chopping four-to-five inches off the nose of a Next Step, my main step-up model. People were always telling me that those boards felt like a really good shortboard once you came out of the barrel at Pipe or wherever so I had a feeling that we could get rid of something up front to make it even better. I’d physically done that for myself in Bali years ago when one of my pre-shapes got the nose snapped off and I didn’t want to throw away the blank. I turned a 6’4” into a 5’11” and rode it everyday all the waves of the Bukit. Eight-to-10-foot Outside Corner, firing six-foot Padang Padang and super playful Bingin. It worked great in anything.
Over the years I’d made that kind of thing for a few tube-hounds, guys that just wanted to go fast and weave through sections, but it was when I gave one to JJ to take to the Marshall Islands with KS that we started to get a feel for the possibilities. But even then it was semi-forgotten until I made him a 6’2” last winter and the first wave I ever saw of it was him doing that huge air at stormy Backdoor when no one was even out there. Same board he rode at Bells (another big rote) and then Margaret River was the tipping point for that thing. It’s actually got a lot of tail-rocker by my standards, just a really long and smooth curve that lets it handle maximum speed and maximum force. It has some forward volume, a really simple, clean outline, very pulled-in tail and a few other details that contribute to the final result. It was unbelievable to watch John John’s surfing in that comp. It was like seeing everything we had worked for fall into place for a few hours. Pure joy.
DR: What design principles do you have in common and where do you differ as shapers?
Pyzel: I don’t know that we share any design principals. I do know that I prefer clean, refined lines and Matt is good at making a beautiful surfboard. As for differences, we both grew up in California but I didn’t start shaping until I moved to Hawaii so I think we really are influenced by different types of surf. Funny though, I still consider Rincon my homebreak, so we are both Right Point guys.
Mayhem: Honestly, I don’t really know what differences or similarities we have in board design. Like I said, I have not studied his boards. We sat together on a CAD program in Bali this summer for 15 minutes. That’s about it. We get along well, socially. We’re very close in age and we obviously have a lot in common, lifestyle and biz. Similar senses of humour, too, so it’s easy to talk and hang out.
I’ve worked a lot closer with guys like Lee Stacey and Chilli, Timmy Patterson, Johnny Cabianca (Medina’s shaper) even Darren Handley. But not much with Pyzel. I think, socially, with IG and just hanging together at WCT events, I’m closer to Jon.
John John used to seem a little hectic in turns and rely on Hail Mary cat-like airs for small-wave scores. Compared to an MF or Parko, even Kolohe’s MF-esq wraps seemed more refined and technically sound than John’s. In the last couple years, JJ has literally bent the rules and perception of what a good turn is and looks like. – Biolos
As far as a board for JJF. A few years ago it would have been easier to dissect his small-wave surfing, and maybe have some design input. He used to seem a little hectic in turns and rely on Hail Mary cat-like airs for small-wave scores. Compared to an MF or Parko, even Kolohe’s MF-esq wraps seemed more refined and technically sound than John’s. In the last couple years, JJ has literally bent the rules and perception of what a good turn is and looks like. He’s saying “That’s all fine and dandy, but let’s see you do this”. He’s taken the judges and the surf media along with him. Now you have guys having to go out of their comfort zone, not just with airs and tubes, but even change their approach to turns, all as a reaction to him.
DR: Matt, let me persist. If John asked you for a Trestles board, how would it differ, say, from Brother’s, apart from the dimensions? And, Jon, how would a Pipe board for Brother differ from John’s?
Mayhem: He has a narrower stance, so assuming we kept the same width/length/thickness, I would try a couple other rockers, more curve under the front foot. A narrower nose and a narrower tail block. A bit lower rail volume and less overall volume than Kolohe. Overall a bit more whippy and more neutrally buoyant. More Pocket Rocket less Driver.
Pyzel: For Pipeline, I would make Brother the same board that I make for all of my Pipe guys, the Next Step. I would just add a touch of width since it looks like he is riding wider boards than JJ. I’d keep it pretty thick, especially under the chest, refined through the rails, lots of curve in the bottom and not too long. Mason gets amazing waves at Pipe on Matt’s boards (the whole Ho family does, actually), but his approach is really different than JJ’s.
DR: Now, let’s talk about building a board together. I know it isn’t something that immediately appeals, you guys have your brands, your precious CAD files to protect and so forth, but let’s do it. How about this: an ultra high-fi board built for a man who is five-eleven, weights 170 (uh, me). Matt, you get the front half, Jon gets the tail. Or do you wanna do it a little more subtle? Or more back and forth? Matt sends a file to Jon, he dives in, sends back etc?
(There’s a two-week gap in communication. Both shapers building boards for Trestles. Eventually…)
Mayhem: Hey guys, I think I cane up with a good way to do this: JP, let me know what you think….
In the cad programs, the boards are essentially built from about 6 flat (2D) curves working together to compete one giant 3D complex object.
1. Outline (A)
2. Centreline bottom Rocker (B)
3. Bottom rail rocker ( in relation to the centreline rocker) (A)
4. Deck rocker (creates the thickness flow from. Nose to tail ) (B)
5. Bottom contours (cross sections from edge to edge) (A)
6. Deck contours/rails (cross sections across deck including the rails). (B)
I would nominate each of us to do three each, choosing A or B curves. I have separated them in a way to force us to work together. In harmony. Meaning one guy does the centreline rocker and the other does the rail-line rocker, to compliment it. Basically, one guy does the rocker, thickness profile and rails.
