Mayhem: The Man Of The Moment
Unless you were stuck down a very deep hole for a couple of weeks during the Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast, you would have noticed that underneath the feet the West Oz winner was a …Lost Enterprises board. Whenever a big name surfer switches crafts it becomes big news, and so when Taj Burrow’s exclusive deal with Firewire came to an end the surf world couldn’t help but notice that he was riding a Mayhem shape in Snapper’s less-than-ideal surf.
Last year Mick Fanning also caused ripples in surfing’s space-time continuum when Matt “Mayhem” Biolos’ blog, which goes into extreme detail about the boards he makes for the big dogs.
Matt was just out on a flying trip to Australia, splitting his time between the Gold Coast and Sydney. And now that he’s got time to sit down at chat back home in SoCal we got in touch with the man of the moment:
So tell us about your visit down under?
I was only there for two weeks. The main purpose of the trip was supposed to be to show support for team rider Kolohe Andino in his first World Tour contest, but he had already lost and been eliminated before I got there. But the second reason I was down your way was to shape a bunch of custom boards for the Oz market – not so much for pros – but for whoever wanted to get a custom …Lost board.
I did exactly 100 boards and only about 14 of them were for pro-types. Chilli is in charge of …Lost surfboards in Oz and I work out of his factory. It’s great to get together with guys like him and swap ideas and amp each other up.
So how was it being at Snapper to see Taj win the Quiksilver Pro atop one of your boards?
Yeah, it was great. It’s so stressful though! After Taj just blasted everyone in Round 2, 3 and 4, it seemed like the three heats on the final day were such nail biters. It was the first time I was right there on the beach to see someone win a WT event on one of my boards since Shane Beschen in The Coke Classic at Manly in '98. Shane was right there with me for Taj’s win as well.
Taj Burrow talks about his win at the 2012 Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast.
So how long have you been working with Taj on boards? There’s a clip of him riding Mayhems at San Clemente from a couple of years ago, right?
I had made him boards off and on in the past – back when he rode for Webber and I worked with Webber a lot. This new run started in September 2010 before the Lowers event. Taj came over early and was hanging round with Kolohe, he tried one of his boards and ordered some up. We made a couple of batches back then, and with my relationship with Firewire we tried to do a Firewire version of my design. But I wasn't as good at translating the files as Nev is, and mine didn’t come out as good as the ones he was getting from Nev.
But last summer we did some for fun during the US Open and started getting them more dialled. And in September for Lowers we made a couple more batches. So it’s been a while. He called me before the Australian Open and said he was going to ride one at Manly and sent me the details on the three or four best ones and asked for a new batch. He said if I nailed it he'd surf them at Snapper.
Do you feel any “morning-after remorse” now that he’s been seen back on Firewires and Chilli’s post-Snapper?
Haha – not at all. He has won contests and had a lot of great results on the Firewire boards. He's got a relationship with Nev and I don't think he takes that lightly. I think it’s just the exclusivity that he wanted to break free from. Chilli is my man.
From checking out your blog you seem to get pretty pumped when big-name surfers ride your boards, and particularly when they do well on them?
It’s always good to get recognised for your work. I like working with Julian. He is very no bullshit, straight-forward and intense. He is not only a guy on the shortest list of “best surfers”, but he is also very professional in his dealings. When someone at that level rides your boards the majority of the time in his Rookie Of The Year run its very gratifying.
The thing with Mick on my boards at Trestles was just him having a little fun. He’s been riding Darren Handley's (DHD) exclusively for so long and last year wasn't up to par, so it was a good time to step out and play around – look at what the kids are riding and freshen up the act. I think he was surprised to see how the extra volume in Kolohe’s board he rode made things easy and playful again. He and Darren will take that open-mindedness and get back to business.
I am just fortunate that Kolohe is raising the eyebrows of the world’s best surfers, and so they’re curious about what he is riding and then want to see what it can do for them. Darren has been trying to get Mick on more volume for a while … it just took a certain 17 year old to spark the fuse.
