An audience with Dick Van Straalen

Stu Nettle
Talking Heads

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.

Your board?
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?

OK...
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.

He was..?
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.

True.
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.
They're carbon.

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?
Yeah.

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?
Yes.

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?
Yes.

(We'll run the full interview with Dick in the future)

Comments

Blowin's picture
Blowin's picture
Blowin commented Tuesday, 29 Jan 2019 at 2:23pm

A breath of fresh air.

simba's picture
simba's picture
simba commented Tuesday, 29 Jan 2019 at 2:43pm

good stuff

simba

I focus's picture
I focus's picture
I focus commented Tuesday, 29 Jan 2019 at 3:10pm

Shapers aren't they great, artists, engineers, tradesmen, philosophers, craftsmen and more, just generally out there people.

GuySmiley's picture
GuySmiley's picture
GuySmiley commented Tuesday, 29 Jan 2019 at 3:14pm

Made my day that, Dick is a true legend. Ridden and kept many of his boards over the years Yes, I too was going to mention Dick with that Webber article.

....that full interview, did he get on to jazz and pop music as they relate to surfing? and there's that story of Dave he tells, thought you were going there above when he started talking about surfing being a mental thing, laugh your socks off, he is a very funny man.

jez's picture
jez's picture
jez commented Tuesday, 29 Jan 2019 at 4:25pm

Hey Stu, seeing the webber vid reminded me of DP boards in Thirroul. One of his older models the pulse sounds pretty similar to the webber with a double concave deck And deep single concave. Keen to get one one day.
https://dpsurfboards.com.au/products/the-pulse

Jezdawg

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet commented Tuesday, 29 Jan 2019 at 4:43pm

Hard to tell from the pics but I'll call in and check it out.

Thanks for the heads up.

freeride76's picture
freeride76's picture
freeride76 commented Tuesday, 29 Jan 2019 at 4:51pm

when I was working for the late great Lester Brien he ordered a quiver of Van Straalens for his surfari tours.

Dick came up with these incredible eps/epoxy mid length (6'6" -7'6") with a semi-pointed nose, concave and pin tails.

They were the funnest boards to ride in just about anything. Wish I still had one.

Backpackers took about 6 months to destroy them.

If Dick is reading he might remember them.

Lanky Dean's picture
Lanky Dean's picture
Lanky Dean commented Wednesday, 30 Jan 2019 at 11:37am

Think he was pretty involved with the open ocean paddle scene also ?
Dvs featured pretty heavily in blue horizon also. There was a red one AI surfed a lot.
Cult following from surfers for a reason. He gives you what he wants though. Never seen a dvs thruster ? Have you? (Just a question)

lostdoggy's picture
lostdoggy's picture
lostdoggy commented Wednesday, 30 Jan 2019 at 5:33am

Saw a very standard looking early/mid 00s style step up thruster on eBay recently.

Patate's picture
Patate's picture
Patate commented Wednesday, 30 Jan 2019 at 7:38pm

Got an old pocket rocket thruster on gumtree from DVS, looks very standard and is my best board ever. (Later went to meet dick and ordered another one. His comment was so humble- « yeah, been doing it the same for more than 10years, they really suit some people ». Dick is true legend.(the new one was actually visibly different and worked a treat for my off season trip to Indo- he knew what I needed better than me !)

PCS PeterPan's picture
PCS PeterPan's picture
PCS PeterPan commented Tuesday, 29 Jan 2019 at 11:00pm

A good mate of mine has bought and sold / destroyed sooooo many boards over the years , but he still has one of Dick's stringerless Fishes , He won't part with it . The strange thing is , it's still in great condition . DVS. . . . master craftsman !

Denyer's picture
Denyer's picture
Denyer commented Tuesday, 29 Jan 2019 at 11:12pm

Had many DVS boards between my wife and me over the years. Got two in the garage right now. Lovely boards, great to surf and great to look at. If you want a custom you must be prepared to submit to the master and take what he gives you!

Would do a lot of good for a lot of intermediate surfers to go away from a CI/JS/DHD toothpick and try something with 1,2 or 4 fins and a lot of volume in the right places.

velocityjohnno's picture
velocityjohnno's picture
velocityjohnno commented Thursday, 31 Jan 2019 at 5:30pm

You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make it drink.

eat-your-vegies's picture
eat-your-vegies's picture
eat-your-vegies commented Wednesday, 30 Jan 2019 at 12:08am

Good interview
Dick mentioned Ronnie Godard
Can you have a chat with duck too

sharkman's picture
sharkman's picture
sharkman commented Wednesday, 30 Jan 2019 at 12:52am

love the interview , when are you going to post the whole interview?

x

truebluebasher's picture
truebluebasher's picture
truebluebasher commented Wednesday, 30 Jan 2019 at 2:02am

Same! Legend from before my time.
Dick Van Straalen was already a legend in 1976.

