Darren Handley of DHD surfboards, or “D.H. as his mates call him, is puffing into his mobile: “Phew! Sorry, mate, it’s my first sand hill of the morning! I called and caught him trudging over the frontal dune of a beach somewhere in Southern France. He’s checking the waves for a private test session with two of the best damn surfers in the world—DHD teamriders Mick Fanning and Joel Parkinson.
“Yep, we got some, he says out of breath. Other Aussie accents can be heard in the background supporting his claim. “Looks like a nice little left down the beach, he adds before returning his attention to the phone. “And this is exactly my point, without Base I wouldn’t even be here.
What’s “Base? Despite this story’s suggestive title, it’s not some obscure drug reference. Base is the name of the conglomerate recently formed by D.H. and five other of Australia’s most prominent and influential shapers—Simon Anderson, Maurice Cole, Nev Hyman, Rod Dahlberg, and Murray Bourton. Half a dozen heavy hitters who have joined hands and brains to, as D.H. puts it, “enable us to do what we do best. And that’s shape. In the process they’ve abolished the mold of the traditional surfboard shaper, that poor fella typically found at the bottom of the surf-industry food chain who is so often dictated to by the manufacturers of raw materials and ultimately you and me—the tight-fisted consumer.
Until now, most of them have also had to wear multiple hats—those of the craftsman, accountant, marketer, and distributor all rolled into one. Quite simply, if it weren’t for the formation of Base, D.H. reckons he’d still be up to his ears in phones and swimming in paperwork back at his Kirra headquarters instead of surfing with and shaping for two of his main men at the WCT in France.
[IMAGE 2]”We talked for nearly eighteen months before getting it up and running, explains D.H., “about our industry, how we’re getting screwed—how all you really need to go surfing is a surfboard, and it’s us, the shapers with all our overheads and constant demands, who are losing out. Sound familiar?
Well, thanks largely to the semi-eccentric Cole, who originally helped conceive the idea of Base, all that has begun to change. Now, by pooling their resources—including everything from staff to factories, retail outlets, ideas, motivation, and most of all, capital— these shapers have sent shock waves through the industry.
A single marketing team has been appointed, along with the hiring of astute management—each of which will oversee and promote the running of all six shaper’s labels concurrently. In addition, Base has established its own glassing factory, begun blowing its own blanks, and hired an industrial chemist, Kevin Fitzpatrick, to work in key areas such as the development of the foam, superior resins, and other raw materials.
More than a quarter of a million dollars per year has initially been allocated to R&D, and the whole shebang’s officially been up and running for four months now.
Already D.H. has his teamriders surfing boards made from blanks that are “a little bit lighter and very hard on the deck and bottom compared to what he was previously shaping. But best of all, he says he’s no longer being dictated to by the established foam blowers who, because of demand, often caused production delays and/or regularly supplied orders for his smaller competitors at similar prices.
“Our blank factory’s right next to us, too, he says proudly. “I can just walk down there and go, ‘I wanna try something different, bend the blank this way, bend the blank that way, make me something super, super light,’ and they do.
D.H. says we can expect to see a couple of Maurice’s teamriders, including tow-freak Ross Clarke-Jones and his partner Tony Ray, testing boards in Hawai’i this year with resin four times more likely to resist snapping.
“Maybe Mick and Joel will have a couple, too, says D.H. “But we don’t want to make a song and dance about it yet. Pllus, there’re new ways we’re looking at manufacturing boards that I can’t really let out of the bag—like resins that require next-to-no curing time. I can glass you a board today and you can surf it tomorrow knowing it’s as hard as it’s ever going to get.
Which all sounds very exciting, and it’s certainly given everyone from the rival blank manufacturers to the struggling backyard shapers and the big mobs mass-producing boards in Asia something to think about.
“The bottom line is really all about getting back that lifestyle, which we’ve lost, concludes D.H. “Plus, keeping our teamriders happy, providing good sales and service that you don’t often get, keeping our eye on research and development, and looking at the possibility of bringing more surfer-shapers into the group. Someone asked me years ago why I got into shaping. It’s because I was addicted to the lifestyle. Now with Base, we’re slowly getting that back.—J.J./ASL