Free Your Mind: Interview with Geoff McCoy

Stu Nettle
Surfpolitik

The following story was written by Andrew Crockett - author of the ‘switch-foot' surfing books - and was compiled from interviews he conducted with Geoff McCoy between 2005 and November 2010.

‘I am about exposing the ignorance. For thirty years the clothing companies, who control the magazines, have been telling people to ride these anorexic thin blades and about 1% of people who bought them enjoyed it. That illusion is over. People are waking up.' - Geoff McCoy

If there is one man in Australia who should be labeled as the ‘hero' shaper or the ‘hero' designer then, in my humble opinion, I believe Geoff McCoy should get that gong. How can I say that? It is quite simple really, Geoff McCoy has pioneered several design breakthroughs in his career whereas most shapers are perhaps only famous for one such design breakthrough. And in many cases that development was aided by others.

As of 2010, with 45 years shaping experience behind him, Geoff McCoy is responsible for half a dozen designs, some of which have changed the course of surfboard development. Not all of them have had an immediate impact, some being so progressive as too be out of sight (and comprehension) of the wider surfing world. Yet as the world slowly catches up to him the influence of Geoff McCoy is becoming ever stronger.

Geoff still shapes boards and refines his designs. He is candid about his place in the surfing world and the wayward machinations of the pro surfing machine.

What is your take on the state of board design during the 1980's and 1990's? When a reflection on that time is made in the future, looking back to the period from 1984 until around 2000, people will see this ugly looking design with the sharp nose and wonder what happened. It was the McCoy fun board that helped change that close-minded mentality with surfboard design.

I just couldn't keep making those fashion boards. I wanted to walk away. That is when I started making the Nugget, around 1994. Todays Nugget model is the grandson of the Laser Zap, proving to surfers that being practical gives amazing results. The Nugget is a much more balanced and refined object that gives more control to the surfer, as well as improving performance.

I have walked to the beach with a ‘Nugget' under my arm and people have asked me ‘what are you riding that pig for'? I always just ask them, ‘have you tried one?' Generally they say no and they never would. What people don't realise, in their ignorance about the Nugget, is that it was a breakaway concept to the norm. The norm still exists. They, in their ignorance, prefer to suffer. Pretty much every surfboard you see on the market is the norm. This is different. That's why some people look at them and say ‘what's that, it won't work' but they have never tried the concept, they have never ridden one. Basically the concept is completely opposite to what they have ever known.

Shapers put a hard edge in, and think they are going to get hold from it. You don't, you get release. Water can't hold on a hard edge. The hard edge can slice through the water and carve a clean sharp arc, which might feel like it is holding, but in actual fact, you will be dropping on the wave, all the time that you are riding it. You will drop to the bottom of the wave, forever, while you are riding a low-railed board.

Yet as soon as you put a soft up-ish rail on a board, it will ride high, or low, because it opens up the bottom of the rail, which gives it more area, so the water can stay on and hold it. It is as simple as what it is. As soon as you open up that rail, everything opens up. It is a known fact that flat and hard repels water, while curve and soft receive and welcomes water to the object.

The Nugget is the most forgiving surfboard I have ever ridden. I believe the concepts that you are working on today are futuristic to the degree that in thirty years time most recreational surfers will be riding a crude example of what you are currently working on. It is all about making boards that work, for the level of the people that consume them. I realised pretty early on that a lot of the boards I was shaping were useless for the average punter. I sat down and thought about it for a long time, and that is where the double-ender came from. It is the best all round surfboard I can possibly make.

I believe the starting point was the nine foot double-ended longboard. You go from there, up and down in length. I thought about it and I went, I know they are great, but I wonder what would happen if I take the final step and, instead of making it 15 x 15 inch nose and tail, I made it 14 inch and 16 inch. So I did and that was the first Nugget. It's natural, it just works.

