Mitchell Rae To Be Inducted Into Surfboard Builders Hall Of Fame

Stu Nettle picture
Stu Nettle (stunet)
Swellnet Dispatch

In a week or so from now, Mitchell Rae is gonna shake the foam dust off, pack two sticks into a board bag, and hop a lift to the city. First leg in a big trip where he'll come home carrying more than he took.

Swellnet recently chatted to the quiet fella from Urunga, who has over a half-century of shaping experience, about his coming travel plans.

Swellnet: Word is, you’ve got a big trip to California coming up. Can you explain to the readers what’s happening?
Mitchell Rae: It's an award that runs out of California called the International Surfboard Builders Hall of Fame.

And you’re being inducted, is that correct?
Yep. The process is that each year, a new group of board builders are inducted. 

So who nominated you, Mitchell?
My dear old mate Dick Van Straalen kindly did. 

That's a touching tribute.
It is. Dick and I go way back and I was pretty chuffed. There's a lot of good people around and the fact that he chose me was very humbling. I’m honoured! 

Did you and Dick ever work together? Ever share ideas?
The first time I ever met Dick, it was a surf trip with my mentor Glynn Ritchie back in about '68. We’d been surfing a lot of Angourie and Lennox, and there was a particularly tasty swell that looked promising for further north. 

So we ventured off and got as far as Burleigh. It was five or six feet running from the Cove way up to the beach and it continued to get better and bigger day by day. This was well before leg ropes and after a couple of days surfing, even when you're surfing at your best, you're going to come unstuck every now and then. I can remember losing my board and bodysurfing the wave after it, chasing it, only to hear the loudest crack, the sound you only hear when a solid glass board hits a boulder. You just know that extreme damage has been done. 

After a few days of that, our boards were pretty trashed and we went out to Dick's farm and did some repair work on them to get back in the water. That was the first time I actually met Dick and his crew of guys who were riding his boards. A lot of long friendships were formed on that particular swell.

Do you see similarities between your boards, say the quintessential Outer Island spear, and Dick's shapes? 
Yeah, I think particularly back in the day. Dick was shaping  beautiful boards. He was doing some real nice pintails. I think, because of living there and surfing those point breaks all the time, pintails were a natural choice.

He would've still had his Spirit of the Sea label going then?
Yeah, it was the very beginnings of it and it was out of a farm at the back and that was the days of full on country style. Dick was shaping some nice boards. At the time, surfing was going through a stage where boards were very straight with a little bit of nose flip and an S deck. 

Pretty primitive really, whereas what we were shaping had a continuous curve through the bottom and an extremely deep concave. I recall Dick's boards were some of the only ones I had seen, apart from what we were doing, where he was using a nice continuous curve right through the board. Low rails on flat bottoms, maybe a little bit of V with those pintails, but having that particular continuous curve bottom rocker continuous through the board. 

There weren't many people that were onto it.

The first of two boards Mitchell is taking to the US; a twin fin flex tail built in his classical way

You’ve been shaping for 55 years, and as well-known as your boards are, you've always been a niche shaper. Would you agree with that assessment?
Yeah, look, at different times I've had bigger operations, but I've always been fairly purist in my approach. I had some bigger factories. At one point I had maybe six guys working for me and we were supplying a bunch of surf shops, plus customs, plus stints of shaping in Japan, and that was as big as what I ever got or wanted to be. At the end of the day I’d scratch me head going, "Hey, I'm just getting consumed by this." Like, there was a really good day's surf at Forresters yesterday, and I didn't get there because I’d become a hamster in the wheel.

So, I’ve had a taste of production shaping and I've found that the bigger the numbers got, the less of my actual soul I could put into each one; the less connected to the designs I was. So by staying small and pure, it works a lot better for me.

Yet now you're getting critical acclaim from, what I guess you’d call, the shaping establishment. Are you comfortable with that?
Yeah, look, it's a really fabulous accolade. I'd be crazy if I wasn't happy and humbled to be receiving it. I look at the honour  roll  of people that are already inducted: from the Duke to Dick Brewer, all the famous Hawaiians and Californians -  it really is a stellar list. So, I’m thrilled for my name to be added.

Though you've spent time in Indonesia, your pedigree is mostly Australian. How many Americans know of Mitchell Rae and Outer Island?
Good point. I've been to Hawaii four or five times. I loved Hawaii, but I never had any great need or necessity to go to the mainland, so I never opened a door with business there. Funny though, since the days of Facebook, and even with a new website I’ve just built, quite a bit of traffic comes from the US. I don't exactly know where they cottoned on to what I'm doing, but it happens.

V2 stringer, flex tail with graded lamination, and a hint of Mitchell's 'Persian slipper' nose - an Outer Island classic

Perhaps through Indonesia..?
Perhaps. I've been very well represented in Indonesia for a very long time. There were always crew traveling through there with surfboards that had the Spirit Eyes. It's a bit of a cult. I guess the adventurous Americans that have been going to Indonesia during that same period of time have been exposed to my work.

