Will Webber on shaping for the CT
The ratings arc of your standard QS warrior usually ascends incrementally as, year upon year, they get a better seeding into the bigger contests. After a few years of campaigning, and given some talent and hard work, they might find themselves within striking distance of the Championship Tour.
This year, Australia has two new CT surfers: Jack Robinson and Morgan Cibilic.
Consider that it took Jack five goes at climbing the ladder. Morgan, on the hand, rushed the stage.
2018 was his first full shot at the QS, and he finished 111th. While last year he jumped 100 places and finished 11th, qualifying for the CT when Yago Dora double-qualified after making the Quarters at Pipe.
For much of his surfing life, Morgan has been riding boards by meat-loving wildman Will Webber, the two of them forming a partnership based on loyalty and results.
Six weeks out from Morgan's CT debut, and two days after his 50th party - loose from all reports - Swellnet spoke to Will about his young charge and the boards he's making for him.
Swellnet: How long have you been shaping boards for Morgan?
Will Webber: The first one was in 2011. I think that'd make him 12 years old.
I remember walking along back beach with my girlfriend and I saw him ride this wave, and I waited for his dad to come in and I said, "Man, your son just navigated that wave really well."
I remember that because it was an unusual word - navigated - but you know, he wasn't jumping up and down like other kids. He was a kid who knew where the power is.
You saw potential?
Yep. I could see he had that really rare thing, you know. After all these years it's like, "When's another Horan or Occy turning up?" And I saw him at that age and I went, "There's potential here."
Yours is not quite a John Pyzel/John John relationship but it still stretches right back.
Well he had a break when he went down to Newcastle and worked for a surf shop. They took him off my boards for maybe two or three years, but then I saw him a bit later and he said, "Can I get another one of your boards?"
That board went better than what he was riding so that was a good heads up for me.
In what way?
I shape for all kinds of surfers, but he was a grommet that was riding what I'd call a cutting edge shaper....a Top 10 shaper, so it was a good little bit of information for me. It gave me confidence.
I figured I've got the right things happening in my boards.
How have the boards changed over the years?
We started at 4'9" and now we're up to 5'9"...
Ha ha...OK, well let's talk about last year. He caught fire midway through the season, what happened there?
Well, it's funny, he generally has a poor start to the year. I thought he could qualify, but as the arc of the last six months became clear, I was like, "All right, things are picking up very quickly.
Were there any changes to his boards? What caused the sudden improvement?
Someone recently asked me that and...fuck, unfortunately this is going to have to be off the record.
[For five minutes I had to take my journos hat off. God I wish I could share this part of the conversation with you, dear readers, but Will's an upright fella and I gave him my word.]
OK, you've watched plenty of his heats, what sort of a competitor is Morgan?
Morgan makes the odd mistake but, unlike a lot of kids, he learns from them. More importantly, he got into the QS 10,000 in South Africa [10,000s are usually reserved for surfers in the Top 100] and he got through two heats. It's like he tasted blood and went, "Hang on, I can beat these guys." I think it changed his whole psyche.
What about heat strategy?
Yeah. It's not like he's got a defensive programme.
I'd say there was a bit of an Occy thing happening, I'd give him the odd bit of advice and then he just says something and I'd go, "Well...fuck...I think I'll just leave it up to you."
And he'd win?
OK, you must have been riding him through Hawaii when it was all on the line, did he take any of your boards over the North Shore?
Yeah, but before that he was in Europe, he was actually going to be in the Rip Curl Peniche comp as a wildcard but a day or two before it he blew his knee out.
While there he was actually offered boards by a Hawaiian shaper, and he said, "Thanks heaps, but I'll stick with Will."
And it was good, so I just went with it. I went, "I'm confident, I can do this."
Some guys would have gone, "Fuck, well I've got this far but I don't want to let him down in Hawaii." Go out and get Tokoro's or whoever.
So it was unreal that he was on my boards. Man, he even rode a board from the season before - a 6'0" that he rode at eight foot Haleiwa. And then I did him a 6'6" and a 6'8", and he rode the 6'6" at Sunset.
He doesn't sound too finicky with his boards. Is he easy to please?
Yeah, this is kind of another point that draws back to Occy. Rod [Dahlberg] said it's just like working with Occy. Some surfers give amazing feedback, they really get into the nitty gritty and you work hard making these small changes, but Morgan's boards just bloody go - or he makes 'em go. Only recently have we got into some changes off the main theme.
The one we worked on last year is like a bump, squash tail board, which I think of as a pretty Californian design - like, Merrick and Mayhem's. The Live Wire he's got work well when it's three foot and upwards, but he wanted something with a bit more release off the top when it's smaller. So we did the first one and I kind of didn't get it looking like the American style. I looked at it and went, "Fuck, it actually looks like one of Greg's."
And I went, "Well, that's good." I'd rather be following that bloke than someone else.
He rode it in small conditions and he wasn't knocked out by it, but then it ended up being his favourite board! We did another one the other day, and we're at the point and he wasn't into it. "No problem," I said, "We'll just sell it, no fuss. We're experimenting."
And then he goes out and gets these two waves and just fucking destroys them.
So, I just went, "You know what, we might give the boards a bit more of a chance each time."
So, that's what you're going to shape for him for this season? Versions of that board?
Yeah, that and also two new ones I've done that are a more extreme version of it.
When you say more extreme, what do you mean?
Yeah, just pushing the tail rocker and tail concave depth. Also making it a single instead of a double.
Morgan surfs very long on the rail, he doesn't double pump the bottom turns and he often connects top to bottom turns without breaking the line. Radical convaces can get flighty, are you worried about messing around with that part of his style?
Well, that's why we're doing it right now. I thought, "Let's go out on a limb. Let's go 12 months into the future, and we'll work back." It's a process. I've pushed it a little more extreme so that we can eliminate this if it doesn't work.
Are you nervous? Sending someone out on tour riding your boards?
Well, we got ourselves into this mess, so...
The things is, I never aimed to have a CT surfer. I never even wanted to have a team surfer!
I just like surfing, shaping, and making people's boards, you know, but this just...developed.
It's wonderful the way its developed: same home town, a history that goes way back, separated, now reunited - it's a full love story.
So that's why he didn't come to my 50th.
For his own good by the sounds of it. OK, now are you going to go up to the Gold Coast?
It'll be great seeing how he goes on the tour.
Fuck. When you look at the guys that are on it, like the top 10 of the QS and I just go, "Uninterested, uninterested, uninterested, Jack interested, Ethan interested, Morgan interested."
Yep, a lot of people are keen to see him step up.