In the early 70's you were known as ‘Twin Fin King', how is it that 30-40 years later people do not associate McCoy with the twin fin? I hated being labelled the ‘Twin Fin King' and started making radical single fin pin tail guns just to get away from it. I introduced Mark Richards to twin fins. When he left McCoy, he was riding a McCoy twin fin and we had been working on the design for years.

In the early 1980's the McCoy team had attracted all the heavy cats and they were getting a lot of media exposure how involved in the industry were you? When I went to California in 1979 they got a chance to see my designs working so well, for the first time...Newport Beach, Huntington that kinda area, they were all riding seven foot guns. I went over there with six foot Laser Zaps, double-enders and, you know, Aussie small wave equipment. It blew them away. I linked up with a bunch of guys, including Jeff Hakman, who took me over there. We started having these regular monthly surfing events at Newport Beach and creating this energy. I tell you what, after about a year or so, the thing was huge!

That was the birth of the resurgence of California's comeback into competition surfing really. They were in it all along, but Australia had dominated so heavily. I moved over there, into the original Quiksilver factory they had moved out because they had grown. It became the McCoy shaping factory and showroom.

I went around the whole of California, with Jeff Hakman promoting Quiksilver, McCoy and Rip Curl creating all this hype and things just started exploding. The vibe for Australian knowledge and products was running hot; surfboard design knowledge and products, surfwear and surfing knowledge. The Bronzed Aussies had a lot to do with that and I was there because Mark Warren and Cheyne Horan were riding my designs.

When did it become too much and you decided you didn't want a part of it?

I really believe that it was in California, after some experiences over there. Just realising how evil the whole thing was.

Was it like there was a game being played and you just didn't want to play it?

Totally. I was gone. They told me. Alan Green, the original owner of Quiksilver, he came to me after not attending a party one night, or a celebration or something and he said ‘McCoy you will not make it in this league.' And I said, ‘if I've got to do that to make it, I'm fucking glad I am not going to make it.'

Why? What was it that they wanted you to do?

Not sure, but I know I didn't want to do it. I could have been a prominent shareholder of one of those big companies, but it is the Irish side of my family I guess. I am just crazy. I mean, I have run away from money all my life. But I don't regret it at all. I've been there mate, driving the BMW, snorting coke, going skiing and all that - partying with scumbags, parasites and low lifes in general. You are not a good person just because you have the evil money.

But it was all happening for you - a lot of hype, overseas factories, people patting you on the back - did it just come to a point where you decided you didn't want a part of it anymore? These companies started out as nice little operations, with a lot of soul. What people do not understand is that the surfboard designers and manufacturers were there before the clothing and fashion accessories. McCoy surfboards had distribution to surfshops internationally and the clothing companies wanted to put their clothes in with the surfboards.

As the companies grew they changed and became more commercial and I couldn't deal with it. I didn't want to own and destroy young peoples lives with false promises. It was human type things I couldn't deal with, let alone the business side of it. Certain people started winning contests suspiciously, and you're wondering why this guy didn't win. He was easily the best surfer, but he got 3rd and all that kinda stuff was creeping in. Today, it is really prevalent in pro surfing. I'd hate to be a young pro surfer today.

Your talking about corruption in surfing, did that only begin after surfing became professional? There was corruption before pro surfing, but not as much as when the money came into it. Conniving has always been in human nature. It became really blatant and people were looking for control and dominance after professionalism came into it. They realised that if they stuck together, they could control it, dominate it, run it and keep it under control for a long time to come. And they have done that, exactly.

The sad bit about it is that it hasn't helped surfboard design to develop. It held it back. Commercialism has got nothing at all to do with surfboard design and function. Commercialism is as ignorant as pig shit, it runs on ego and greed, without conscience.

I am not bullshitting ya though, and you can put it in print. I had a conversation with Graham Cassidy about it after Cheyne had been dudded the 4th time and he said to me exactly what we are talking about. At that stage, surfing was struggling big time, professional surfing, Coca-Cola was pulling out, as I remember, and they needed a worldwide sponsor and Graham Cassidy said that in order to survive they have to give it to America.