So your boards have freshened up the surfing of Taj, Mick and Julian – are there any other surfers out there who you think could do with a trial on some Mayhems?
I really like to put a real effort into the people I am currently working with, and prefer to do them right. Kolohe is the main reason for the resurgence of my competitive shaping and he remains my primary focus. Taj called in January and asked if I would commit to his needs and whims, and if he could rely on me, and I said yes. Julian knows I am here to go the extra mile for him whenever he calls. At that level it’s hard to commit to much more than that.
It's not just Mayhem who goes the extra mile for Julian's boards – his mum does the custom artwork, all pink-themed to raise awareness for breast cancer during the Australian leg of the World Tour. Photo: Nike Surfing.
How does it normally work with pros: do you give them a bunch of off-the-shelf models to test, or do you make them specific trial boards, then shape their requested boards?
I dunno. Usually I meet guys and they might track down my email and order a board or two. Sometimes, like with Taj and Mick, they try someone else’s board (in this case they both tried Kolohe’s) and they like what they feel, so they ask to get some of their own. I have four kids to feed so unless they are a full-on signed team rider, with …Lost logos ablaze (Like Mason Ho or Chris Ward etc), I don’t “give them” much of anything.
So how does a board that I could buy from you differ from the one’s the pros surf?
The pro’s boards are lighter and more fragile than what you can buy in the store, but if you specify on your order “I want the same as Kolohe’s board with Team glassing” you will get pre
tty much the exact same board with the same effort put into it’s production.
That is the great thing about surfboards – you can get them custom-built to your exact specs, and signed with your name on it, in just about any surfing country in the world for well under $1,000. Try buying a car that a racing car driver drives … yeah right!
On your blog you give away more information, dimensions, specification and photos of your custom pro boards than I have seen anywhere else. You would think that many shapers might be worried someone else will copy them, but do you believe that it’s the actual craft of “shaping” that makes a successful board, not the basic numbers and specs?
Yeah, pretty much. Anyone can punch in the length, width and thickness … and even trace an outline, but the flow and combinations of curves is the mojo. There’s that old saying that still rings true: “the devil is in the detail”.
So then is there a bit of a “shapers’ brotherhood” with sharing of ideas, or is it all a bit more secretive? How was your reception from Aussie shapers when you were here?
I think the guys who are confident in their work feel comfortable talking openly with other guys they respect and know are real designers with a passion. Like-minded guys tend to be open with each other. Chilli and I show each other all our latest tricks every time we get together. Our business together is beneficial to both of us, so it’s more open than normal. DH and I talked a lot at Taj’s victory party. And I spent a lot of time with Lee Stacey on the Goldcoast – he and I are good friends.
So none of the Gold Coast shapers were openly annoyed that a bunch of the Aussies were riding your boards (and winning) at Burleigh and Snapper when there are so many big name local shapers here that they could have chosen?
No one who’s from the Gold Coast used my board in the event. Taj has ridden for Firewire for the last few years, and partially because of my relationship with Firewire he has ridden my boards enough over the last couple years to be confident in me and them.
It’s no different to Brett Simpson, who grew up in the same town I was born in, and rode my boards in his best performances last year before he switched to JS in the off season. Guys do what they feel is best for their career at certain times. We all do.
So then do you think that boards can be just as good in all sorts of waves and locations, or it’s the local shapers who will build the best crafts for the local waves? Is the push towards shorter, fatter boards negating the need for boards tailored to local waves?
I think that idea still holds true in extreme waves, and it makes sense for surfers to try the local flavour of boards when they show up to a somewhat specialised location like Snapper, Trestles or Hawaii etc. But in the end, no one has ever won the WT even at Lowers on my boards, and Snapper or Pipe has been won as much on non-local boards than local ones.
