Dreamtime with Ellis Ericson
With his first film in the can, and his first book too for that matter, I expect Ellis Ericson to be kicking up his heels, or signing autographs, when I call him. You know, something lavish. Instead he's ferrying boxes of said books and films off to Byron Bay post office for shipping - one of which will go to Shaun Tomson (onya Shaun!)
It's one thing to ride a new design, and yet another to devote a whole project to it, but while dipping in and out of mobile reception Ellis explained to Swellnet why the edge design transfixed him and why it remains a work in progress.
Swellnet: So you guys must be busy with promotion at the moment?
Ellis: Nah, not much promotion. We've just been packing the orders and sending them out. That's been enough, it's been keeping us busy.
Following you guys on Instagram, I found it fascinating how over in the States lots of people were really interested in 'On the Edge of a Dream' but the response here has been slower.
Yeah. Much of the pre-ordering of the book came from over there, people were exploring the project, but since we're back the sales are probably 50/50 now.
Reckon the early interest could be a cultural thing?
I don't know, maybe they value experimentation a little more in California? Or they've got a deeper respect for the culture, or something like that. You know, it could just be that there's a deeper fascination with George.
So let's talk about that for moment. When did you first become aware of the edge board concept?
Probably June of 2014. I did a boat trip with Dave Rastovich and he'd been doing a little bit of work with George since they're neighbours. He mentioned that George had built a quiver of boards and that there was this edge design. He was trying to articulate it, talk to me about it, but I was coming from a place of always riding flat-bottomed boards and couldn't get it. He was talking about this insane concept and I couldn't really get my head round it!
So that was probably the first time I'd heard about the concept. And then, maybe trying to draw on some images of what had been in Crystal Voyager, or even the early stuff of George. You know, he was riding edge boards, but it's not really talked about.
Yeah, you guys include that old footage of Brocky and Ted Spencer riding edge boards in some seminal Australian surf films. Yet the design was rarely mentioned. It really drifted off the radar.
Yeah. But it was spoken about in a small group of George's friends. Chris Brock carried on the edge design into the tri-plane hull.
And then Paul Gross did a lot of work with George through the 80s. I met up with Paul in California; he built stand-up edge boards and stuff. So in their little circle they would have been having conversations about the design, but whether people acknowledged it, or whether surfboard production even wanted to go near it, 'cause they're quite tricky to build, is another story.
They're so hard to produce. So much sanding, and so much time has to be put into the actual board. It's much easier to sand a flat-bottomed board, you know, put it on the rack.
And keep the production line going.
Yeah, keep it going. But to my knowledge, computers can't emulate edges yet. To get your head around the design takes time too.
How many boards did you shape during the project?
I probably made about 42...or something.
That's a lot of boards, a lot of evolution. When you first rode an edge board you obviously felt something special, but were you able to see how the design could be applied to modern boards?
In the early days...ah, lemme think. I mean aesthetically they looked really nice. So appealing. And interesting too. But as far as instantly thinking that I could put them into a modern board? I don't even feel I'm there right now. I tried to go off in a modern direction, you know, putting multi-fin set-ups on them and stuff, yet I ended up coming back to the singles.
Yeah. I mean the majority of edge boards that I'm riding now are single fin - the blade fin. I've been having the most fun on that. I just felt something that I hadn't felt on other boards. And it wasn't necessarily a bad thing or a good thing, it was just a differernt thing - a feeling of progression. It's hard to put your finger on it. It's hard to describe a feeling.
I understand though. You surf for years, and when a new feeling passes by, you want to latch onto it.
Yes. I grew up shortboarding and competing through my younger years, and that became very static for me. So I tried to go back to where the shortboards started, like making the transitional era boards, trying to work my way through those designs, trying to figure out what I liked about them. I got to a point where I was like, 'the nostalgia thing is great, but I also wanna push ahead'.
So, the edge design is a progression of where I want to go. But it's also where I wanted to take my shaping, cause they're quite complex.
Ellis peering over the event horizon
I think you guys have struck a really good balance: you looked back, found an old idea, but then pushed forward with it.
Exactly. And that's what I probably felt from the design too. I felt the design wasn't just an old design that had run its course. It had life in it, you know? To me, under my feet, it felt like, as if it could really go somewhere. I don't know where it could go, but it feels like it wants to go forward. It felt progressive from the get-go, you know?
Isn't that great? That's unreal.
Yes. To feel that...that's why I had to chase it. It came from that first board, literally when I rode that first George board. Although it was tricky, it made my other equipment seem so dull. I spent the best part of six months just not even being able to turn the damn thing [laughs], but there was just something there, you know?
So what was the problem? Too loose off the rail...?
There was nothing wrong with the board, it's just where George has come from: windsurfing or kneeboarding, so his leverage points are different and so are his rockers. Also, the fin and the edge have to harmonise, in order to let the hull do its thing through turns.
I still feel we're at the tip of the iceberg with the design, that it's just been about balancing and dialling it in to the rider. As Andrew says in the movie, "each person surfs differently". So the design can go much further. Also, in that way, it was nice to have a board that was difficult, you know. It was humbling from the get-go, because you couldn't control it like you could modern boards.
At the end of the film, when you get that great double barrel at...actually I wont say where it was at, "To Be Continued" comes up on the screen. The progression just keeps going...
It does. Everything's to be continued.