Corey Graham // Corey Graham Shapes

Alex Mitcheson
Talking Heads

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.

Feet and boards

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.

Boards and feet

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)

Comments

Blowin's picture
Blowin's picture
Blowin Wednesday, 13 Jan 2021 at 2:16pm

Always interesting hearing the stories of other surfers .

Any chance that in future interviews we could be informed whether the shaper predominantly hand shapes or uses a machine ? Cheers.

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet Wednesday, 13 Jan 2021 at 2:18pm

Corey's a hand shaper. From a past article on Swellnet:

"An exception is Torquay's Corey Graham, notable because he rejects the model system. If walking into a surfboard factory is akin to walking into a record shop then Corey Graham's is the jazz section. Freeform jazz, played in the 50s tradition without regular beat or structure.

“Everything I do is hand shaped,” says Corey, “but I very loosely shape upon models. To me models are a premise, a thought, or an idea.” All Corey's customer know this, and it seems they love him for it. He's a shaper who's carved out a special niche as a shaping virtuoso, though the freewheeling jazz analogy only goes so far. Corey is also a strict bookkeeper.

“I keep a record of everything I do, everything that people have ordered,” says Corey. “I can recreate a board with all the variations a customer wants.” Like Chris Garrett, Corey “mass produces his surfboards one at a time” but he still relies upon a system to give order to the process.

However, Corey's resistance to models has put him at odds with the retail system. “Yeah, it's been hard,” says Corey. “There's just that expectation that boards are sold by the model now. Some people don't know how to approach my boards because I don't work that way.”

He's not being purposefully obdurate as much as he's being true to his beliefs. “When a board model gets made it's like putting a full stop at the end of its life, and I don't want that. I don't want the story to end. You've gotta leave room for evolution, growth, for further versions of that board.” In other words, that sax solo can always be improved.

Blowin's picture
Blowin's picture
Blowin Wednesday, 13 Jan 2021 at 2:46pm

Thanks.

Whilst I understand the opportunities, advantages and commercial imperatives behind the machine shapes , the hand shaper still occupies an elevated status in my mind over that of the machine jockey.

Artisanal skill set is something to behold.

bipola's picture
bipola's picture
bipola Wednesday, 13 Jan 2021 at 3:54pm

wave pools and machine shaping go hand in hand with the future of where surfing is headed. computerized shapes of waves and boards.

PW's picture
PW's picture
PW Wednesday, 13 Jan 2021 at 4:30pm

Have 2 custom boards off Corey in the last 3 years which I think Russell glassed plus one Russell glassed for me over 25 years ago. Still have all 3 boards and they are objects of artistry and craftsmanship. As a shaper Corey is a gem who through conversation and skill creates boards that do all that you want plus more. May hand shapers like Corey live on and buck the machine shaping trend.

Gra Murdoch's picture
Gra Murdoch's picture
Gra Murdoch Wednesday, 13 Jan 2021 at 4:36pm

Reckon Corey's colors and graphics absolutely rule too.

udo's picture
udo's picture
udo Thursday, 14 Jan 2021 at 10:07am

The Lightning Bolt...wont someone mention the Bolt...
is it a Bolt ?

Gra Murdoch's picture
Gra Murdoch's picture
Gra Murdoch Thursday, 14 Jan 2021 at 10:08am

love the interpretation of the bolt! Done in a lovely way that's kinda not derivative IMO

juegasiempre's picture
juegasiempre's picture
juegasiempre Thursday, 14 Jan 2021 at 9:10am

I'm going against the consensus here, but why are handshaped boards better than a machine shaped board? With cars, they have only gone from strength to strength as they have eliminated more of the 'human'. Go drive an aircooled Volkswagen if you forget how a car was pre-computer, or ask an honest owner about their reliability or performance. I absolutely do understand the nostalgia and wanting to support local. But machine shaped is better than hand shaped due to accuracy and repeatability.

