Since 1962 surfer and shaper Bob McTavish has experimented, refined and help redefine the way we surf today. From his base in Bryon Bay he and his crew craft world class boards. The ever-cheerful Mr. McTavish puts down his planer for a few minutes with Drift.
How was Spain? Did you get in the water much?
I shaped in San Sebastián in Spain, at Pukas/Olatu, and stayed in Guéthary, so I surfed there amongst the crowd. But I love the place. An old favourite spot.
Matt Warshaw describes you as ‘Cheerful Australian shaper’ you certainly have a reputation for being one of the happiest people in an industry full of cynics. What’s your secret? And can I have the patent?
I’m a positive person who is always looking forward, rarely backwards. I’m convinced the Creator will soon step in to sort out the planet, so that really helps. Plus surfing/shaping is my only specialty, and I’m born for it and love it.
How do you feel the role of the shaper is evolving with the addition of shaping machines and increase cheap mass produced foreign imports?
Machines have their place. Firstly producing the endless numbers of very similar short boards, just like tennis rackets and golf clubs. But I respect true designers who can conceive something new, something different, or something better, on the machine or fully handshapes. Of course, the advantage of the machine is that file can then be repeated, duplicated, for others to enjoy that new fresh breakthrough.
In regards to the shaping machines will they become more imbedded? Will we see a divide of the traditional shaper into more of a designer, sat at the computer, and the builder/shaper, mowing foam, in a similar manner to the yacht industry?
Already happening that way. True designers are already head and shoulders over shapers.
The surf industry has seen some major upsets with the near-fall of the titans Quiksilver and Billabong, what’s the future of the industry?
Sorry, did you say surf industry? The surf industry is the surfboard, not the clothes, the marketing, the razzamatazz, the media …
The surfboard industry is undergoing profound change so, with serious technology leading to recyclable full styrene boards, as well as Asian price wars, and true traditional shapers and glasses doing superb work, as all part of a wonderful mix. I like it all, but especially the latter, of course.
Does the average surfer in the water even care about the shape of the industry?
The hipster scene has been accused of prolonging the ‘retro scene’ in surfing. What are your customers after? (Although you do have much better waves than us).Is everyone riding mini-summons or tripped out asymmetric?
My customers are after a pleasant surfing experience with no hang-ups. That means great well thought out shapes fitting his individual needs. Same as always.
There’s a trade off between the needs of strengthen, flexibility and lightness in our boards. Can you see new technologies or materials sweeping in to alter the craft in the way fibreglass did decades back?
Same as above.
What was your best/worst experiment?
Pro Circuit Boards, in the eighties I developed super strong molded foam epoxy boards, but the painting and finishing labour costs in Australia killed me.
My friend Tandy French from Santa Cruz took the same concept to Thailand and became Surftech, doing hundreds of thousands boards a year. Strong, light, well priced, great replicates of good designers.
Wonderful. I lost everything. Sold my house. Had to start again. My wife stuck with me! I love her!!
Who was/is the most fun to shape for?
Right now, Marty Chinoski. He’s re ignited my work from 1966 thru 1975. Exciting as all, get out!!
What are you riding?
Yesterday I surfed an 8′ x 23 x 3 sleek Rincon, just like 1968. Now I’m heading out to the Pass on a classy Pinnacle, 9’2 x 22.75 x 2.9 Both single find because it’s only head high and fast down the line. Not too much vertical attack.
What’s your favourite spot?
Sunset Beach , Hawaii. Then Lennox, big or small. Then Wategos off Cape Byron. Variety and empty size, because of sharks.
You have a great reputation as a surfer but who are the up and comers that you find inspiring (if any)?
Not my area of expertise. It’s a global game now, so ask the talent spotters for Rip Curl.
and finally – What’s the best surf tale you’ve never told? we will publish it so keep it semi-clean…
Hey I’ve published two books of surf tales! So that leaves me with something fairly recent. How about when I jumped off Boulder Headland 2 miles south of Lennox on a ten foot day and paddled by myself to a huge outer reef behind Lennox and rode half a dozen biggies ?
Does thy qualify?
The young punks couldn’t paddle out from Lennox against the current to join me. But they could see this weirdo out on some distant reef having a blast by himself. Good fun!!
If you’re after a classic check out all things McTavish at mctavish.com.au or for more local demands try Down the Line Surf Company in Hayle, Cornwall.
Better still use it as an excuse to head to Bryon for a week, month or a year…