Alex Crews // Shapes Or Die
Welcome to the first in a series of interviews with shapers, created and curated by writer/journalist Alex Mitcheson.
At Swellnet, we believe shapers have an essential role in the surf industry. Perhaps theirs is the only essential role in the surf industry - apologies to all you rag traders, filmmakers, and, uh, journalists...
Yet despite their vital role, shapers have a reputation as being crotchety or gruff, a bit hard to approach, and we’d like to do our bit to break down those barriers. So every week or so, Alex will sit down with a shaper - of any age, from any coast - for a banter about the stuff that matters and the stuff that doesn’t.
First up, Alex Crews from ACSOD.
The Gold and Tweed Coasts are no outposts for surfboard manufacturing. To become successful in this region, a shaper has to persevere, they must hone their craft, and ultimately live and breathe their shapes and the very mantra behind them.
Still relatively young, Alex Crews has gained a decent fan base, both here and abroad. With a sliver of rock 'n roll attitude, yet backed by consistent hard work, Alex Crews Shapes Or Die is undoubtedly here for the long haul.
Swellnet: When did you start surfing and how did you get into it?
Alex Crews: I was probably around ten-years old. We grew up on the NSW South coast, in a town called Gerringong. It’s a small country town that seems to be fairly popular with the Sydneysiders these days but wasn’t so much back then. My brother Mitch was my inspiration, as he’s two years older I wanted to keep up with him and our crew of mates.
In the beginning, I actually hated it! My mates were all into it and eventually I came round and was obsessed with it.
In Aussie terms, you were a little late to the party, no?
I’d say so, yeah. Especially these days when you look at all these young surfers and they’re just doing crazy things. I think Mitch and I are both lucky as we have quite the natural talent for surfing — him perhaps a bit more than me [laughs].
What was under your feet on your last great wave?
It was one of mine. I was on a round tail White Ferrari out at Snapper on one of those lucky arvos where it’s not too crowded, maybe two-to-three feet and I just caught this runner and put some decent turns together — felt good.
OK, word association time. What’s the first word that comes to mind when I say...
Asymmetrical Out of shape
Custom boards Personal
Wave pools Fun
Fin less More fun
Nineties outlines Old school
Twin fins REALLY fun
Who or what inspired you to take up shaping?
Fully through my dad. He was always making boards as a hobby back when Mitch and I were growing up. He had a shaping bay out of the back of our place, and although that was there, I don’t want to give the illusion that I grew up fully into shaping from an early age. But through him and seeing him do that, then shaping wasn’t such an alien thing. It did have an effect — be it slowly — as my passion for surfing continued, I did get more interested.
So, Dad started showing me how to hand shape, glass, and sand a board, and everything else around it. My first board I put together about the age of 16, shortly after we moved up Currumbin on the Gold Coast. Ha, It wasn’t great — but it started from there and I kept refining it and getting better. It’s a very personal thing. It had me hooked from that first board as I saw the potential to only get better.
How is your brand ACSOD going during these unprecedented times that we’re in?
This year was certainly scary at the beginning, but it’s been one of my biggest years yet. Back in March when lockdowns started coming in there was a minute where I thought, 'This could be the end of my business. No more shaping'.
Right now, we’ve got our normal little Christmas time rush, but in truth it’s been that way probably for the last three months.
A hypothetical for you: You get drydocked during a rock jump. What do you sacrifice, fibreglass or flesh?
Probably going to sacrifice my board rather my body. At the end of the day this [gestures to body] is what makes my money, and the board, I can just make another one!
Do you have a shaping philosophy?
I wouldn’t say I have a philosophy per se, but for me, it’s always been about having fun and enjoyment with the equipment I’m making. Regardless of what the shape is, with ACSOD I want to inspire creativity and have people thinking outside the box. The usual, 'oh this is my summer twin fin funboard, it’s for grovelling.' It’s not, you can surf it in whatever you like!
I want to instil in my surfboards that pure and simple sense of enjoyment. Its why we surf, right?
If you could rebadge any board with your logo, whose would it be?
Hmm, for me it would have been amazing to have been Simon Anderson and to have been the main guy who invented the Thruster. Guys like me have so much to owe to him and all the other legends from that era. I think the introduction of the third fin and the amazing shapes that he’s still making to this day, I would love to have that attributed to my name.
What’s the most favourite board you’ve shaped?
There’s honestly so many. If I think recently though, it’s been working with my brother Mitch on a shape with him. We’ve just moved past a sort of brick wall lately where we were consistently hitting a seven out of ten for a performance shortboard. Now we’ve gone beyond this rut and are more in the eight or nine out of ten range — so for me that’s really sick.
We’ve butted heads a bit over boards and perhaps how I’ve interpreted his opinion in the past. It’s a personal achievement though; it has more meaning for me, not because he’s my brother, but because he’s such a high-level surfer. For him to turn around and give that feedback is great.
The most successful board you’ve shaped?
The Monster, closely followed by the Two Fangs. It’s enjoyable to know people are buying it for less than ideal conditions and having a ball with it. At the end of the day, foam is your friend and when this notion sinks in with people, they start to enjoy their surfing more I feel. Paddling, performing turns, all of it is so much easier, and it should be easy, not difficult.
What advice would you give to surfers to help them find the illustrious perfect board?
I think it’s a careful consideration of three things. You need to ask yourself:
What kind of surfing do you want to do?
What kind of waves are you going to be surfing the most?
And lastly, be honest with yourself and your ability. This also includes your weight which needs to be factored in.
Do these things and I believe you have a chance of putting yourself on a good stick. Does an illustrious board exist though? I think they do but it’s a lot to do with first impressions as well. If you pick up a board and go and have a blinding session on it then its that magic board for you. If you didn’t — for whatever reason — then you’re going to believe it isn’t. Surf it a second time and you might begin to click with it.
In my opinion, a magic board might not always impress you straight off the bat.
Interview by Alex Mitcheson
Photos by Andrew Shield