Mick's Mayhem quiver for Australia. Mayhem said this on his blog about the boards: “Here is a 4-pack of Mick's. These are all SubDrivers in the 5'10-5'11 range, but with his slightly more pulled in nose. He also has a bunch of Drivers in the 5'11 to 6'0 range. He didnt use any in his heats but I watched him free surf all over on a few after he got knocked out. I had some beers with Micks primary shaper, Darren Handley (whose boards he rode to his two world titles and knows more than anyone about shaping contest craft) and he told me that after Mick rode the board of Kolohe's last summer they bumped his volume up from 24 to 26 litres and they have found the magic. Mick concurred.”
Recently we’ve seen Base go under, and D’Arcy close his factory. Is there as much “doom and gloom” from American shapers and general pessimism about “Chinese pop-outs flooding the country”.
I think The Great China Curse has tapered dramatically on the top-end spectrum of boards. So long as the leaders in surfboard design are flexible and adjust their businesses to the adverse, or just plain changing landscape of the market, then we can keep the top-tier boards built domestically like they are now.
High-end composite boards made overseas make sense, but the traditional PU/PE board is still best made in local factories. The saving grace is custom orders. That’s what keeps the whole thing special. We encourage custom orders.
To answer your question, the market has actually pyramided in the US. It’s worse than in Oz actually, for the fact that there are very few brands selling boards to shops nowadays. Shops that used to carry 6-8 brands are now carrying 3-4. …Lost has been fortunate to be on the good side of that narrowing market, but the ones who haven’t need to change and adapt into being custom-order driven and have more direct sales. Great shapers are going more boutique with their brands and taking the less-is-more approach.
In Oz, there is probably too many guys trying to sell boards to shops. I don’t see the Oz market being diverse enough to hold it. Some guys will simply run a more face-to-face localised business and some will go away. The thing with Base (of which Darren Handley Designs was a part), I truly believe a brand is bigger than the business – and I told Darren this. In Darren’s case, his brand was, and is, strong – the business was just mismanaged. It’s not a result so much of a soft market or diminishing sales as too much fat in the business model.
So then with so many pros riding your boards recently, and with a string of good results, have you seen an increase in orders and sales?
Our order file is good right now.
Do you think technology and new materials will affect shaping and surfing much more in the future?
I think that it will take a pretty major shift in the mindset and views of the top athletes to allow a material technology to effect things right now. I believe that better materials exist, but at what cost? And who wants to risk a short career testing them? But it will happen.
Taj has had a great run with Firewire, but it’s really hard to see it happening with such a short off-season for the pros. Maybe if Kelly retires and devotes himself to technology, then comes back and wins an event or two at 43 years old on a new tech … then we might have something!
So have you drawn influences and inspiration for your board shapes form places outside of surfing?
Snowboards and snowboarding (sidecut outlines, flex, edge, no fins etc.) all race through my head. I grew up living part-time on boats and my dad lives on a boat. I worked in and on boats for years and it definitely influenced me.
But really, surfing is unique unto itself in the way that the body weights and unweights while sliding down the face of a forward moving lump of water, on top of a hydro-plane with rudders. And unless you’re a young and agile athlete who is trying to mimic skate moves, all the things outside of surfing are secondary to spending time in the water and listening to what the best test pilots can tell you.
On another note, I like to say that punk rock was the biggest influence on me. The do-it-yourself ethos and design aesthetics of early-to-mid '80s punk are what sparked me to create my own life.
You give a lot of advice to the general public and prospective buyers on your blog comments – is that the best forum for potential buyers of Mayhems to ask your advice re: models, size and dims?
It seems to have become that way. I didn’t mean for that to happen but it did, and I am doing my best to answer questions. We are in the middle of an all new …Lost Surfboards website and hopefully the information there will take some of the pressure off me to personally answer questions. I only have so much time and focus.
And so finally, where can Australian readers buy a board and order a custom Mayhem?
For more information on Mayhem's boards go to …Lost Enterprises website.