He was the head judge at the time? Yeah, he was ‘Mr Pro Surfing'. He had it by the balls. He was the first man who really ran it, you know. And he did. He was it. Cheyne Horan summed it up well in the biography that the Surfers Journal did, he said: ‘the way I see it, they had two choices...the established way or the artform and they chose the establishment.'

But it was more than that, it was a lot more than that. I didn't help either, because I was punching guys in the head and freaking out. All my team riders were getting ripped off. I used to get irate. I mean, the strength that we built up. We were the ‘untouchables'...the McCoy boys ruled. We would rock up to the contest and out of the Kombi would get Mark Warren, Grant Oliver, Col Smith, Tony Hardwick, Mark Richards and Geoff McCoy. I was a pretty good surfer myself too, back then.

What else can you say about Cheyne? Cheyne Horan, as a surfer, was Kelly Slater. If he hadn't pissed everyone off and been rubbed out, he would have won fucking ten world titles. They didn't want him. They didn't want Martin Potter either, they didn't want him, he was a party boy, not good for the image.

Look at Mark Richards, they wanted him for a whole period there and then when he went for his 5th World title, they didn't want him. I don't think he won a heat the whole year, but he was surfing as good, if not better, than when he was the World Champion. Mark Richards just died off overnight. I have seen it happen with other surfers. When ‘they' are finished with you, you're finished, you're gone and it has got nothing to do with your ability.

Before that, they did want MR; he was the stable, well-educated, well-spoken, decent, good clean image and all that...then you had Cheyne, the larrikin blonde bombshell from Bondi. Pro surfing needed corporate support and the controllers of pro surfing decided Mark Richards was the man...and it worked.

Mark Richards was a beautiful surfer. He had style, flow, control, body function, technique and lots of surfing knowledge along with functional surfboards. Mark was shaping his own boards and understanding design: who does that in the modern era? The only surfer I can think of who comes close to that approach is Simon Anderson with his continued involvement of his well acknowledged three fin concept, which to this day is most peoples preference for fin configuration. If I was riding a hard edged, hard railed board I would want three fins as well. My three finned designs have hard edges.

What about Larry Blair, what happened to Larry? Larry was an amazingly good surfer that was shut out by the corruption of pro surfing. His record was amazing and the power brokers decided anything associated with McCoy had to be eliminated, because at that time McCoy was the power and the natural leader. McCoy had to go.

Surfers were once stereotyped as hard-partying, dope-smoking drop-outs: do you think that kinda stuff still goes on within surfing or are surfers as clean as the image projected in the magazines? Probably goes on worse than ever. The surf scene was just riddled with it, and I don't think it is just surfing, it is everywhere, in all the sports. If we hear that Rip Curl or Quiksilver has a team of drug addicts riding for them, representing them, its not a good image. But if we don't know about it, then it's not an issue, it is suppressed.

It is rampant though, I guarantee it. The whole issue is a social one in Western society. There is probably about 5% or less that are total cleanskins permanently.

Do the magazines still have much power today? With the young people, yes, but I don't know many older guys that would read that junk, it is all put in there by young people that have no skill...unlike the golden era which had people like Albe Falzon, Frank Pithers and people like Witzig who had passion and used to work radical hours, but they loved it. They worked in an old house in Whale Beach. Today, most of the people who work at the magazines are good at crunching numbers and making a profit at the end, they don't give a shit about the people in between.

Which direction are you taking McCoy surfboards these days? The modern shortboard evolution is still going on...at least with me it is. I don't even include the contemporary modern shortboard as part of that evolution. It is a complete abstract to it. There is surfboard evolution and, within that, there is a shortboard revolution.

I revolutionised the shortboard. I don't know if I was first or last, but I know that I helped revolutionise the modern shortboard and I continue to do it to this day. The evolution of my shortboard designs continue to improve. My knowledge has grown across the whole concept of surfing to include knowledge of pure energy - the wave - to the reaction water has to an object - the surfboard - and the technique and skills required to obtain the best way to surf waves - the surfer.

