Free Your Mind: Interview with Geoff McCoy
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