Gary McNeill on imitating Al Merrick
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 blank...like 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!