For some though, they’ll be encountering your boards for the first time. What boards are you taking with you?
I'm taking a very tight little group of boards. I built one flex tail in the original style, which is Greenough-inspired. That’s where I sculpt all the foam out of the deck of the board after glassing the bottom, and finish the build so the tail is transparent glass and fully flexible, like the fins and the tail flex. So that whole back end of the board is flexing. That was my original style of build.

Then in the mid-80s, I realised there was something going on with these boogie boards. I had a look at the materials and had a light bulb moment. I started to put boogie board foam in the back of my flex tail which restored the original foil, bringing the volume back to what it was. That was kind of a breakthrough when I started using those materials. The second board will have that, plus all the bells and whistles: three different types of carbon to control the variable flex, laminated with high-end vinylester resin - pointless using polyester resin on carbon - and it has the V2 Flex construction, where two stringers start at the nose and angle out to the rails roughly two-thirds of the way to the tail leaving the back third without a stringer.

So that one, the second board, it’s a model which I call the Zen Blade, that represents the sum total of everything I've learned and developed through the years.

So those two boards, with perhaps a little guidance and commentary, go a long way to explaining my whole journey of shaping and building all these years.

Board two, also with V2 stringer, however this time paired with a carbon flex tail and EVA foam completing the board's foil

Bottom contours..?
Concaves. If the boards are to be representative, the reality is that I have been at the forefront of concave innovation since 1968. In the early days of Outer Island, we went from hull shapes, which a lot of the crew were doing, but then we started to go down a completely different path, first with dead flat bottoms, and then we morphed into these super deep concaves and they were really revolutionary. There was nothing around like them, and this is '68, '69, when boards had roll bottoms and S decks. Meanwhile we were riding these space machines with super deep concaves. 

It took a while, but it’s fair to say that the design has gone mainstream… 

Concave is a staple in the bottom contour of any modern board.
And back in those early years, I played with spiral vees inside the concave and all sorts of different configurations.

I believe it was original thinking driving our innovation because, at the time, there was nowhere to look and no-one to reference. It was totally breaking new ground. 

Before we go, I want to talk about the name of the award, it’s not just the shapers award, but builders award, which is apt considering the work you do on each board.
I cut the blanks, glue the stringers, shape the board, and occasionally, I still glass the whole board and do the sanding too - start to finish. I call them “two hands boards“ and they are going to become much more limited. 

You see, going back about three years now, I had a battle with cancer of the bladder, and after the surgery I asked the doctor who was in charge of operating on me, "What causes this, doc?” And straight up he said, "Oh, toxic chemicals."

I've had better than 50 years closer to 55 years of exposure to it. I really have to remove myself from that part of the proceedings as much as I can.

But having said that, you asked a direct question, I'm designing and shaping them, and I'm pretty much locked in with some great people glassing the majority of my boards. They're doing really nice work for me and I'm really happy to hand that off over time, to solely focus on design and shape. 

Righto. Well Mitchell, when will you be heading over to the US?
The induction ceremony is on the 14th of the month at Huntington Beach. I'm leaving on the 5th and hoping to have a poke around the boardroom show that they do. It's my first trip to California. They tell me that it's surf city with the biggest surf shops in the world and the trade show is off the scale, so it’ll be a bit of an eye opener for a country boy who’s used to a peak hour with kangaroos hopping across the road.

(Home page photo of Mitchell by Dick Hoole)

International Surfboard Builders Hall Of Fame
Outer Island online


simba's picture
simba's picture
simba Wednesday, 27 Sep 2023 at 12:57pm

Quality workmanship all the way......

dandandan's picture
dandandan's picture
dandandan Wednesday, 27 Sep 2023 at 1:44pm

Great interview Stu. Have often wondered why Mitchell is such a relatively unknown shaper to the broader surfing public. Incredible boards, lovely bloke, and a really interesting surfing life behind him. Short of finding a few grand in the gutter on the walk home I don't reckon I'll ever get another board from him, but the ones I have had held up so well that I'll probably be riding them for another ten years to come.

Onlytwo's picture
Onlytwo's picture
Onlytwo Wednesday, 27 Sep 2023 at 1:59pm

I’m nearly 70 and I’ve had many boards from a long list of amazing shapers since I started surfing at 12 years of age. I acquired a flex tail twin from Mitchell about 4 years ago. Tahitian Lime full gloss tint that just shines. I look at it and just can’t bring myself to wax it. I can’t say that about any other board I’ve owned. The workmanship is second to none and a credit to Mitchell!!

udo's picture
udo's picture
udo Wednesday, 27 Sep 2023 at 3:44pm

Just saw Pics of that- Beautiful Thing.

udo's picture
udo's picture
udo Wednesday, 27 Sep 2023 at 3:58pm

A Different Shape from the Master
The 'SeaBiscuit'

BarbB's picture
BarbB's picture
BarbB Sunday, 1 Oct 2023 at 10:18pm

looks sick with those hollows around the fins

san Guine's picture
san Guine's picture
san Guine Wednesday, 27 Sep 2023 at 5:28pm

“That’s where I sculpt all the foam “

A true artisan, beautiful looking boards.