My learning from these ingredients is evolved, I have discovered the depth of knowledge required to actually understand what surfing really is all about.

Any final words Geoff? 'Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former,' a wise man said that, his name was Albert Eistein. Think about it.

To read more about Geoff McCoy and other counter-culture surfers such as George Greenough, Chris Brock, Bob Cooper, Peter Troy and Malcolm Sutherland then check Andrew Crockett's 368-page surfing tome, ‘switch-foot II'. Visit www.switch-foot.com.

Related links: Cheyne Horan and the Winged Fin

Comments

niggly's picture
niggly's picture
niggly commented Tuesday, 7 Dec 2010 at 3:07am

nicely said, and wonderfully presented.
gonna go try a Mcoy.

cheers for the read.

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet commented Tuesday, 7 Dec 2010 at 4:38am

No worries Niggly. If you enjoyed that then keep an eye out for some upcoming surprises.

nope's picture
nope's picture
nope commented Sunday, 12 Dec 2010 at 4:59pm

people just wont listen/learn will they. 1 critisism is he sounds like he says hes right and everyone else is wrong. i ride ANYthing. and no one will tell me what to do. shame about the sheep holding back humanity in every level of society. loved the eistien quote! somthing for people who think im being negitive; we all learn and change and are proved wrong. be thankful next time this happens to you. not embarrest or sulky. i got that from somwhere i cant remember.

clif's picture
clif's picture
clif commented Monday, 13 Dec 2010 at 3:30am

I have been thinking about that Einstein quote. Does it mean that if I am stupid enough I am as significant as the universe, as such, GOD?

Next time somebody tells me I am stupid I will reply; "I'm workign on it, stupidity is next to godliness'.

"Don't try. That's very important: not to try." Charles Bukowski

1963-malibu's picture
1963-malibu's picture
1963-malibu commented Monday, 13 Dec 2010 at 9:58am

Human Stupidity is infinite. That is one thing Einstein was sure of.

McCoy is sure of it too.

heals's picture
heals's picture
heals commented Sunday, 19 Dec 2010 at 9:39am

Look at Mark Richards, they wanted him for a whole period there and then when he went for his 5th World title, they didn't want him.

This statement is absolute rubbish. Geoff McCoy can shape a good board but he has an awfully vivid imagination, especially in regards to history. MR retired after his 4th world title and it had nothing to do with a behind-the-scene conspiracy. He was forced into retirement because of lower back problems

non-local's picture
non-local's picture
non-local commented Tuesday, 21 Dec 2010 at 12:12am

heals is correct, MR was done with a bad back.
McCoy had the good team early on, but with the Lazor Zap he lost the plot, Geoff and Cheyne were the only ones left when they went to far left of center. Had they stuck to what was the regular equipment Cheyne would have a world title.
Nuggets are not the be all and end all as far as surfboard design goes, they have too much foam in them, they are too wide, no concave, too heavy and the list goes on. You cant do air's on them cause they are too slow. They are probably great if you are overweight and unfit and a total kook. Geoff has no respect for the equipment we ride so why should I have respect for equipment he makes?
Cheers

one good turn deserves another

andrew-crockett's picture
andrew-crockett's picture
andrew-crockett commented Tuesday, 21 Dec 2010 at 9:34am

What McCoy is saying here is that 'when they are finished with you, you are done' and that is very true. Look at Andy Irons, even the great Andy Irons was dropped like a sack of potatoes when he wasnt able to deliver them what they needed. (there is a list of perhaps 100 others who have been dropped)

Do you think that Geoff is making a nuggett for punters to try and do airs on??
No he isnt.
Is two times pipe master Larry Blair a kook? he rides one.
Larry would have won three in a row... if they let him.

