Having shaped boards for some of the biggest labels in Australian surfing – G and S, Hot Buttered and Aloha – Stu Campbell shares about his own boards and what he’s learnted from ‘kinda failing.'
You started shaping in 1973. What was it that made you want to start shaping surfboards?
I think I may have even began before that. I used to just make things. I even had a little collection of geometric shapes that I’d ground down out of rocks. After I started surfing though, the next step was to shape boards. My second board was actually an old Gordon Woods board that had a bit of a dinged round tail on it. I was only 11 or so at the time, but I cut it and changed it into a diamond tail. I think that was the first time I got into it. I also got an old board off a mate at school for five bucks, which I stripped the glass off and made into one of those keel fishes that you see a lot of people riding now.
Did those first few boards kick start the passion?
David Nuuhiwa was riding those boards a bit in California at the time and I’d seen them in the old surf movies, but my board just came about because the board I stripped the glass off was pretty damaged and I could only make 4’10” so it kinda was the only option. My second board I shaped I went and bought a blank and did it a lot better. I made about 50 under my house at Bronte (eastern Sydney) where I was living at the time. In there, I shaped, glassed and sanded.
It’s funny you say that, Luke Daniels – who we interviewed previously – said he began shaping under his house in Bronte also. It’s uncanny that both of you had similar starts but about 40 years apart.
Yeah right, well funnily enough, one of the boards I made – or it may have been a couple even – I made for his Dad Donovan, under my house. That’s funny.
From there, did you begin shaping with Terry Fitzgerald and Hot Buttered at Narrabeen (northern Sydney)?
I did it with Gordon and Smith at Caringbah (Southern Sydney) first. Jim Banks put a word in for me after he had seen a few boards I’d done and I was surfing against him in comps at the time. I went there for about six months and then Fitz got in contact with me and wanted me to surf on his team, but he also specifically wanted someone who was interested in board design as well. There was a fair bit of prestige working for a company like Hot Buttered. I moved over to the north side of Sydney and began surfing Narrabeen and working in Brookvale in a time when it was really active.
What was it like shaping in Brookvale at that time? It’s been noted that it was a hotbed of talent for the shaping community in the early days…
Yeah, Simon Anderson worked just up the road and Shane Stedman’s factory was only about 50 meters away from us and Michael Peterson used to pop in occasionally and make his presence felt. The Brookvale scene was pretty much the center of surfing in Australia at that time and it was exciting time to be there. At the same time, Martin Worthington – who was the guy who pretty much invented spraying boards – showed me a lot and our glasser, Darryl Holmes, was there and he shaped all the boards that Shaun Tomson rode in Free Ride as well, which was pretty cool.
From Narrabeen, did you go up north to the Sunshine Coast?
Yeah, I was surfing down at Aussie Pipe and I copped a board in the mouth and got a broken jaw, which ended up getting infected, and I spent 10 days in hospital. When I came out Fitzy was a bit spewing because I was a bit behind in my orders because I was just surfing and ratbagging about. Things came to a bit of a head and I just said, ‘I think I need a bit of a break.’ My parents lived in Noosa, so I went up there, loved it and that’s when Waterpistol surfboards first came about in 1983. At the time having your own business was a bit unsustainable and the town would be really quiet in winter. I ended up having my son Ryan at the end of 1984 so I moved back to Sydney and set myself up at Aloha Surfboards. It was good being there at that time as the label had Damien Hardmen, Barton Lynch, Luke Egan and Nathan Webster all riding the boards. It was the golden years for Aloha at that time. I ended up being there from ’84 to ’90 roughly.
You mentioned a lot of companies before: G and S, Hot Buttered, Aloha that you worked for when those companies were at their peak, what was that like to be part of those three iconic labels?
It was really good. Over the northern beaches of Sydney there was a lot of advanced surfing happening at that time. It was total surf emersion. It’s only when you look back, you realize that it’s been a long a varied career and it’s a good feeling.
It was back up to Noosa again after that though wasn’t it? Was it the crowds in Sydney or just a change that made you go north again?
Yeah, I didn’t like the crowds in Sydney I guess, so I went and started Waterpistols for the second time and kind of failed again (laughs). I’m not a very good businessman. I guess I never had those sorts of people around me to do those extra jobs behind the scenes, so I shut it down a second time in 1994/1995 and went ‘that’s it for me.’ I just went and worked for other guys in their factories and also built a lot of racing yachts. A lot of what I was doing were those spin-off of things I’d learnt from shaping. From then to about 18 months ago, there were no Waterpistol surfboards until my son Ryan approached me to re-launch the old label. He’s pretty good at all the things that I’m pretty bad at, he’s got a good business head and we’re kind of the perfect couple. We butt heads a bit, but that’s expected.
And how is the third incarnation of the label going?
It’s really good; I’m loving it. It was over 20 years since I had my own name on a board because I was just shaping for other people, but it’s become a bit more special having my name on boards again. Plus, working with machines is pretty cool. I hand-shaped about 25,000 boards over the years, so I’d barely used them, but they’re really good.
Having done so many hand shapes, were you reluctant to use shaping machines?
A little bit. I’d finished a few boards off for Greg Webber at one stage, but I’d never finished one that was off my own shape. My boards are a bit different to a lot of people, so I’d never used them. Now that I am and they’re coming out the way I want it’s pretty incredible. It’d great to be able to produce the same board for a bigger or smaller guy who doesn’t have the ability of some of the other guys you’ve shaped boards for.
Words and Images: Ethan Smith