I'm a kook, so no need to listen to me. But I was watching the below video the other day and even Rusty says he held out but once he saw the difference with his boards vs CI et al, he had to get on board(don't know the timestamp, but the whole thing is worth a watch IMO).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zEnOHnhaCxc

Blowin's picture
Blowin's picture
Blowin Thursday, 14 Jan 2021 at 11:44am

Personally I don’t think that a hand shaped board is inherently superior performance wise than a machine shape , just that a board crafted by hand and the shaper responsible is a truer expression of craftsmanship.

Any gronk could digitally alter an existing design - and every board is a derivative of the basic concept - but to sculpt a board from scratch is to create anew every time.

Garryh's picture
Garryh's picture
Garryh Friday, 15 Jan 2021 at 2:39pm

Blowin perhaps it also takes great skill to be able to shape using software. Software perhaps could be seen as any other tool...something that allows the shaper to craft their boards in the way they visualise in their minds. Some shapers use a template or set of templates to get their bottom curves and outlines just right...others use software. The cutting machine is just a faster way of mowing away excess foam. Both processes require skills acquired from experience...they are just different experiences perhaps. (Hey it's just an opinion to get the thinking juices flowing....not a criticism). Some people just want a great surfboard that works at a lower price and don't care how it was made, others might geek out at having something that was made by hand and is possibly more unique. Still others might want to have their own personal library of shapes.....to be able to talk to a shaper about a change they'd like and then to see that change in 3D before getting it cut (fairly reliably) so they know that their desired tweeks are being delivered. Horses for courses

Blowin's picture
Blowin's picture
Blowin Friday, 15 Jan 2021 at 4:34pm

Yeah Garry, I agree that there’s no performance advantage intrinsic to either hand vs machine shaping but speaking as a carpenter I can guarantee there’s a massive gulf in the skills required for the two.

Any mug punter could be shown how to knock out a timber joint using a cabinet maker’s machinery but the same joint takes many hours to perfect by hand.

Garryh's picture
Garryh's picture
Garryh Saturday, 16 Jan 2021 at 12:43pm

if it's ok....may I comment back. A timber joint has a fairly simple range of specifications and loads to deal with. A surfboard is way more complex with a wide range of curves all coming together in a way that allows us to deal with different types of turns and movements of water. A surfer might benefit from keeping 90% of those curves constant and just tweaking 10% in a particular way to get a particular result for a particular type of wave. A shaper who is very skilled at interpreting just what needs to change...translating those changes into software models and then printing out and finishing the resulting wonder of plastic might just possibly get close to being exactly what the surfer needs in a way that the so called skilled hand shaper might never be able to achieve with similar levels of accuracy. I suspect that a mug punter will not be able to get the same result. Both hand shaper and computer shaper needs to exercise a lot of skill and build upon knowledge gained by experience and tinkering. To call the skilled computer shaper a mug is perhaps unfair or unreasonable. Sorry for holding a different point of view....I'd personally like for my hand shaped boards to be put on my wall to admire without surfing and to put the computer shaped boards beneath my feet for surfing.

Blowin's picture
Blowin's picture
Blowin Saturday, 16 Jan 2021 at 1:18pm

Mate , you don’t have to apologise for your point of view. That’s why I come on these forums- to hear differing perspectives .

Agree that hand shape almost definitely can’t replicate a board with the accuracy a machine could do so . But the logic that a machine designer has the skill of a hand shaper is flawed when you consider that a hand shaper designs as well. An analogy would be that machine shapers are architects whilst hand shapers are both architect and builder.

BTW I’m not saying that board designers are muppets . No doubt there’s a world of difference between someone randomly punching designs into a program and someone who knows which design features to utilise in order to achieve a set outcome .

That could be why big name shapers can command a grand for a board and I’m lucky to get a polite laugh off a mate when I’ve described boards I’ve shaped .

