Zak Ogram // Z Shapes
Having shaped boards in his native Western Australia, and also up and down the East Coast, Zak Ogram has a deep appreciation for how surfboards should match their environment.
Now settled back in the powerful south-west, Zak is often shaping boards that handle speed not generate it. Yet given his age and pedigree - dad Mark is a longtime shaper - Zak is also starting to branch out, dip his fingers in other parts of the board-design pie, and his shaping is better for the diversity.
Recently, Zak chatted design with Alex Mitcheson.
Swellnet: How and when did you get into surfing?
Zak Ogram: It was super early, in fact. There’s a photo somewhere of a three-year-old me on a foamy getting pushed into some ripples at Yals lagoon.
Dad’s a shaper [Mark Ogram - Yahoo Surfboards] and along with my older brother, who was into it from the get-go, it was inevitable I’d follow them. Those few years before I started school, we were down the beach so much!
What series of events led you to shape your first board?
As a kid, I never really considered I’d get into it. Dad was fully into shaping, so back then I was all about the actual surfing. It was around the age of 13 I started doing a few competitions, state rounds etcetera and really began enjoying that side of it.
A few years later and I found my way onto the pro junior series and needed a flexible job where I could earn a few bucks but be able to drop everything and go compete for weeks on end. So, I started doing simple stuff in my dad’s factory: ding repairs, sweeping the floors, and the likes.
Shortly after my competing came to an end, I came to the realisation I was either going to double down and give the QS a good go or look at something else. I reluctantly opted for the latter and put my hand to shaping some boards. A couple of those first ones went good and a couple of them went like absolute shit as well (laughs). I’d been glassing and sanding other boards for a couple of years by this point, so I had a good overall appreciation for shaping as a whole.
When somebody approaches you about a custom board, what are the most misguided ideas or unnecessary desires people have?
I think it’s the classic scenario where somebody has seen a pro like John John or Kelly in some heat, on some board and then two weeks later they are like, “oh my god, did you see that!?”
I do think though most of my customers are already thinking down the right lines, as in they think to themselves, 'I surf like this and I want a board for these kinds of waves'.
Those kinds of misguided wants you speak of I feel have gotten less though. If they do occur it’ll often stem over some beers when somebody is losing their head over something they’ve seen online. 'Have you tried this, or that, or this!?'
They’re watching guys who absolutely rip and the waves are completely different to what we get in WA.
Word association time. When I say a word you say..?
Step ups: Scary
Quad fin setup: Sometimes
Overhead barrels: Yes and no
Cold water slabs: Not for me
Sharks: I don’t think about 'em...
Do you think people can get caught up in dimensions a bit too much sometimes?
A few years ago maybe, yes. But I think when we had that volume revolution about a decade ago people are more clued up, they’ve figured out what works for them and what they do and don’t like.
In my experience, I find my customers are getting more and more educated about board design year after year. They can hone in on a specific model and know what litreage works for them. Meaning they simply pick whatever dimensions this sits at for them.
Western Australia is renowned for its powerful and rugged surf: how has this influenced your approach, and do boards for bigger waves require more contemplation?
Oh definitely. I lived on the Gold Coast for a year, then down in Sydney for a couple of years, back to WA ,then back to Sydney for a couple of years. You might say I have a deeper understanding and appreciation for how the west and east compare to one another.
I feel like the shapes that I make for WA — and I fear this is going to sound boring — are a bit simpler. Over here we have multiple elements going on, wind, chop etcetera. Meaning that even on a smaller day we still have a lot of power coming from the wave itself. In board design, this means I’m not looking to get as much out of the board — if this makes sense?
More than often you have enough speed, so it’s more a case of trying to handle it. I found when I was in Sydney they're more focussed on trying to incorporate all of the exciting stuff and technology; geared towards making the boards go well in sometimes average waves.
I found because of the speed-carrying factor in our WA waves, if I did try and over complicate a board it would just wig out in funny spots.
