An audience with Dick Van Straalen
Last week on Swellnet, we ran an article on Greg Webber's latest board model which features, among other things, a double concave deck. When the article did the rounds there were snorts of protest from up Burleigh Heads way. "What about Dick Van Straalen?" my accusers carped. "He's been doing concave decks forever!"
While Webber didn't claim to be the pioneer, the article could've given a nod to Van Straalen. To rectify the oversight I rang up Dick to get the record straight. What I got was far more than his history of concave decks. For those who've never met him, Dick fires off opinions like a Gatling gun on full trigger. He blasts holes through accepted norms and conventions. All I could do was sit back as the veteran shaper - 75 this year! - gave me a lesson in lateral thinking.
The following is just a fraction of the conversation...
Swellnet: G'Day Dick, it's Stu from Swellnet. I wanted to talk to you about your concave deck boards.
DVS: Right. I heard someone on Swellnet was claiming to be the first person to make them.
Swellnet: Oh no, Greg didn't say he's the pioneer. I said as much in the article. He's not claiming to be the first shaper to do it.
No, and we'll probably never know who was first, although Dave Rastovich rode a concave deck 18 years ago.
I've still got the board here in one piece and we've been making the same board for 18 years. Haven't changed it.
Why do you think concave decks haven't become more popular?
Because I don't need the work. I'm really aware of my footprint. Surfing is the most toxic industry in the world, right? I've been shaping boards for nearly 60 years, and I'm really aware of the waste we're creating. The most boards I've shaped is about 10 a week.
If concave decks work, have you wondered why other shapers haven't copied the idea?
Because they've got their heads in the sand?
Or maybe I'm hard to find..? People don't see my boards. I've only been on Instagram a year and I've got people contacting me there that have been trying to find me for years. I don't advertise, I don't do anything like that. I like it that way because then I know the motives of the people who find me. They're prepared to accept what I do because they're open to it. Y'know, in the end, surfboards are only a bent piece of plastic [both laugh].
We overanalyse it far too fucking much. People think an eigth of an inch is gonna make a difference...?
Careful Dick, you're undermining your guru status. I was reading about your concave decks and noted the back foot sits lower on the board than the front foot.
Definitely. That's exactly right. So you don't have to move your weight too much to go into trim. It's all about your balance and where your feet are. Also, if your toes are higher than your heels, you can get far more pressure on your foot. Compare that to a round deck where your toes are lower than your heels. It's all about dynamics.
Does that make sense?
I'm moving my feet around as we speak.
You wanna know what's really pissing me off at the moment? [laughs]
No idea. But I figure I'm about to find out.
What really pisses me off is people in the industry selling mass produced boards with fake carbon on them. And no one says anything about it! When we were all kids we would have hated being conned like that. I just...I don't know...I've made boards because I enjoy doing it, I'm not doing it for the money, because you don't make money out of this industry. I've been lucky enough to survive, lucky enough to meet Dave Rastovich. He came out of the woodwork and everything changed.
Three angles of a Dick Van Straalen fish, all with the bottom facing up offering various perspectives of the concave deck
Okay, well let's talk about Dave. Dave's very conscious of how his body works. What's his thoughts on riding your concave decks?
Well, he thinks they're really good. He's ridden them for years, since he was a kid. As a kid, Dave was a far better surf than he is now.
Yes, because he was far more open, and as you get older you start to close down a bit. Dave and I talk about this a lot, Surfing's really mental, right? So he says to me, "Oh, this board feels good." And then later it doesn't feel good. And I say, "Dave! The board is the same, it's how you're thinking about it that's changed. You wanna change the board, then change your thinking."
You're more open to new things when you're younger.
Does the same thing apply to shapers?
Of course. But hand shaping can keep you exposed to new ideas. The amazing thing is hand shaping is coming back in a pretty big way. I spoke to Darren Burford and he said ten years ago, they [hand shapers] were only about two percent of their buyers, but now it's up to ten percent now.
