Alex Crews // Shapes Or Die

Alex Mitcheson
Talking Heads

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...

Channels Depth
Asymmetrical Out of shape
Litreage Milk?
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

Visit ACSOD on the web

Comments

Solitude's picture
Solitude's picture
Solitude commented Tuesday, 24 Nov 2020 at 9:51am

Really like it Stu. Love hear from more. Well done and thank you.

@ Alex C: I quite like the notion that those 'fun' boards can be surfed all the time not just in summer dribble - when is surfing not fun?

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet commented Tuesday, 24 Nov 2020 at 9:18am

Ah, actually it was Alex Mitcheson who sat down with Alex Crews, and who will be running this column.

I don't know how you read my name as author. I mean, it's not like I realised my mistake and hurriedly went into the back end and switched 'Stu Nettle' to 'Alex Mitcheson' or anything like that.

Solitude's picture
Solitude's picture
Solitude commented Tuesday, 24 Nov 2020 at 9:50am

Whoops my apology, simple freudian slip (but cheers for the rebuking Stu, fairly innocent mistake) - Well done to Alex M. thanks mate. Really enjoyed it.

tiger's picture
tiger's picture
tiger commented Tuesday, 24 Nov 2020 at 12:04pm

Good to see you guys exploring this stuff, and dedicating more articles to it. Always some quality nuggets of information to be found from the minds of shapers!

dez's picture
dez's picture
dez commented Tuesday, 24 Nov 2020 at 12:22pm

What a great concept. Looking forward to reading more of this series.

zenagain's picture
zenagain's picture
zenagain commented Tuesday, 24 Nov 2020 at 12:45pm

Me too, love these sorts of articles. I like to read these behind the scenes, through the looking glass type of interviews.

I shaped a board for myself when I was about 17. Did it in a tent in the backyard, no power tools. It actually worked. Well, I made it work even though it was a pig. Hard bit was the sanding, all done by hand and pretty rough. Don't think I'd ever do it again.

Hats of the shapers and probably even more so to the glassers.

1173

Blowin's picture
Blowin's picture
Blowin commented Tuesday, 24 Nov 2020 at 2:09pm

I concur.

More please.

Major kong's picture
Major kong's picture
Major kong commented Tuesday, 24 Nov 2020 at 7:41pm

when i was holidaying in Qld last year , i picked up a creased , repaired , well loved and beaten up 6'0" ghost ACSOD blade from a bloke on gumtree.. surfed it every morning at d'bah... since then i've added it to my regular ride when conditions are right, since then i've surfed it back home a heap on down south , the mid coast, yorkes and eyre penninsula..
i reckon it's a well shaped board. you can always tell a well thought out board when you ride it. cheers AC. sorry i didn't buy a board off you but i'm advertising your board here in SA everytime i ride it.

Major kong

Surfalot67's picture
Surfalot67's picture
Surfalot67 commented Wednesday, 25 Nov 2020 at 11:14am

Brilliant! I have ACSOD'S from 6'0" to 9"1" and honestly they are the best boards I've had in my 40 years of mediocre surfing. The 6'0" Two Fangs twinnie gets surfed more than anything, from 0 - 5' it's super fun. No wonder Mick is on one in Postcards from Morgs...Thanks Alex, keep up the awesome work, and shout out to the legends at The Glass Lab Tweed for the quality work too.

gill69's picture
gill69's picture
gill69 commented Wednesday, 25 Nov 2020 at 4:09pm

As a self confessed surfboard nerd, and backyard shaper of 35 years, I freaken love this stuff. Can you also interview the others that matter in the industry, the laminators, the sanders, the hot coat & pin line guys, etc. These are the people that can make an average shape excellent, and a great shape awesome.

dangerouskook2000's picture
dangerouskook2000's picture
dangerouskook2000 commented Wednesday, 25 Nov 2020 at 8:47pm

leg rope wax and fins pretty essential too after the board, I'd like to add. Oh and a wettie. Mmmmm nude surfing. Nup

spencie's picture
spencie's picture
spencie commented Saturday, 28 Nov 2020 at 9:29am

Interesting read. I agree about not discounting a board after the first surf. Some of the best boards I have had in my nearly 60 years of surfing have been ones where I was ready to get rid of them after the first disappointing session.

easterly

Hellmanrider's picture
Hellmanrider's picture
Hellmanrider commented Saturday, 28 Nov 2020 at 10:39am

Can you put wiz sticks down on the list. He’s still pumping out some incredible boards and designs.

batfink's picture
batfink's picture
batfink commented Sunday, 29 Nov 2020 at 7:18am

My current favourite board, a Luke Short Designs ( LSD) Chubby Cheddar just confounded me the first half dozen surfs. Eventually it just clicked. Can't explain it, don't know why or how. Has beautiful balance to it.

Hasn't happened to me before, but he's dead right about giving a new board a few tries before deciding whether its a magic board or not.

morg's picture
morg's picture
morg commented Sunday, 29 Nov 2020 at 2:13pm

Interesting article and I’m looking forward to reading about more shapers etc.

The mystery of a new board thing is sometimes so true and I always keep the old ones for awhile just in case. I can usually tell within three waves or so if it’s a keeper, but not always. I’ve definitely got it wrong (at least) twice in recent times. Summer before last I wasted on a Machado Go Fish. Never had a great session on it. I’d occasionally get good rides but never a good session. I persevered because sometimes different boards have to be surfed differently and that takes time. Turns out it was just a teaser. One session I swapped boards with a guy and had so much fun on his 15 y.o. board that I knew it had to go. The guy I sold it too loves it, but not me. And a new board I got last year felt ok but after a few sessions we didn’t quite click. Then I rode it again a couple months ago and it was like wow, how good is this. Now I can’t believe I shelved it. Don’t know if was my expectations, the waves or just impatience.

morg's picture
morg's picture
morg commented Sunday, 29 Nov 2020 at 2:15pm

.