Paper Round + Paddle bikes/Outboard Boat hire earnt this Grom $160.
Exactly the right amount for a custom DVS...Shove your Paddle Bikes...Gone Surfing!

Typical trad 6ft 10 light blue bottom clear textured deck as orders were banked up.
So close to getting the Red Lightning Bolt...but would only put the order behind more.
Back then... Just before/next to Hot Stuff North Burleigh Gold Coast Hwy

By 1978 the leg (rope) ravaged the tail... Reborn as a proto 5ft 10 Fish.
[factcheck] 1978 DVS boards were being lovingly recycled...Not letting it Go of it!
Home reno won this cheeky Grom a bundle of Comps even a new DB/Geoff Darby.

Veggie couldn't wrestle it from me!
Free box/twinnie that came after were never as mental...
All my 70's mates only ever talk up the recycled DVS...Too good to waste!

acrosby1234's picture
acrosby1234's picture
acrosby1234 commented Wednesday, 30 Jan 2019 at 10:29am

You cant have the concave deck discussion without including the stretch SK8 deck. William "Stretch" Riedel from Santa Cruz was one of the very first to do EPS/EPOXY (there is no Poly resin in his factory) and one of the biggest proponents of concave decks on everything from fishes to mavericks guns. Would be great to hear from him on this

thermalben's picture
thermalben's picture
thermalben commented Wednesday, 30 Jan 2019 at 10:32am

Slightly OT, but Stu did an interview with Stretch in March 2015:
https://www.swellnet.com/news/design-outline/2015/03/20/stretch-riedel-s...

.. and an interview with Cory Russell (Torquay-based Australian licensee of Stretch Surfboards) in April 2014.
https://www.swellnet.com/news/design-outline/2014/04/01/shaping-shrinkin...

Spuddups's picture
Spuddups's picture
Spuddups commented Wednesday, 30 Jan 2019 at 2:19pm

I like people that aren't afraid to shoot from the hip. They're usually more interesting. looking forward to reading the full interview. Yep, another example of good Swellnet content. Keep up the good work felluhs!

spencie's picture
spencie's picture
spencie commented Wednesday, 30 Jan 2019 at 4:41pm

Loved the article. Dvs was always a legend to us (slightly) younger guys. Many of the good Qld surfers rode his boards and raved about them.

easterly

Finntim's picture
Finntim's picture
Finntim commented Wednesday, 30 Jan 2019 at 4:44pm

I scored a mid length ( about 6'8) for 5 bucks at the local vinnies a couple of years ago and I rang DVS to verify and sent pics. He was well up for a chat and gave me the wheres and whens. Lovely bloke and a cracking board( with awesome colour!!).

stickyson's picture
stickyson's picture
stickyson commented Wednesday, 30 Jan 2019 at 8:07pm

Gotta remember he was still shaping single fin boards for Joe that where holding their own against the thruster invasion

velocityjohnno's picture
velocityjohnno's picture
velocityjohnno commented Thursday, 31 Jan 2019 at 5:33pm

Got some insane pics of Joe pushing the stumpy little singles in solid waves, so good!

Elliedog's picture
Elliedog's picture
Elliedog commented Thursday, 31 Jan 2019 at 12:18pm

Love to see guys like this calling out the bullshit...keep it up.

Luba

Cowabunga's picture
Cowabunga's picture
Cowabunga commented Thursday, 31 Jan 2019 at 5:10pm

I like that Dick is still out there doing what he loves and keeping open mind on the craft. I had a spirit of the sea 6'8" surfed it for years gave it to some grommets in Port Lincoln area in 77

memlasurf's picture
memlasurf's picture
memlasurf commented Thursday, 31 Jan 2019 at 7:54pm

Had a giggle about his dissertation on colour and thought about my wardrobe which is all black, white, navy blue and a bit of grey for variation. The only one to suit by palette is the carbon fish!

Tinfoil hat's picture
Tinfoil hat's picture
Tinfoil hat commented Thursday, 31 Jan 2019 at 8:10pm

Corey Graham. There’s an insta account worth a look.

