Vissla catches up with Dylan Perese of DP Surfboards to discuss the beginnings of his shaping career, how the local community has supported his endeavors and what's next on the agenda for his growing brand.
Easy question to start. What made you want to be a shaper?
I was always pretty curious about working with my hands from a really young age. My old boy and I would get a lot of old boards and strip the glass off them and reshape them. We also had a guy who was glassing boards in a shed in our backyard for around a year or so. Those things got me in the loop so to speak and I learnt a lot. Also, growing up by the ocean, all I wanted to do was surf, so it happened naturally.
Were you more interested in riding the boards because you wanted decent boards under your feet or because you wanted to learn the craft?
I was really interested in knowing the craft basically. I was just starting high school and I was just frothing to work with my hands. Then when I got to see the results of shaping and ride boards I’d shaped myself was pretty cool to do when I was that age.
What age did you begin doing it consistently?
It sounds like I’m talking it up, but I must’ve been about 13 or 14 when I did my first customs. Then at the end of year-9, so 15-years-old. I left and began to do it full time. We opened a surf shop in Thirroul (one hour south of Sydney) when I was 16-years-old.
So your parents were pretty supportive of everything you were doing?
Yeah without them blessing me, there’s no way I would’ve been able to leave school when I did. There were a few arguments with Mum about it, but Dad backed me pretty hard.
When you were 16-years-old, I imagine there were a few steep learning curves you had to go through?
In the early days, I kinds just did it through trial-and-error. I did whatever I thought worked and got the feedback from other guys. I’d never worked under a professional boardmaker or anything. It wasn’t until I was around 20 that I went and worked with Graham King up at Sutherland (Sydney’s south) for six years or so. That was where I learnt to make boards up to a pretty decent industry standard. He had a really keen and watchful eye and could be pretty hard on you. If something wasn’t right, he’d put a saw through it or put it in the dumpster and make you do it again.
Were the boards you were shaping prior torn to shreds once you began working under someone?
Absolutely. A lot of surfers didn’t sit there and critique things like air-bubbles or every sanded edge or scratch, whereas Kingy would get straight into me with things like that. Under his help and guidance I began to work on those things. He helped a lot.
Did those first pieces of criticism sting?
Maybe a little. He was a no-bullshit sort of guy who would let you know pretty quickly, but I knew that before working with him, so I just had to take it as constructive criticism rather than have a tear and get my feelings hurt.
How old were you then when you split away?
I was always making DP surfboards, but I was at Kingy’s from 2002 to about 2009. Through that time, I was doing four or so a week of my own, but I was doing a lot of his shaping, glassing and repairs as well as some of the contract stuff where other shapers would come in to get their boards glassed. From the moment I started DP I never really stopped. When I left Kingy I got a factory of my own in 2009 and then got another shop in Thirroul about five-or-six years back and have steadily grown ever since.
You have a pretty loyal following of surfers, especially from Cronulla (southern Sydney) right down the south coast of NSW. It must make you pretty happy seeing your boards in such a broad area.
Yeah, for sure, it’s awesome having that sort of support from my local community. Without them I wouldn’t have a business. I think we’re a little bit unique in this area where people like myself, Parrish (Byrne) and the guys at Skipp surfboards are the dominantly used boards in that area. You can go to other areas and you notice a lot of boards from major labels that are coming from big retailers. For us, we have a really good support network and it’s one of the key areas I concentrate on.
Do you think a lot of your loyal customers are just as good of a marketing tool as some of your team?
Totally. You don’t need to be the best surfer on the beach to sell a board. If they believe your board is good and they push it onto their friends then that’s the best feedback you can get.
The Illawarra area is one of those regions that has always had pretty awesome waves and really good surfers, but do you think a lot of what is happening there maybe goes unnoticed due to how close it is to Sydney and a lot of eyes focusing on that area?
Absolutely, but like I said earlier, I think if you can your focus on what is happening locally and keep your customers happy then everyone should co-exist happily. We do fly under the radar a little bit I guess, but it’s always only until someone does something good on one of your boards that you actually get noticed.
And who has that been for DP?
Nic Squires is one guy on our team that has been really good. He’s surfed a lot of heats in his time and he’s always let his surfing push the brand. Also, Kalani Ball was really good for us a few years back and now Jay Brown (Cronulla junior surfer) is part of the next generation leading the charge for us. Also, females who are coming up include Sophia Fulton and Kiara Meredith who have really helped represent the boards and are two of the shining stars in the junior women’s division.
What’s the goal for DP now? You’ve always been pretty forward thinking with doing things like your Battle Royale event, but what is next?
The goal is always to grow and further the brand. I think all shapers have the dream of having a CT surfer riding their boards and being able to watch a surfer ride your boards in heats, but apart from that it’s also growing our Battle Royale event to make sure the community and ourselves get the most out of it. There’s nothing too outrageous there.
Words and Images: Ethan Smith