Nev Hyman is back in the shaping bay with a new zest for shaping and an old planer in his hand. Nev has always had a particular zing about him. An altruistic enthusiasm that runs parallel with his various business incarnations. His corporate path has been well documented and deservedly. His ventures have been pivotal, templated, groundbreaking, revolutionary, award winning, expensive, risky and scary.
In reverse order, they include Nev House (award winning sustainable housing and commercial buildings for use in recovering or developing communities), FireWire (high performance eco-friendly epoxy surfboards); Julien Environmental Technology (JET, a plastics recycling company), the development of the APS3000 and AKU Shaper incorporating Computer Aided Design (CAD) and Computer Aided Machining (CAM), Beachlife (a franchise model for a chain of restaurants and wavepools, the world’s biggest surfboard (officially recognised by Guinness), a global distribution chain, multiple surf stores and one of the best surfboard riding teams in the biz. All of it matched by a personal output that more than once has resulted in bleeding finger tips and total utter physical exhaustion.
Now Nev reckons its time to turn back the clock 25 years.
He’s venturing back into the sweaty, dusty, little blue room where it all began; he’s returning to the shaping bay to make handcrafted surfboards.Nev, who fought the purist’s tirade and captained surfboard duplication as a business model and spawned an industry tiered with ghost shapers, chuckles at the irony.
“There is definitely a sense of completion or fatalism about this next phase,” says Nev. “And even though I don’t consider myself a fatalist, or worship any particular all-knowing spiritual power, I truly do feel that I am coming full circle in a sense, that things are gelling and falling into place on some level. And I’m noticing those things. The planets are aligning.”
Word has spread fast. Thanks mostly to social media and his live Instagram sessions, his shaping stints have gained plenty of appeal.
He’s only just got stuck into his first batch of orders and Dick Van Straalan has already strolled across to meet Nev at his temporary dig in West Burleigh. When ASB shows up, a surf-stoked bikie-looking fella named Adrian also pulls into the driveway. He’s driven from Brisbane and in the tray of his ute are a couple old 80s Nev originals and his head is full of dizzy yarns from the same era.
Nev can’t believe it. The memories Adrian has are classic and the boards he presents are in incredible condition. The bold geometric sprays, the exaggerated outlines, the clunky yet full-formed rails, the shiny gloss coats and fixed fins; it’s exactly the sort of stuff Nev is receiving demand for, so that’s what he’s decided to deliver.
“When DVS walked in and gave me a hug last week, it was such a spin out,” recalls Nev. “Here’s this legend who pops in out of the blue on a Sunday because he wanted to. And he said, ‘It’s so good to see what you’re doing, hand shaping again!’”
Way back in 1977, when Nev’s career was in its genesis, Nev drove east across the Nullabor, bound for a new life on the Gold coast and Dick was one of the first fellas he approached for employment.
“I was this total grommet, 11 years-old, living an hour-and-a-half from the beach in West Australia. And when I got the bug John Jakovich made me my first surfboard. I was still at school and it was a school full of rockers and skinheads. I stuck out like a sore thumb.The only other surfer at my school was Phil Usher. So, Phil and I got the bug and started surfing and shaping together and then eventually we started Odyssey surfboards.”
That was 1974, and Nev still remembers hand drawing the original Odyssey logo, which included corduroy lines, a setting sun and seagulls. Three years later, Nev found himself in South East Queensland and like so many surfers before and after, he fell for the Gold Coast’s hypnotic ethereal allure and that was it.
“I saw MP win the Aussie titles at Burleigh in 1974 and that was an ‘Oh my God moment’ recalls Nev. “I knew that was it.”
By 1977, he was packed up, a plume of desert dust behind him, and he was living among the pandanus palms on the now infamous glitter strip.
Adrian is hanging out for a new board. “Gotta get in early!” he insists. And he has a black marker so Nev can autograph the old ones. He whips out the iPhone and nabs some selfies with Nev, spins a few more yarns and eventually he’s off, back to Brissy with the two chunks of history in the tray and a month from now, a freshie will be hand delivered to his door.