The other guy does the outline, bottom curves and bottom-rail rocker.
I only work in AKU. Jon works in S3D and a bit in AKU. I don’t think he’s as confident in AKU as S3D, so since it sorta needs to be in AKU. I will cede choice of A or B curves to him. Whatever curves he feels more comfortable doing in AKU.
We do it step by step.
Example. I draw and outline and send it.
JP draws a bottom rocker and deckline/thickness profile (essentially what would be the stringer). I then create the rail rocker and the concaves (or vee). Then JP does the rails and deck curves. I can screen-shot the curves as we do them, in 2D, then screen shot assorted views of the 3D Board file, when it’s finished being carded up. What do you guys think ?
DR: Matt, I think I just fell in love with you a little more. Where the hell are you? It’s two am in LA. Europe? And Jon, Pick your poison, baby.
Mayhem: I fell asleep at eight pm with my son. Then woke up at one with clarity.
Pyzel: Sounds like a good way to do it! Derek, you want a full-blown, high-performance board? I think it would be simpler to do something more user-friendly, but still performance0-oriented unless you want to specify the sort of waves you want it designed for. (Trestles performance vs. Rocky Point performance are two very different designs.) I am open to either but would like a have a better vision of our objective if we go pure performance. And, Matt, great idea on the division of labour. I will dust off my AKU today and see what parts I am most comfortable with and we can go from there. I think any part should be fine. It’s just that I am more used to the s3d visuals.
Fast but loose, light but strong, thin but floaty. Okay, Goldilocks, you got it. – Pyzel
DR: I like a HP board the average stud can ride. And, imagine, this stud, who doesn’t have the luxury of a sponsorship, might ride it at Trestles and Rocky Point. Now that’s a challenge worthy of Matt Biolos and Jon Pyzel, yes?
Pyzel: Fast but loose, light but strong, thin but floaty. Okay, Goldilocks, you got it.
(A little later)
Pyzel: Here’s an outline:
DR: Matt, immediate thoughts, outline? Jon, reasoning behind outline?
Mayhem: Pretty much modern shortboard 101. Pretty status quo. I have a pattern that I sort of follow with HP shorties, where, like, at two-inches from the nose and tail, I like my nose exactly one-inch narrower than the tail. Whether or not, JP does it on purpose or not, this board hits that exactly.
Pyzel: I just eyeballed the thing. I’m never really sure about an outline until I cut one and take a look at it in real life. Then I will go back and fine-tune anything that I don’t think looks right. I wasn’t shooting to make anything crazy as per your request (DR). That outline should be forgiving and free up front because of the semi narrow/traditional nose-width and curve. It’s pretty straight from the wide point back to break which will work to produce speed, while the gentle hip gives you a slight pivot point without losing too much control and hold. Tail block is not too wide further aiding control at higher speeds.
Mayhem: Okay. Here’s Jon’s outline with my rocker and deck-line “Profile”. At this point, is has no rails and no concaves or double concaves. It’s perfectly flat from edge to edge. The rocker is essentially my “DRIVER” Rocker.
Pyzel: For a second, I thought that had 2.92” of tail rocker.
Mayhem: Wouldn’t that be fun!
Pyzel: Here is the rail-rocker and bottom contours done. The rest is in your court
Mayhem: Okay, here are the rails. It’s pretty much done. The fucked part was Jon doing the edge rocker and me doing the rails as they are pretty much connected. I had to fuck with it a bit and it looks good in the 3D viewer, so I think it looks pretty clean. I would normally have to cut one, then fine-tune some curves a bit. I really like Jon’s rail rocker. He used way more single concave out the back of the tail than I normally would with this rocker, so it looks interesting to me. The outline may be a bit crude though. I mean, it is functional, for sure, and right in line. But Jon is prob not doing outlines in the program often and I think there’s a couple superficial bumps we will want to smooth out, first by hand, then in the file. I suppose its time to cut!
Pyzel: I hear ya! Not my finest work, but I will cut one tomorrow and take a look tomorrow. I’m getting a trashed blank to burn through for a quick look and then if you (Matt) want to get on the phone with ‘em we could make changes together to fine tune it before we go further…
DR: This is so fabulous it gives me stomach pains!
Pyzel: That thing sure has the Mayhem nose!
DR: Describe a Mayhem nose?
Pyzel: He has this certain look, just a touch of extra curve in the last few inches up there. I have a nose fetish when it comes to surfboards. I just notice all the different approaches shapers take there.
Mayhem: I’ll cut it tomorrow. That volume, 27.80 litres, is right up Kolohe, Yago and Griffin’s alley. I’ll get ‘em to ride!
Editor’s note: (This story first appeared in the print edition of Surfing Life magazine. And the reveal? Is it a breakthrough in board performance? Will melding the minds of two of the best in the game take us to higher plane? Oh it’s all in the current issue of Surfing Life. Buy here. Or wait a few weeks for it to run on BeachGrit.)