Geoff McCoy: Branching Out
Let's call this a work in progress. A project with an unknown end point, which is an exciting proposition for a surfboard shaper on the wise side of sixty. Old dogs learning new tricks and all that sort of stuff.
Two weeks ago a unique board passed my way; a McCoy six foot double-ender with a single fin setup. The board had a classic planshape from the era immediately following the shortboard revolution, yet where it differed from the norm was in materials and construction. Rather than traditional foam and PU fibreglass it had a stringerless polystyrene blank hidden beneath panels of Pawlonia wood with epoxy resin sealing the whole package. There was no fibreglass.
It was a beautiful board, the symmetry of the wood panelling and the golden hues of the treated Pawlonia assured a number of approaches from curious punters every time I pulled it from the back of the chariot. I could only answer so many questions about this mysterious board so a call to the shaper was in order.
Geoff McCoy doesn't sound at all like I imagined he would. I've read many stories about the grand old man of Australian shaping and each made mention of his tunnel vision and my-way-or-the-highway approach to design. Hence I was expecting a gruff man communicating in monosyllabic grunts dismissive of my ignorance. I dialled with caution.
After making my introduction he enquired, in what I registered as a very sincere tone, if I'd ridden the board. I told him I had. And before I could adopt the role of nervous interviewer he asked me how it went.
It's safe to say Geoff McCoy wasn't quite the person I'd pegged him to be.
The board, as it turns out, is part of a project that Geoff and a few other people are working on. A while back Geoff made a few of his famous designs out of wood for the sole purpose of hanging them on walls. They came out beautiful and one of his friends put it to him: "They look great but why not make them practical?"
And thus the seed to his wooden project was born. I asked if health issues were a motivating factor for working with wood and epoxy. Geoff's answer was matter-of-fact. "Health? I've been doing it too long to even think about it."
That said, the new epoxy resins are a lot less toxic than they were and they're also less toxic than urethane. The wood panels are stuck to the blank using epoxy and three layers of the resin are applied to the outside of the wood.
The styrene blank is stringerless but Geoff said he may start putting stringers in "just to stiffen the blank while shaping." Yep, it's all handshaped.
When I asked about the wood he quickly deferred to one of the guys he's working with – Pat Lyon. Evidently this is a team project. So I bid farewell to Geoff and wished him well on the surf trip he was about to undertake.
Currumbin Woodworks was the next port of call but instead of Pat Lyon I got talking to his brother Chris. "Pat works here but doesn't start till late," Chris said. Late? It was well after midday when I called.
"Yeah," said Chris laconically, "Pat comes in and works on a few things then has the rule of the workshop at night. If he has a project going he'll stay here all night and work uninterrupted. He's done a bit of that lately," said Chris betraying his brother's involvement in the McCoy project.
When the clock ticked over to a sensible working hour Pat Lyon called me back and discussed his involvement in the wooden boards. Softly spoken and efficient with words, Pat sounds exactly like the kind've guy who stays up all night working studiously on new projects – a doer and not a talker.
Pat's a boatbuilder by trade and has spent twenty years making wooden boards for guys like Joe Larkin and Dick van Straalen whilst using various methods of construction. The technique he's employed in this instance is called cold molding.
"I make no claim to innovation," said Pat modestly when I asked him about the process to fit the shapes. When I enquired how long it'll take to perfect the process he had a think, "I reckon we'll have it right in four more boards." Or about four more weeks of all nighters.
Alistair McDiarmid is a long-time Lennox Head local and one of Geoff McCoy's test riders. Before I received the board Al had ridden it every day for a week. Al is also an eager conversationist. He can, in my Grandpa's parlance, talk the legs off an iron pot, which is an ideal quality to a writer seeking information.
"What do you need to know?" asked Al eagerly. Which, when I asked for his thoughts on the board, was followed by an excitable rave.
"I had no preconceived ideas how the board might ride," Al said, "But I found it wants to run a bit of a line. It wants to trim. It doesn't need any pumping or pushing. I was really buzzed after riding it."
I've combined Al's quotes for convenience of reading.
"It was really well balanced. It was so fucking easy to ride. Did really nice cuttys. Shame the point wasn't barrelling when I had it 'cos I reckon it would've gone great in the barrel."
It was hard not to get caught up in Al's enthusiasm but when he threw it back at me I had to be honest. "I liked the board but thought it a touch too thick and stiff," I said somewhat sheepishly.
"Well," he replied, "You know there's another prototype coming. Geoff's made a new one with reduced thickness and a bit more rocker for vertical surfing." And indeed he has. The new materials ride differently and Geoff is altering the design accordingly. He's also contemplating putting a light layer of two ounce fibreglass on the board. Meanwhile Pat is beavering away trying to perfect the wooden molds.
This project is, as the saying goes, a work in process.