I often ride a 5’8” DVS twinnie with a similar brown and gold spray

bbbird's picture
bbbird's picture
bbbird Wednesday, 27 Sep 2023 at 9:54pm

Well deserved praise for a lifetimes effort.
Flexibility is a key to great surfing & .......
More of Mitchells' artistic & fluid endeavours detailed below
Would be great to drive a flextail pintail on a big clean wave.

Greebs's picture
Greebs's picture
Greebs Wednesday, 27 Sep 2023 at 11:58pm

Great work Mitchell! Loved this comment "Meanwhile we were riding these space machines .."
Still shaping 'em bloke!
There's something beautiful and slightly otherworldly about a surfboard shaped with love. And he got the love.

batfink's picture
batfink's picture
batfink Thursday, 28 Sep 2023 at 7:35am

Lovely bloke. Somehow I got on to him and he shaped me a pearler of a board. Hasn’t had as much use as I’d like, but that’s more about me and surfing generally, not the board.

Looking forward to pulling it out down the south coast tomorrow.

Island Bay's picture
Island Bay's picture
Island Bay Thursday, 28 Sep 2023 at 8:34am

Congratulations. Beautiful boards!

zenagain's picture
zenagain's picture
zenagain Thursday, 28 Sep 2023 at 8:47am

Well deserved in recognition of a lifetime of superb craftmanship.

Phil Jarratt's picture
Phil Jarratt's picture
Phil Jarratt Thursday, 28 Sep 2023 at 9:23am

Good on ya, Mitch. About bloody time!

radiationrules's picture
radiationrules's picture
radiationrules Thursday, 28 Sep 2023 at 10:03am

a high-water mark innovator for me too..I can still remember the 1st day I saw/picked up a flextail in a remote indo environment - thinking "space ship" - who and how do you ride waves that suit SB's like this?

backyard's picture
backyard's picture
backyard Thursday, 28 Sep 2023 at 5:42pm

The real deal. This is art, not just craft.

tsunalu's picture
tsunalu's picture
tsunalu Thursday, 28 Sep 2023 at 10:05pm

Mitchell is a great bloke and backs his product. I had board with speed fins in it, around 2002. I had some great waves on it in Indo and then moved to Hawaii. I cranked a turn at a favourite spot, and the board just spun out. I flipped it over and was minus a fin. I called Mitchell in Australia and was just after a replacement fin and he told me to drop the board off to a shaper he knew to have the all the fins re-potted with a new generation of the system at no cost to me. The board is still going and never lost another fin. I loved the chinned rails, the scooped double concave through the tail and the build quality is awesome.
Congrats on your award Mitchell.

hick's picture
hick's picture
hick Friday, 29 Sep 2023 at 10:59am

I bludged a go on a flex 25 years ago. I gave the board back, raced home and ordered one and have been loving them ever since with too many reasons to list.

udo's picture
udo's picture
udo Saturday, 30 Sep 2023 at 7:12am

stunetWEDNESDAY, 18 AUG 2021 at 7:05PM

I have a 7'6" gloss-coated, blood red, flex tail Zen Blade that has never been surfed...and sometimes I wonder if it ever will be.

Occasionally I go out to the shed, pull it out of its board bag and rub my hands over it, admire the construction, the curves, and the aesthetics...and then I wonder how I'd feel if, say, my leggy snapped and I lost it on the rocks at the point. Shudder to think.

It's as good as a Lopez Bolt in my eyes. An heirloom board.

Has it been Surfed Yet ?

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet Saturday, 30 Sep 2023 at 9:27am

Christened at big G-Land last year. Got the waves deserving of its pedigree,

Will probably also surf it next time the point is big, though I'll buy a brand new leggy beforehand.

udo's picture
udo's picture
udo Saturday, 30 Sep 2023 at 9:54am

Disembowel comes to Mind

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet Wednesday, 4 Oct 2023 at 8:09am

Quick video on Mitchell's 1980 flex tail. I'm not so sure about changing the foil and volume as much as he does on those early ones. Especially when the tail essentially ends at the fin and it's countered by a big beak nose.

The later ones where he restored the foil and volume with EVA plastic make more sense.

udo's picture
udo's picture
udo Sunday, 8 Oct 2023 at 12:12pm
udo's picture
udo's picture
udo Friday, 27 Oct 2023 at 3:21pm
stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet Friday, 27 Oct 2023 at 3:22pm

Good to see Owl is still wearing his midriff shirts.

udo's picture
udo's picture
udo Friday, 27 Oct 2023 at 3:25pm

How good would Mitchell and his Girth look in one...

freeride76's picture
freeride76's picture
freeride76 Friday, 27 Oct 2023 at 3:26pm

He's looking healthier than he has a right to.