This 'surfing media tainted' perspective on the Laser Zap and Cheyne Horan was half the reason i started to work on this story. The masses of brainwashed punters who believe what the magazines have told you would think the Laser Zap stunted Mccoy and Cheyne Horan, but it isnt true. The Laser Zap was LIGHT YEARS ahead of its time and your current tail trimming wafer thin concave pointed nose thing is a very crude example of a Laser Zap, actually.

This McCoy interview was for the 'average punter' to be able to read. Not for aspiring 'aerialists'.

bman's picture
bman's picture
bman commented Thursday, 23 Dec 2010 at 8:55am

Great point Andrew, i own a couple of Geoff's boards and they go really well. Cheyne Horan did win a world title - on a nugget at the masters against Curren in the early 90s. Hey non-local take a good look at all your "favourite" designers channel island etc - they are all shaping boards that resemble nuggets and zaps with extra foam as fun boards or summer boards. I wonder why? Because they work. I much prefer to see and emulate power surfing than airs - nuggets do the job on that just fine. Horses for course though.

nope's picture
nope's picture
nope commented Friday, 24 Dec 2010 at 11:53am

horses for courses! simple as that! i have a power plug quad. not sure the year. early 80s(?) very pointy nose and very wide tail. cant do airs on it but never been deeper or faster in the tube on her. and have done my biggest and best carving 360s into the lip on solid(for me) 3´-4´ waves. ask a punter what they think and theyd run a mile. no idea. you should never tell somone how to ride a wave. saying that down with commercialism!

nope's picture
nope's picture
nope commented Friday, 24 Dec 2010 at 11:57am

a little more on design... it, the power plug has a very hard almost edge like under side of its ´down´ rail to the nose. this, maccoy is spot on, dont hold! its loose as fuck under the front foot.

non-local's picture
non-local's picture
non-local commented Monday, 3 Jan 2011 at 9:29pm

andrew and bman, this artical was aimed at good surfers, ones who can do airs, carves, tube ride, carving 360's and more. I disagree with the rants of Geoff McCoy. He was a great shaper in his day, and that was befor the Lazor Zap. He had the hell team and was making a killing in the industry, something must have snapped in his mind in California because when he came back he went on a radical tangent that he has never recovered from.
I rode a couple of Zap's back in the early 80's and to tell you the truth they went ok, but not as good as a Fitzy or a Lynchy single fin. My first surfboard was a S-deck McCoy twin fin from about 1973.
Simon and the Thruster was and will always be the biggest revolution in surfing, a revolution that has seen the test of time with constant refinement to the point now where a good surfer can go places on a wave that us old crew never thought possible, and the air is one of those places.
You want power, check out Jordy Smith, the guy isn't too bad in the air either, for that matter you could also add the names Buzzy Kerbox, Martin Potter, Matt Archbold, Kelly Slater, Mick Fanning, Joel Parkinson, Taj Burrow, CJ Hobgood, Dane Reynolds and Clay Marzo to the list of guys who are all power surfers that do airs.

one good turn deserves another

andrew-crockett's picture
andrew-crockett's picture
andrew-crockett commented Friday, 7 Jan 2011 at 4:23am

fair play 'non-local'.

The pro surfers you list off are good surfers, but there is another world out here in surfing and it is guys like bob jones, tim smith and gerald hume who you have never heard of. They dont want a surfboard to try and do airs on, they want something that paddles good and when it is on the wave, it is functional and forgiving.

This interview (that i worked on with McCoy) gives those people some food and all reports are, they want more of it.