Big jump. Why do you think that is?
Because people realise they want to do something with their hands, like the creativity of making a board. Hand shaping puts you in touch with the process, every step of the way. Puts you in touch with your boards. Someone was in here today and we were talking about this. I've just got three boards in here, and they're all painted different. We lack colour in surfing, yet you look at the early days of surfing and everyone rode something different.
Just a sec...when you said 'colour', was that metaphorical, or do you actually mean the colour of the boards?
I mean the colour on the boards. Lack of colour is poverty of the mind.
OK, and I'm with you, Dick, all my boards are coloured. They're all one colour, but they're coloured.
Yeah, when you look at your wardrobe, there's colour everywhere. That's what I say to a lot of people when they ask what colour their board should be. I say, "Go and look at your wardrobe and see what colour you lean towards, because all colours are a rhythm."
Now go and look outside, there's colour everywhere. Everything's colourful! Everything's a rhythm! And colour doesn't age a board.
Interesting, yeah? Clear boards go brown after a year, right? So colour does not age a board. You have a colourful board, ten years time it still looks brand new.
"Lack of colour is poverty of the mind."
Well, let me put it to you, Dick. Some of the concave deck boards that I've seen of yours, they're black all over. Those Aviso ones.
Full black. How does that rhythm make people feel?
Oh, if you know about carbon it'd make you feel good. The Aviso technology, it was the most technically advanced surfboard ever made, and people didn't realise it. They've got no idea. They have no waste in the factory. It's a generational family company: the grandfather helped put the stations on the moon, the father made America's Cup yachts, the son was doing Aviso. They made the mistake of doing fashionable boards rather than boards that are classics.
It wasn't the only time you dipped a finger in alternate materials was it?
No. A friend of mine that's a good surfer and also makes surf boats, we shared a factory for a while, and he used to take me to all the composite shows. Epoxies, carbons, everything like that. That's why I learned all about it, and I'm the first person in surfing to use a lot of carbon. Carbon is really good. Dave says the carbon boards tube ride better than anything because they hold their line. They don't give. The epoxy doesn't lose its memory. I've just done some epoxy fishes with textured decks.
Aviso technology wrapped around DVS curves
Squeegeed all the resin out?
I've always loved textured decks, I think they're great.
Yeah, I reckon they only stopped doing textured decks back in the day because deck grip wouldn't stick to it. But wax sticks to textured decks really easily. Surfboards have far too much resin to fibre content anyway. I did this thing with the Sustainable Surfboard Project a couple years ago at Byron, and I went, "What a bunch of wankers, they're just trying to make money." You've gotta use their products to add a label that says the boards is sustainable.
I said to the guy, "It doesn't matter what they're made of, sustainable is something that lasts for more than fifteen years." I said, "What's the use of all these materials if it breaks down in six months."
So are your boards sustainable?
I don't know, but I'm not telling people they're something they aren't.
You think that's a con?
Let's talk about Instagram. For years you were a digital hermit yet you recently arrived on Instagram.
I'm really bad at IT. I'm badly dyslexic, you probably saw that in our emails! But on Instagram, I can go on there and see Mitchell Rae, Michael Mackie, Ronnie Goddard...there's all these shapers you can connect with and you can all talk to each other about what's going on, and that's what I like.
I had a guy I know who's really good at IT and he told me to use Instagram as my shop window. I don't hashtag anything. I just put boards up with a bit of a story.
I'm looking at your Instagram page now.
I've just put up a photo of two fish with concave decks.
I can see. Stringerless...
All the boards I do with hydro hulls have no stringers. I want the boards to twist and I happen to believe that stringers are actually the weak part of the board.
Twist? So the tail will flex laterally?
Yes. Like in the old days we used to glass with really wide laps up near the nose, and they'd taper down towards the tail. Stiff nose, stabilise the middle, and flex in the tail.
And you can do something similar with your decks?
(We'll run the full interview with Dick in the future)