Tinfoil hat's picture
Tinfoil hat's picture
Tinfoil hat commented Thursday, 31 Jan 2019 at 8:10pm

Corey Graham. There’s an insta account worth a look.

wingnut2443's picture
wingnut2443's picture
wingnut2443 commented Friday, 1 Feb 2019 at 7:08am

The other Cory ain't too bad either

https://www.instagram.com/cory_surfboards/

Surfboard Design and Construction Kook. Evidence is here: www.ffwsurfboards.com.au
*FFW - Few Fun Waves ... that's what it's all about for me.

wingnut2443's picture
wingnut2443's picture
wingnut2443 commented Friday, 1 Feb 2019 at 7:06am

"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."

And there ya have it folks, the little key to the whole 'flex' story that, from what I've read in the articles on here so far has been missed, missing (unless I've missed it somewhere?)... that overlay of cloth on the rails, that creates the "C" section that's stiffer than the rest of the board ... by changing that, the amount of overlay (i.e. width of the cloth) or they way it changes from nose to tail, etc. ... well DVS has given ya a hint into the abyss ...

Surfboard Design and Construction Kook. Evidence is here: www.ffwsurfboards.com.au
*FFW - Few Fun Waves ... that's what it's all about for me.

Super supman's picture
Super supman's picture
Super supman commented Friday, 1 Feb 2019 at 10:23am

bought a $50 van stralen thruster in bali in 76 from a money starved queenslander.an awesome unit.still lives in my mates garage after i stupidly swapped it for a new board. one of my surfing regrets. he doesnt surf any more but he wont part with it!

Super supman's picture
Super supman's picture
Super supman commented Friday, 1 Feb 2019 at 10:26am

heres bit of color dick would be thrilled with my old 8' 1984 mal. the clear glass has suffered the ravages of time the color just like new . lesson for everyone

orangefield's picture
orangefield's picture
orangefield commented Friday, 1 Feb 2019 at 7:20pm

I bought a dvs micro mal a couple of years back. Was great hearing his solid 30 min sermon on many different topics when I picked it up. So much knowledge, experience and stories and generous with his time. The board was a cracker also.

3dfins's picture
3dfins's picture
3dfins commented Saturday, 2 Feb 2019 at 10:37am

A true artist

3DFINS

taz-from-tassie's picture
taz-from-tassie's picture
taz-from-tassie commented Sunday, 3 Feb 2019 at 1:30pm

I brought a set of DVS quad fins a few years ago, they are the best fins, there a permanent fixture in a mini Simmons

spuddyjack's picture
spuddyjack's picture
spuddyjack commented Monday, 4 Feb 2019 at 8:47am

Excellent stuff Stu - what a no bullshit character DVS is. Looking forward to the full transcript.

Stay salty

PeteWebb's picture
PeteWebb's picture
PeteWebb commented Monday, 4 Feb 2019 at 9:15pm

Just got back from a drive from the Sunny hoax to the GC where I swapped a cool chap a Firewire TT evo for a never ridden 6'9" blood red rocket fish complete with DVS keels. Features the concave deck as discussed above. Had more than a few DVS boards with the concave deck and like the feel. Frothing for an offshore day now. And yes...I'm not that young and have a bad back so the 6'9" will do just nicely.

bryonsurfer's picture
bryonsurfer's picture
bryonsurfer commented Tuesday, 5 Feb 2019 at 2:49pm

Nice work Stu, seemed like that interview could have been prickly to begin with but you talked him round and got some interesting points out of him. Like the notion of a board surfing differently based on your head space.

Jockhobbs's picture
Jockhobbs's picture
Jockhobbs commented Thursday, 7 Feb 2019 at 7:55pm

Had a bad time a few years back. Got a board from Dick to cheer me up. Totally unexpected he wrote a very nice thing on the board. Of course the board rides like a dream. Great shaper, great guy.

Freeride 76, you might find the boards your mate had were his cut down All Rounder models named "Weiners"

saurusv1's picture
saurusv1's picture
saurusv1 commented Thursday, 7 Feb 2019 at 12:57pm

Reading some of the above I've had a flashback. I used to surf Burleigh a fair bit in the 70's and while DVS and his band of ultra cool disciples used to surf 7ft plus drawn out pintails, young Paul Neilsen would turn up with his 6ft 3in (or thereabouts) and rip the shit out of it, Just wondering does anyone know if Paul is still surfing or how he is going these days? I think he was on the CT back in the day, great surfer - one of my faves!

seanedwards's picture
seanedwards's picture
seanedwards commented Sunday, 10 Mar 2019 at 9:17pm

Love my 6'8 DVS concave deck split keel quad classic fish. Board goes so fast it nearly enters warp speed. Also very much enjoyed going to chat to him while getting it made. Enjoyed it so much I'm ordering another board.

Bring on the full interview! :)