'non -local' which bits of the mccoy rants do you disagree with?

tortoise30's picture
tortoise30's picture
tortoise30 commented Wednesday, 16 Feb 2011 at 12:04pm

This is a fantastic discussion and a real insight into the evolution of the surf industry and surfboard design. It makes a great read and at the moment I am really hooked on the story, having just read Salts and Suits and Greg Nolls story.
Clearly McCoy has an axe to grind, he admits to the crazy gene himself in that interview, but you cant deny the "strings" that seem to appear around the pro circus when you look a little deeper. The question is are you really going to tarnish MR's achievements with claims of conspiracy?
That may be heading down the alien and the anal probe line of thinking if you are going to stretch it that far.

barb's picture
barb's picture
barb commented Saturday, 17 Mar 2012 at 11:21am

McCoy is one of the greatest shapers. My McCoy was the best board I ever owned. Plus I am one of Cheyne Horan's biggest fans. Also, a fan of MR's big wave surfing but cannot watch his ugly small wave surfing. But the MR rant was non-sensical. Simply too much pot. MR retired in 1983, surfing in around 6 from 16 contests. The contest achives are at http://www.aspworldtour.com

The industry was behind Cheyne in 1982. Cheyne won the 1st two contests, including Burleigh, despite being scored one wave less than MR in the final. Cheyne won in California, garnering huge support. But Cheyne blew it in Hawaii, riding a fat Lazer Zap at Pipe, which spun out. (But Cheyne was robbed of the 1979 world title by the tiny industry of 1979).

barb's picture
barb's picture
barb commented Saturday, 17 Mar 2012 at 11:32am

On You Tube, there is a video of the 1981 Surfabout, where Simon easily beat Cheyne at Narrabeen, with Cheyne falling off his board. Cheyne was certainly surfing at another level, in another dimension. But he was not infallible and it seems, at times, did not surf up to the mark.

MR was a contest survivor, empitomized by his 1980 Pipeline win in brutal ugly Pipeline. (Again, video is on You Tube). MR surfed to win contests whilst Cheyne's surfing was often risky. I can remember watching that contest on the TV news, with Cheyne pulling into unmakeable Pipe tubes rather than surviving like MR did.

If Geoff is so anti-contest, why can't he lead go of Cheyne's contest experience? Surfing is an artistic & pleasure experience. Forget the contests and enjoy the incredible surfing of both Cheyne & MR when they were each in their element. Yes, Cheyne was a freak & awesome.

brutus's picture
brutus's picture
brutus commented Monday, 19 Mar 2012 at 7:36am

great interview,interesting to see how some people deal with history and and the affect that the past has on today.

Cheyne did deserve a world title,he sure lost a lot of heats on a countbacks,when he clearly won,but his harassment of the judges/system cost him. the other surfer at that time who should have won a world title was Dane Kealoha,who was a better surfer than either MR or Cheyne,and he got done by the system....

Not sure about Geoffs claims of a conspriracy theory from the industry as a whole,but certainly there were instances of fear and greed.....from individual company's...

but ain't it great to still see a bit of passion from the ol fella,and his comments on todays equipment comp equipment is spot on..its all about 10-15 years old......and Australia is leading the way in homogonised equipment and the aussie juniors just don't seem to cut it anymore on the world stage.....is this a sign?

More mindlike Mc Coys,would make our world a more dynamic creative innovative fun place to be!

mighty-mouse's picture
mighty-mouse's picture
mighty-mouse commented Saturday, 24 Aug 2013 at 10:41pm

Hmmm... Funny what you find on an evening when the all blacks dusted up the wallabies again...

Strange comments from guys who are at least six degrees removed from the topics and facts of the times that Geoff McCoy points to and attempts to dissect to give a picture of what he himself is on about.
Brutus however as a player of the topics and times that McCoy discusses and makes relevant points I note.

But to the guy who is thinking that Geoff is in some way degrading MR's achievements by his statements on a system he sees as flawed, well you wouldn't say that if you knew MR's history with Geoff. MR will tell you himself he owes Geoff for all he achieved in surfing. Fact is McCoy was Mr's mentor. Fact is McCoy, like Midget, was a mentor to a generation of surfers.

Axe to grind? Fu k Yeh ... Pissed off as hell with what the big three did to surfing just so they could get filthy rich... But Brutus if your out there I will let you explainbthe dinner points of this argument on behalf of Dane.