Sage Joske has saltwater running through his veins – a cliché used by writers to describe many surfers. The way Sage surfs though, you would think that he must have something extra that gives his surfing such an affinity with the waves.
Joske has a unique style that is more flow and finesse than gouges and hacks. His pedigree doesn’t hold him back either; his father Paul is a world renowned shaper and at 60 still catches and surfs more waves better than most, and his brother Heath is currently competing at the sports top level on the World Qualifying Series. To top it off, Sage rides and shapes every different style of board, including mals, fishes and ancient wooden finless Hawaiian replicas with a liberal dose of panache.
I sat down with him in his shaping bay and recorded this interview.
How long have you been shaping surfboards?
I was actually thinking about that the other day – around seven years now. I started really late; I was 25 when I started.
What made you pick up the planer and start shaping?
I always loved surfing and the lifestyle, but I really tried to dodge getting involved in the surfboard making industry. Growing up watching my father shape boards, at the time it was a really dirty industry, with a lot of dust and fumes, and there wasn’t a lot of money in it. It really wasn’t somewhere I ever wanted to go, but then it almost run me down.
It’s a natural progression, because I love surfing so much it gets to a point where you want to make your own boards so that you can have control over what you ride and what you experience in the surf. It brings another element into your surfing, and you have an intimacy with your equipment.
Do you think that people would benefit from talking with their shaper and letting the shaper direct them towards the correct type of board, rather than bringing a pre-conceived idea with them?
There would be a low percentage of people who actually work one on one with shapers and get custom boards made. If you’re serious about your surfing and you want to be riding keyed in equipment, you need to be working with a shaper. This process may take a couple of boards to get it exactly right, but buying a board off the rack in a surf shop is like Russian roulette.
The majority of surfers these days ride surfboards that are mass produced. This is due to cheap imports, shaping machines and what is available at your local surf shop. This change in the industry has occurred over the last 10 years as the market for surfing has exploded. How do you see yourself as a craftsman of hand shaped boards fitting into this environment?
Society as a whole is very fashion based; it is not a matter of the underlying quality of the product anymore. It depends more on the marketing of a product or the spin put on it. Boards made in China and Thailand are popped out of moulds. It’s very unlikely that these boards are going to suit the majority of surfers.
The advantage of working with a shaper to get a custom board is that you’re getting a board shaped specifically for your surfing needs.
You have an interest in wooden boards and in particular, replicas of ancient Hawaiian boards. Both you and your father have shaped and ridden these replicas over the years; tell us a little bit about that?
One thing I have learnt from my father is that good things can take time. With a lot of the boards I ride, it is a process; the first traditional fish I made took me 18 months to learn to ride properly. Most surfers will jump on a board and if it doesn’t work straight away, they won’t persevere with it. If you do persevere with a shape or a board, sometimes it can take you on a journey, and these boards will let you ride parts of the wave that you wouldn’t usually be able to.
Especially the wooden boards; I have had some of the older style boards for 4 or 5 years in my quiver, and I am still learning things from and about them.
If you were going to give the readers any advice on what they should be looking for when they order a custom shaped surfboard, what would it be?
A lot of the elements that make a board work are pretty simple stuff. First of all, I make sure they have a board that is big enough for them. It needs to have enough volume in the board that they can easily paddle into a wave, and then once on the wave that the board gets up and going.
A lot of people are riding under volumed boards, because they are more interested in fashion rather than function. As a result, they’re not catching as many waves as they could and when they do stand up on their board, they are struggling to get it moving. You just don’t enjoy your surfing as much with an under volumed board.
The first things I ask people when they come in to order their new board are their age, height and weight. Then you move onto things like what type of waves they want to ride their board in, what sort of feeling they want from the board, and how they want to surf.
Depending on the waves they are riding, there are a lot of options of board choice: modern short board, traditional fish, high performance fish or maybe a single fin. I am trying to get into their heads so that I can craft something that will allow them to get the most out of their surfing experience.
Story by Russell Pell.