Corey Graham // Corey Graham Shapes
When does the son step out of the father's shadow?
For some, never. Others do by dint of following a different path, as by not tracing their padre's trail the comparisons and comments never arise. Corey Graham, however, followed his father, legendary Torquay laminator Russ Graham, into the surf industry. But rather than merely continue the family business, Corey gave expression to his creative urges with a planer and Surform. He's now into his third decade of shaping.
These days, Corey Graham walks his own path. His shapes are the product of keen hand/eye dexterity and a wicked sense of adventure, and they present unlike anyone else's.
Recently Alex Mitcheson sat down with Corey to discuss design philosophy and other ideas that spring from his fertile mind.
Swellnet: When did you start surfing and how did you get into it?
Bit of a tough one, because I just don’t recall! Being born into it I don’t remember learning, but I do remember doing it from an early age. Growing up in Torquay we were down the beach all the time, every weekend, and every holiday — regardless of the conditions. Surfing was naturally a part of that.
Who or what inspired you to take up shaping?
Well, my dad was making surfboards before I was even born. He’d actually worked alongside Midget Farrelly and around Sydney back in those golden years. At some point, he decided to kit out an old bus and started travelling up and down the East Coast making surfboards as he went. Eventually winding up in Torquay at around the time Rip Curl started up, he met my mother and settled down.
I grew up in the shaping factory and truth be told, I don’t know any other way. I was always hanging around and began sweeping the floors and doing chores. I remember there being a shaper working alongside my dad called Mike Croteau who was visiting from the States. He was a huge guy and the planer just looked like a toy in his hands and there was dust flying all over the place; to me, at the time it just looked like so much fun.
I hassled dad enough until eventually at thirteen he gave the chance to shape my first board and I just haven’t stopped.
Do you have a shaping philosophy or a mantra?
Hmmmmm, I’ve probably had about a thousand mantras over the years, and I just chop and change them as I wander along through this whole thing. Surfing is fun, shaping boards is fun — it’s the main thing! You can easily lose track of this though when you find yourself snowed under with work and it's going crazy.
I do consider myself very lucky to be doing this brilliant beautiful thing, spending my life making these boards for people.
With obvious reference to surfboard design: what’s your stance on life imitating art vs art imitating life? Do we influence board design, or does board design influence us?
Ha ha, I think it depends on what day you ask me! I think it’s an ever-evolving beast. I think it’s more about where you are at and what you are doing at the time.
With my boards it’s either the customers dictating what they want or sometimes it’s more about me shaping what I feel. It fluctuates all the time. I don’t even know what I ride mostly these days, I’ll ride anything from 5’8” right up to 9’8” with a variety of configurations in all different conditions.
Tell us about the board which you have surfed and enjoyed the most?
It would have to be the boards in general which I shape for myself. The ones which end up surprising me the most, the ones I’ve made and have a suspicion of how they are going to go and then they go entirely different. And this works both ways, some boards end up being a shocker, but I genuinely love those experiences and obviously learn from them as well.
As surfboard design and technology goes on do you think there is much more we can do before we have literally done everything possible?
Yeah absolutely. Being so focussed on the one thing of high-performance shortboards is merely a tiny window on what wave riding is. I think we’ve only scratched the surface of what’s possible. Beyond high-performance shortboards, you have an open range to create and innovate with regard to fin shape, bottom contour, length, width etc. You can do whatever you want, it’s a complete free for all.
Some people might look at your collection of work and think your shapes are a bit too left of centre — what’re your thoughts on that?
I understand why people would think that and I’m totally cool with it. I feel pretty loose with what I do, and I certainly don’t feel like I have to conform. I know there are a bunch of shapers out there that do want to conform and make the best possible performance boards - don’t get me wrong I like doing that too - but I do think there is more.
For me, an idea should never be left rattling around in your head if you have the ability to make it come to fruition. If you’re confident you can do something you have envisioned, then you have an obligation to give it a go and not just sit on it.
How has the Torquay area contributed to your shaping approach?
It has pretty much influenced every part of what I do. I’ve travelled a bit and watched other people surf and they were certainly influences, but those formative years of mine growing up around Torquay and the waves we have down this way has and always will be integral to what I do. We have everything from the fattest beach breaks to the most high-performance waves on the entire planet — I feel really fortunate enough to have grown up amongst that.
Over the years I’ve taken my experiences in the water down here as little mementoes, and yeah, they certainly go into the boards I create.
In your experience as a shaper, what avenues should a surfer explore if they find themselves forever chasing the perfect board?
You are never going to find that perfect board. No board is going to ever make you surf the way you want to surf. I mean if we take a look at Kelly Slater, he is never content with his boards and he is literally the world’s best!
You are never going to be content and this is the real beauty of surfing.
You should aim to never be content. Embrace it, that’s surfing: it is limitless and it is endless.
// ALEX MITCHESON
Visit Corey's website
(Homepage photo of Corey by Jon Frank)