Builders Q+A With Andrew Mooney (Serpent Sleds)
Vissla catches up with former professional freesurfer and big-wave lunatic, Andrew Mooney. We hear about Mooney's path into the shaping world, his experience working under the Nirvana Surfboards label and the joy he gets from being able to travel on the dimes generated from his brand Serpent Sleds.
Broad question. Why shaping?
Simply – it’s because I love surfboards. And I want to have lots of them as I know that’s what makes me happy; having the right board for the right conditions. Also, it’s because I love creating something that I use on a daily basis.
You’ve been doing it for a little while now. How did it all pan out after your pro surfing career?
I basically made myself a set of stands and set out to do it all at home in the back shed. But then the American guys who bought into Nirvana Surfboards – who I was riding for – had plans for me to go to the States to start doing it. If it wasn’t for me riding for Bill Cilia (original owner of Nirvana) and Nirvana then I might not have got such a leg up, but basically I went over there for two-or-three months and learned how to do some more handshapes and their computer program.
You did a lot a hardcore labor jobs leading into surfboard shaping though – upholstering trains, smashing rocks, being a carpenter – but what was it that bought you over to shaping?
Yeah, I had a heap of jobs. I was a stonemason for a bit, sanded floors and laid vinyl to name a few and I think when the opportunity came to learn how to shape I just jumped at it. When I went out on my own and left Nirvana, I was actually still doing a lot of carpentry work until the boards took over and allowed me to focus solely on them.
When I spoke to you before you competed in the Red Bull Cape Fear event in 2016, you told me that you wanted to be able to travel and generate content on boards that you’d shaped yourself. Has that began to take shape a bit more?
Yeah my whole goal was to be able to do everything on my own terms. Everything I do is all on the back of boards I shape and Owen (Milne) creates the edits on the back of the trips we do.
What have you learned through shaping that you haven’t learned in other jobs?
Umm, water physics (laughs). There’s heaps of stuff about running a business that I didn’t know before hand. Then there’s the stuff I’ve just learnt about boards like rockers and curves.
If you had have known that you would have made a solid crack at shaping like you are now, would you have done it earlier?
I wish I did it earlier for sure. Making boards on my own is where I’ve learnt the most. Being on my own, I’ve had to learn from my own mistakes and if I screw up then I have to foot the bill. In those early days, I realised that I can survive from doing three boards a week, I did the laminating and all the sanding myself and I really learnt a lot doing it. So yeah, I definitely would have done it earlier if I had have known, I just had no f—king idea that it would have led me here.
Having been a pro surfer who not only competed, but did the freesurfing and big wave thing, do you think you were better equipped with an understanding about how to dial in shapes?
Yeah for sure. Apart from the knowledge you get from knowing how the industry works, it’s also being able to test boards and give yourself feedback about what works best in what conditions and how to make things better. Shaping has actually made me hungrier to chase swells because there is a whole knew element of R and D which is being added into the fun of gathering content.
Tell us about the errors you made in the early days, whether it be with other shapers or on your own.
I’ve made every error possible. The first shapes were really good because I knew what I wanted, even if I didn’t understand it completely. Then the more I learnt, I would fine-tune things and say stuff like ‘I want drive out of this area of the board’ but I wouldn’t be conscious of how that would affect something else on the same shape.
What’s exciting you right now about shaping?
To me, it’s just about making my shapes better. It’s exciting to learn about what works and dialing in my own models.
Talk to us about your Mushies and Mince model that’s pretty obscure looking.
I can’t really claim that. That was a friend, Kain who made his first board and made a major stuff up. He wanted a 5’8, so I told him to find the rocker in the board and to look where he wants a lot of his curve. I left the bay and came back looked where he cut and it looked way too short to be 5’8”. I measured it and it came to 58 inches, which is about 4’10”, so he shortchanged himself about 10 inches. He was 90kg at the time, so he needed a wide nose also, and when were standing there looking at the board, the only thing on the board was the nose template, so we just flipped it from the 12-inch mark and cut it in on the tail. Anyway, we took it out and I was embarrassed to walk down the beach with him, but he kept screaming about how good it went. I didn’t believe it until I got on it myself and it went mental.
Looking back, when you were a kid and doing the Airshow Tour around Australia and hanging with Dave Neilson, did you ever think you’d know as much about boards as what you know now?
No. No way. I was always listening to Bill Cilia who would tell me ‘you don’t want to shape surfboards mate.’ Plus, my friends and I would always joke to each other about how angry shapers were.
What do the guys you used to compete with or chase swells with, think of you shaping now and some of your different shapes?
There’s always a good respect there for sure. A lot of the guys who I competed against or travelled with are surfing on different sort of boards now. As much as I still love jumping on a high performance board and standard shortboards, I love riding twinnies and different outlines as well. Plus, a lot of guys who are a similar age now shape themselves as well, guys like Luke Dorrington, Shaun Cansdell and James Wood, so there’s a good respect amongst all of us.
Instagram / @serpentsleds
Words and Images: Ethan Smith