Gary McNeill on imitating Al Merrick

Stu Nettle
Design Outline

Unkempt, overlooked, and anonymous. Surfboard shapers create the most essential equipment for our sport yet occupy a curious little netherworld within it. Their work is dirty, largely misunderstood, and when attention does come their way it's vicarious; even if they've been punching out the same quality for decades, it takes a top level pro for the rest of the world to take notice.

Scott Bass runs the Boardroom Show in the US, an annual trade show come gathering that eschews fashion and puts the focus back on surfing's most essential piece of equipment.

Each year Scott honours a renowned shaper - past years have been Brewer, Lopez, and Priesendorfer - and gathers ten current shapers to recreate one of their famous boards. The 'shape off' puts the limelight squarely on surfboard shapers.

This year Scott is honouring Al Merrick, and Gary McNeill of Gary McNeill Concepts has been chosen as a competitor in the shape off.

Swellnet spoke to Gary about the coming competition.

Swellnet: When are you heading over to the US?
Gary McNeill: The show is the 6th and 7th of May.

The shaper being honored this year is Al Merrick so you have to shape one of his boards. Is that right..?

How does it work?
They hand you a blank. And they hand you a template. And you get 90 minutes.

How long do you see the board you have to copy?
You get five minutes to looks at the board. That's all. You feel it, measure it, do anything you want with it and then they take it away.

You cant see it again?
They put it oustside the room, you’re allowed to walk back out and rub you hands over it maybe, to check the rails, but you can't measure it again. That’s it. You’ve got five minutes. The challenge is how good you are with creating something.

And how familiar are you with Merrick's work? His classic boards?
Well, he’s the number one. He's been the number one for a long time.

So they could pull out any of Al’s classic shapes?
That’s it mate, you don’t know. It could be Curren’s black beauty. It could be one of Slater’s banana chips….it could be anything. That’s the wildcard.

Have you done any homework on this?
Ha ha...I go to Japan and shape ten a day. I’m comfortable with it.

Except they’re ten of yours. You’ve gotta do one of his.
Yeah, but it’ll just come down to how good you can create the rocker. I reckon it'll all come down to what kind of blank they throw at us. Normally if you’re hand shaping you'll pick a blank that’s close tolerance. Like, a lot of the ones I used to do in Japan, I’d choose the blanks so I only have to skim the deck, put some tail rocker in, some nose rocker, and one full cut off the bottom and there’s your board. You’ve just gotta finish it.

But if they hand me some thick slabby if they throw a block at me, well then I’ve gotta really create. All us will have to create. That’ll prove how good us shapers are.

But then it might be an 1980s block rail thing, like Curren’s '83 belly channel Thruster?

It's a great concept.
Yeah it’s gonna determine how good we are with a planer, working to someone elses specs.

How did you get chosen for this?
I have no idea.

You just got a call from Scott and you're on your way?
Well I was planning to go over there anyway. I get so many enquiries from America so I contacted Scott to get a booth. Straight away he said, “How’s your timing?” and I didn’t know what he meant.

He said, “The guys from Al Merrick were talking about you yesterday. About putting you in as the Aussie shaper."

And now you’ve gotta shape a Merrick?
And now I've gotta shape a Merrick!

Find out more about the Boardroom
Gary McNeill Concepts website


thermalben's picture
thermalben's picture
thermalben commented Monday, 20 Mar 2017 at 11:49am

What a fantastic concept. 

Island Bay's picture
Island Bay's picture
Island Bay commented Monday, 20 Mar 2017 at 12:46pm

Great concept; great to see Gary McNeill there. Don't forget the follow-up article, please :-)
This is the stuff that keeps me coming back to SwellNet.

tonybarber's picture
tonybarber's picture
tonybarber commented Monday, 20 Mar 2017 at 1:45pm

Correct me, so this is about how quick you can copy a board. You've got 90 minutes, 5 minutes to take measurements with a set template. So its about how technically able you are to simply shape a board. Suppose it is honouring Al Merrick and how good the shaper can use the planner. A pop out copy ?

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet commented Monday, 20 Mar 2017 at 2:10pm

In a very crude sense, yes that's what it is.

All great shapers have a signature blend of curves; subtly identifiable features that make their work unique. I imagine shapers who work with their hands everyday would discern those markers even more acutely than Joe Average.

So the challenge then is to recreate a peculiar blend of curves within a set time frame.

Island Bay's picture
Island Bay's picture
Island Bay commented Monday, 20 Mar 2017 at 3:49pm

Having the eye to see what's really going on, and the chops to recreate it.

troppo dichotomy's picture
troppo dichotomy's picture
troppo dichotomy commented Monday, 20 Mar 2017 at 8:45pm

i've seen me m8 surf really well on boards from mcneil.he had these cool looking little disc with no stringer.think it was called the u.s alien?i've always wanted to try his boards......

udo's picture
udo's picture
udo commented Tuesday, 21 Mar 2017 at 10:32am

Good luck stuff.
Bit off track here but Gary mentions picking the correct blank with only minor work for a finished blank
Does anyone know if in the CAD world..theres a program that auto directs you to the blank with closest dimensions for the cut with minimum waste ? watching some machines in action im seeing huge amounts of waste....

sampro's picture
sampro's picture
sampro commented Tuesday, 21 Mar 2017 at 10:54am

Yeah, Udo you upload blank files and choose which ones best fit your shape - or you can make your shape fit the blank.

The other factor, and maybe the one that results in all the waste, is that some overstocked or 2nds blanks can be super cheap, so some shapers will choose those over the blank best suited to their shape. Some 2nds blanks, if they are thick enough, might have the imperfections near the skin, so the machine can be set up to cut deeper and remove those bubbles, lines or weird densities.

Rise of the waves 2017's picture
Rise of the waves 2017's picture
Rise of the wav... commented Wednesday, 22 Mar 2017 at 7:12am

Haha should do a stab in the dark style thing where someone hand shapes all the other shapers boards and the pro writes about them.

Rise of the waves 2017's picture
Rise of the waves 2017's picture
Rise of the wav... commented Wednesday, 22 Mar 2017 at 7:12am

Haha should do a stab in the dark style thing where someone hand shapes all the other shapers boards and the pro writes about them.

todd little's picture
todd little's picture
todd little commented Wednesday, 22 Mar 2017 at 8:35pm

Hi Garry good luck on your adventure great opportunity

todd little

hovercraft's picture
hovercraft's picture
hovercraft commented Wednesday, 27 Sep 2017 at 8:30pm

So how did it go????

lostdoggy's picture
lostdoggy's picture
lostdoggy commented Wednesday, 27 Sep 2017 at 8:55pm

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