BBrowny's picture
BBrowny's picture
BBrowny Thursday, 14 Jan 2021 at 10:40am

^^ I've had a few of Corey's boards over the years and on more than one occasion I've asked him to "do the same board but with such and such adjustment". Sure, it could be done easily with software but Corey did the changes by hand and the replication + tweak worked each time.

I suspect that Corey is of the belief that average/intermediate surfers get too bogged down in eigths of an inch and chances are they'd never perceive the difference in micro dimensions anyway - so why not hand shape? Not like he's running a surfboard sausage factory.

Corey's worked hard to carve out a place where he can spend his days being creative, while servicing a niche market that appreciates his skill and aesthetic. More power to him, to anyone, who bucks the prevailing trends.

freeride76's picture
freeride76's picture
freeride76 Thursday, 14 Jan 2021 at 11:53am

I like that pink twin/fish

Pops's picture
Pops's picture
Pops Thursday, 14 Jan 2021 at 12:28pm

Yeah. nice planshape, and those wide channel thingos have got my mind going.

Blowin's picture
Blowin's picture
Blowin Thursday, 14 Jan 2021 at 2:16pm

Yep. I’m in the hunt for that exact style of board right now.

Actually....like the black one.

dangerouskook2000's picture
dangerouskook2000's picture
dangerouskook2000 Thursday, 14 Jan 2021 at 8:12pm

Yeh I like the black one too. And I think Ive said this before but there is an art to creating a surfboard on the computer......

datthanh.ee's picture
datthanh.ee's picture
datthanh.ee Friday, 15 Jan 2021 at 7:23am

If I had the choice I’d rather not ride my CG’s boards but hang them on a wall and admire his craftsmanship while recounting the conversations we’ve had which brought these boards to fruition. From the shape dimensions to the fin placement, from the glassing to even the decal designs. But these have to be ridden where I gain an even greater appreciation of his work. Okay, I’m a fan.

udo's picture
udo's picture
udo Friday, 15 Jan 2021 at 3:58pm

Blowin what dimensions would you be looking at ?

Blowin's picture
Blowin's picture
Blowin Friday, 15 Jan 2021 at 4:41pm

Hmmm. Not too sure Udo. I like a bit of length ....maybe 6’0 ? But I’m open to experimentation. That one is probably 5’6 or something you reckon ?

I’d need the option of a third fin too. I know this might seem distasteful to some.

Why mate ? You got your eyes on something ?

udo's picture
udo's picture
udo Friday, 15 Jan 2021 at 5:15pm

Saw a Jim Banks Magic Carpet 6'2 - 6x6x6 Rhino laminating built- nice but
Expensive @$800 with out fins

Blowin's picture
Blowin's picture
Blowin Friday, 15 Jan 2021 at 5:46pm

Yeah nah. Thanks anyway mate.

Kee those eyes peeled and keep the suggestions coming if you can please

tiger's picture
tiger's picture
tiger Saturday, 16 Jan 2021 at 1:33pm

What are you after Blowin, a groveller type twinny, or an all-rounder twinny? Love the outlines on the twins above, fin position looks to me to be of the small wave style of twin.

Blowin's picture
Blowin's picture
Blowin Saturday, 16 Jan 2021 at 2:24pm

I’m not particularly in the hunt for a twinny which is why I mentioned the third fin option. Looking for something to fill the niche for gutless 2-4 feet days around here.

The 7S super fish is officially retired and it’s left a void in the quiver. As per standard surfer thinking I’d like a board that retains all the positives of the super fish ( down the line speed , paddling power ) but with many extra benefits included such as the ability to cut an arc in a steeper section.

Basically after the magic unicorn.

Sas's picture
Sas's picture
Sas Tuesday, 19 Jan 2021 at 4:57pm

Got a space hawk from Joel Fitzgerald that I really like.

morg's picture
morg's picture
morg Friday, 15 Jan 2021 at 4:54pm

Hi Corey your various channel configurations are interesting. Can you please share with us what they do on your boards and how they feel to ride relative to no channels and or each other?