Think of some of the most influential surfers over the last two decades and chances are Luke Short (LSD) has crafted boards for them. Whether it be the chop-nose boards that Ozzie Wright rode in the iconic Seven Days, Seven Slaves film or the boards that helped Taj Burrow and Richie Lovett claimed CT victories, Luke’s boards have been ridden in professional surfing’s biggest moments. Vissla recently caught up with Luke Short to discuss his Avalon upbringing, the bizarre boards he shapes for Ozzie Wright and how Noa Deane and Matt Banting came to represent the brand in 2018.
Tell us a little bit about your introduction to surfing. You were a pretty accomplished surfer yourself weren’t you?
Back then, there was only a really little junior circuit and I never did too well. I made the State Titles and the local scholastic comps, but I was never really that competitive, plus I didn’t like hanging on the beach all day.
You grew up on Sydney’s Northern Beaches too didn’t you?
Yeah, I grew up at Avalon and I think I began surfing when I was around nine or ten years old. My Mum actually got me into it. Funnily enough, my Dad stopped surfing around the same time I got started, stating that it was just too crowded. He would still go to the beach, but he would just prefer to go for a jog or a swim. He ended up getting into windsurfing with Midget Farrelly after a while as they were mates.
Tell us what Avalon was like back then. I imagine it was completely different to what it is now?
Yeah, it was almost a country town. On Saturday afternoon, all the shops would shut and it would be like a ghost town on a Sunday.
You Avalon guys still had a pretty core crew back in the day didn’t you?
There was a bit of a crew from Avalon, Newport and even Narrabeen who were the three strong clubs, or crews of surfers at the time. I guess Avalon was a bit isolated being around the bends (one-lane main road that separates Avalon from Newport).
So when and where did you begin to learn the shaping craft?
My brother and I used to fix boards when we were at school. My Dad used to glass boards for Barry Bennett way back in the day. He actually did a hot mix for my brother and I one day and my board caught on fire, so we didn’t let him near our boards again after that and we began to do our own. When I was 16 I left to go and do a carpentry apprenticeship (training of a trade or profession) and then I went travelling for a year or two to Mexico, Hawaii and Europe. When I got back, I got the offer from Greg Webber to come and learn how to use the shaping machine. It was a time when shaping machines were beginning to pop up all over the place and Greg wanted someone who he could train not to have any bad habits when he finished his boards. At the same time I also got offered a job as a carpenter, so I went and saw Simon Anderson – whose boards I was riding at that point – and he helped me to make my mind up to go and shape boards.
I don’t want to ask if you have regrets as I’m not angling towards that, but have you ever wondered what it would have been like if you chose to take the job as a carpenter?
Yeah, my brother is a builder, but it’s a bloody hard gig and it can be hugely taxing on the body. I feel like I made the right choice. Even now, I still enjoy building things around the house, not just making surfboards.
How long did you spend shaping for Greg? Was that around the mid-nineties when he was shaping Insight boards?
Yeah, it was around that time. He was just coming out of that. It might have been around 95 or 96 he left and actually moved up to Yamba. One of the other ghost shapers and I actually got bumped up around then to keep the label going, which was a good experience. We got to work with team-riders like Ozzie Wright and Richie Lovett. We were out of our depth a little bit, but we had to learn on the run.
Was it yourself and Thomas Jensen doing them back then? As a grom, I remember frothing out at those short boards, you both used to make for Ozzie with the stubbie noses.
Yeah, it was a good experience to be involved in that era. In a lot of ways Greg would be trying not to work too much, so Thomas and I would finish off the team-riders boards. Channel Islands were also coming out of the same factory, so it was a good gig. I would get sent to Europe and do boards for Channel Islands over there also, which was good.
You mentioned Ozzie and Richie just before. At that time both surfers seemed to be riding two totally different types of boards. Ozzie would have the cut-nose boards and Richie had pretty refined and narrow boards. How was it balancing two totally different acts on the same label?
I think I related to both those guys pretty well - not that I surfed anywhere near as well as them - but I used to compete against Richie as a grom and I understood that Ozzie just wanted to get as much speed as he possibly could. I did a few trips with those guys and I got to see what worked and what didn’t.
Was it under those two guys that the LSD surfboard label began to take off, or was it later when Taj Burrow jumped on your boards?
I think it was a combination of all of them. When Richie got on the tour, I think he became one of the favourites amongst the guys on tour. He was really a surfer’s surfer and having him be such good mates with Taj and Luke Hitchings (former CT surfer from Bronte in Sydney’s east) helped a lot. Like a lot of mates they all kept an eye on what each other were riding and it got my foot in the door a little bit with them.
Did your relationship with Taj get underway off the back of his and Richie’s friendship?
I think so. Around that time was Taj’s first or second year (late 90s) on tour and he ordered a board off me in France and I shaped it in five hours. I think he may have one two-or-three events on that board. At that time, he could have won on anything, but it certainly helped my boards get seen.
What prompted the move to Yamba in the early 2000’s? Was that a positive or negative move for your business?
I would say it was negative in the sense that I was pretty hidden away up here. It’s definitely not the Gold Coast or Sydney, but that’s kinda what I wanted. When I was in Sydney I had three or four guys working under me full-time, as well as dealing with big rent, so often you’d flog your guts out for not much at the end of each week. I got pretty overwhelmed and I guess I wanted a change. I was quite happy to cruise a bit and work three-or-four days a week.
Do you still surf as much as ever?
Yep, but I’ve gotten busy again over the last few years. I feel like I want to put myself out there a bit more and have a bit more of a dig. I want to find the balance of surfing, working and enjoying the family life.
When you decided you wanted to “have a bit more of a dig” as you say, is that when Julian Wilson jumped on your boards?
It was pretty much just after Julian. I had Julian on my boards when I first moved up. Then he kinda bailed and I had a bit of a bitter taste in my mouth, so I just stuck with only a couple of teamriders for a while. After that, Matt (Banting) came off contract with Chilli, so I began making boards for him and then Noa (Deane) asked me to make him boards as well, as he had been riding one of Matt’s old ones.
Wow, is that how Noa came to ride your boards?
Yeah I think Noa may have won the Queensland title on one of Matt’s old boards.
Has having Noa on the team picked up where Ozzie left off so-to-speak?
I reckon. It’s funny, about a year or so ago, I dropped some boards to Noa and he was living out the back of Ozzie’s house at Suffolk Park. It was awesome for someone like Noa to have a mentor like Ozzie who has been such an amazing freesurfer and has shown that’s there is a viable career path there.
With Matt Banting, would you say you’re putting a lot of effort into helping him get back onto tour?
Definitely. In the last year when he was injured, we talked a lot and have developed a closer friendship. It’s a buzz seeing someone of his caliber on your boards after recovering from injury.
Finally, where do you think the future lies for Luke Short?
I just want to make good boards and keep my customers stoked. I look at someone like Jon Pyzel and I admire the way he has grown his business organically. He and John John have stuck together and grown together. That loyalty is pretty awesome to see. I think you can see a confidence in a good surfer when he’s been riding a shapers boards for a long time. You can see it with people like Parko, Mick (Fanning) or even Kelly when he was with Channel Islands. Those surfers know their equipment and what it can do.
Words and Images: Ethan Smith