With regard to boards for bigger waves, its actually the opposite. I try to keep my boards clean and as simple as I can. A couple of my tow-boards I’ve made for the guys down at The Right I actually crap myself when I’m making them…
Why is that?
If somebody takes a new shortboard down to a three foot beachie and comes back and says it went alright, but it was catching a little bit here and there, that’s one thing. However, when I watch Jake Osman, who I shape for, going on huge ones at The Right and the board’s almost catching here and there, it’s a completely different scenario. I don’t want to be responsible for someone dying because I didn’t tuck a rail enough or something like that!
There’s no real room for creative experimenting in this area. It’s imperative I get everything right the first time.
A grom snakes you on the wave of the afternoon — what do you do?
(Long pause) I feel like I don’t do much. Probably because I also feel like I’ve always had my fair share of waves!
If somebody snakes me then I reckon I probably deserve it.
What’s your opinion on shaper/surfer relationships and do you have an open-door policy yourself?
I do. Guys can, and often do, come down to where I work out of and have a yarn about what they are looking for and if they want to book in a custom. Overall, I think they are super important for feedback. Add into the mix the fact I have two young kids and perhaps don’t surf as much as I used to. I’m relying on a good two-way flow of communication with those people who are riding my equipment.
Jake Osman and Matt Wiseman are my main two team riders who ride very similar size boards to myself. We’ve been able to go out as a party of three taking all slightly different boards and in a session swap them around and nut out what the boards are and aren’t doing.
In general, these days I’m relying on what people are telling me as opposed to what I am experiencing myself. This is particularly true with grom-size boards; I need to pay close attention to what these youngsters are telling me because I have no way of riding it for myself.
What’s your blueprint for shaping boards that you know are destined for use in hollow overhead waves?
Not having any transitional or catch points on the board as a whole. My rockers are all pretty continuous — and the same can be said for the rails and tucked edges. I’m trying to ensure there are no extreme transitions.
I have a few different bottoms I use, but without going into too much detail they all have no real radical changes throughout.
And the final point is having good quality wood for my stringers — I don’t like to cut corners on materials.
In your own words, how do you think west coast shapers differ from their east coast counterparts?
Hmmm....I feel like on the west coast, shapers like to keep to themselves a bit more and have their own little things going on. From my time over east, I found shapers over there were generally a bit more hustle and business focussed. Over this way, we’re more into just making the things and not even caught up on making any decent money from it (laughs)
Do you think the demand is a lot less in W.A?
There’s certainly a lot less demand over this way. In saying that though I feel like people still buy a lot of boards in Western Australia. I seem to sell a heap of boards in Perth and it’s something I’ve never been able to figure out!
You make a variety of shapes but what would you say is your defining tenor of Zak Ogram shapes?
I feel like I may be in a bit of a transition with that one. I’ve always been geared towards the high-performance side of things but in the last few years I‘ve been riding a variety of stuff, and then there’s my dad doing some pretty unique stuff, so I’ve quietly been starting to shift my focus.
Overall though I don’t think I can be pigeon-holed, and whether I should be or not I’m not sure! I can get just as excited making a custom for a 13-year-old girl getting her first fibreglass surfboard as I would be shaping a full-on tow board — that for me is fun too.
Can people find the perfect board for themselves — or is it a lost cause?
I think you can find the perfect board for some waves. Meaning finding the perfect board for all types of waves is simply not going to happen.
I’ve had boards over the years — not just my own — that when its in certain conditions I know it's just perfect and I couldn’t find anything else remotely close, and I hang onto it.
The other part of this question I think alludes to whether you should chase that or not. I think you should let those kinds of things come into your life when they want — and leave when they want to.
In surfboard making, there are just so many variables out of your control it's not even funny. If you get a magic board, I say don’t try and get it copied but just enjoy it whilst you have it...then cry when it's over.
// ALEX MITCHESON