Nev’s limiting his run to 300, and each will be tailored and as individual as the person who orders. And they won’t be cheap. $1300 to $1800 a board. No discounts. And if it’s a Munga Weapon you’re after, Munga will get a commission. If it’s a replica of Drouyn’s old pintail, then Pete will be getting a cheque too. Sunny, Merrick Davis … It’s a financial model Nev hopes other revered shapers might follow. Finally, a little payback for the riders that helped bolster his career and more importantly, a little extra dosh for the underpaid shapers who are the backbone of an otherwise massively profiteering industry.
In the bay, Nev’s zing ensues.
“I’ve made tens of thousands of boards with these,” says Nev, as he fawns over the implements that kick-started his career. Calipers, templates, his old data sheets …
If you’ve logged in to one of his shaping sessions, you’ll know; he’s equipped his bay in the exact same way it was set up three decades ago. The same tools – literally – positioned in the same spots, on the shelves and hanging from the walls. It’s as authentic as you get.His old worn sanding block looks more like a fossilized melted cube of butter than it does a precise tool for edgework.
“I hand shaped 15 boards a day once, in Japan, and I did that for weeks. All from scratch, concaves, vee bottoms, six channels, you name it. Until my fingers bled.”
300 boards is probably a lot for some shapers, but I can’t imagine Nev’s fingers will be bleeding this time round. Maybe the odd drop of sweat though …
In the corner are the templates for Sunny Garcia’s Waimea gun, Munga Barry’s CT and Green Iguana weapons, Nicky Wood’s pro model and the Drouyn model.
“It’s my kids who are to blame,” says Nev.
“Last year they all said to me, ‘Dad, will you shape me a board?’ and I said ‘No, go grab a Firewire. And they said, ‘But we’ve never seen you shape a board’.
So begrudgingly I went down to Burfords, grabbed some blanks and went in to AJ’s factory at Kirra and hand-shaped five boards. Two boards for Renee and Tara, and a twinnie for Jayden …
“I loved it, but it was hot sweaty arvo and I couldn’t wait to get out of there.
I stickered the boards up with my old logos, and then every time we went surfing, one person or another would see these boards and they’d ask me to make them something. Or they’d ridden my boards in the 80s and had some amazing story.
“Jayden noticed and said, Dad you could charge good money for those boards – you should do a limited edition run. So, I put it out to some friends and got 10 orders straight away.”
There’s an infectious gravitas about any retro movement. A heady mix of nostalgia, authenticity, unlearning and learning, education, and respect are all themes that emotionally intertwine themselves during such periods.And whether such cycles are naturally occurring epochs that spiral out of generations of human and technological development according to some natural law or are a little more haphazard or economically driven probably doesn’t matter. They happen, and Nev’s certainly not the only one turning the metaphoric soil right now.
Greg Brown is reviving Gash, Nielsen Brothers are making a comeback, Harry Truscott is behind the relaunch and rebrand of T&C and replicas of Martin Potter’s Saint model are appearing online. Younger gen crew like Kolohe Andino also help seed awareness when they compete at the highest level with their quivers sprayed with the famous designs of former champs.
And as the industry giants, like Billabong, Quiksilver and even the WSL, struggle for identity, it’s ultimately gotta be the surfboards themselves that underpin the totality of what’s core and ‘cool’. Surfboards provide a tactile reference point to which we can all identify.
“I’m proud I’m able to use my hands to make something. It’s intrinsically rewarding, creating with your hands and mind,” says Nev. “And knowing I’m doing each board for an individual makes it very personal.”
“Once I get my new bay set up, it’s going to be exactly as I want it. The location is a secret. No one will know where it is. So, there will be no interruptions and I can just get absolutely lost shaping these boards. Once I step back in, it will just be me and this very personal, unique creative process. It will be my Zen moment.”
Words and Photo’s By J.J.