Maurice Cole Is Back

You may remember back in May we interviewed Australian shaping legend Maurice Cole and he broke the terrible news about his prostate cancer. He had come to the U.S. for treatment, as well as to unveil some innovative new designs he’d been working on in obscurity back home in Victoria. Well, he’s come back over to the states for a bit, and this time with much better news.

As well, he’ll be at the surfboard show Sacred Craft this weekend in Del Mar, along with a bunch of other legends. You should stop by and see him, and if you do, ask him about the upcoming twentieth anniversary of the reverse vee, his leap in bottom contour design. He’s planning all sorts of cool stuff to coincide with it, like making replicas of the famous yellow-railed board Tom Curren won the Haleiwa comp on back in 1991, and got the legendary cutback shot at Backdoor on.

Last time we promised an update with the Tasmanian Devil, and here it is, complete with thoughts on not shaping boards for pros, not telling the world when Kelly Slater has tried one of your boards, and his take on the so called “rebel tour.”—Casey Koteen

TransWorld SURF: Last time we talked, about six months ago we started off with the big C, so it’s only fitting we start with that again. Only this time it sounds like you have much better news.

Maurice Cole: Yeah, it’s the kind of news you dream about. I went into a full on war with the cancer, and when I went back to the doctor he told me my PSA numbers were so far down he was shocked. They still took more biopsies, and I asked why, and he said, “Well, you might be cancer free. But we need to do the biopsies to find out.” A few days later I got a message from Dr. Bahn, saying that I was cancer free. I actually put it on my website, so people can listen to it if they want.

Maurice Cole

But I sat down and was in shock and got kind of teary. I couldn’t believe I beat it. A few days after that I talked with the doctor and he basically told me that it was a bit of a miracle because I was that far gone. It was a very, very, very longshot that I’d be cured, although they were confident that they’d be able to give me an extra five or six years, which is what happens a lot of times.

And he asked me what else I did. I did exactly what they told me to do; I read all the books. I worked out that I was really stressed about five years ago when I was buying my name back and going through that whole dark period. So I worked on having no stress in my life, and then worked my diet out, which was pretty radical. Everything I read pointed to not eating sugar, dairy, fruit, and pasta. So I cleaned everything up, and turned every ounce of energy toward thinking, “I’m going to beat this, it’s the war of my life.” I’ve had a few other wars in my life, but this was the one that was the most important to win.

I was an intense nine months. I actually made this kind of stupid statement in my head after I beat it about what was going to be the next frontier I conquered—and I thought it’s about time I became a commercial success, that might be the last frontier for me. But it just showed how far off I still was. I still had to go through something personally which I never thought I’d go through. Because I was adopted and I didn’t know my parents, I’ve never really had to deal with a family member dying. In a strange bunch of coincidences, my father in law died, and the day after my dog and best mate, Taz, died. He was responsible for me beating depression, and the last nine months I reckon he nearly took cancer on himself and ended up dying of leukemia at the age of four. I’d never had my heart broken like that.

So I was thinking about that last frontier, and then the universe or God or whatever, comes around and gives me a bitch slap. So that’s what the last month has been about, plus surfing of the biggest and best waves I’ve ever seen in my life, new boards and amazing stuff, but at the same time having my personal life turned upside with a range of emotions that I’ve dealt with before. When does it end! But the adventure continues.

Well, the news on prognosis is incredible, huge congrats on beating it.

I’ve always tried to turn negatives into positives, and that’s what this whole thing is turning out to be. If Mr. C hadn’t have moved into my body, I’d probably just be sitting here, not coming back over to the U.S. to do Sacred Craft, I probably wouldn’t have come over before with my boards. I feel like I’m a reborn grommet.

Maurice Cole at macking Bells Beach...he hasn't lost a step.
Maurice Cole at macking Bells Beach...he hasn't lost a step.

I’m going to be coming to the U.S. and putting myself back out in the marketplace a bit more than I have, and slowly but surely working to get everyone on some new boards, and sharing some of the design ideas I’ve got. Hopefully there’ll be a really positive spin off of it.

Last time we talked there were some rumblings about Kelly Slater trying out some of your shapes, although it didn’t make it in the piece. The thing I find curious is that I can’t help but notice that the board Kelly rode at the Pipe Masters last year, and other similar boards this year, are also very similar to the designs you’ve been making and testing for the last five plus years. Is this a coincidence?

Hmmm. Well, when I was over in the U.S. last I’d heard that Kelly had said something in a book about how my boards weren’t always magic for him, or something like that. I got a bit pissed about that—Kelly won a world title on one of my boards, and he talks about that in his book, when he beat Kong in the finals in France. And we’ve always had a great relationship, I’ve known him since he was fifteen or something.

At any rate, I’d sent him an email about what he’d said in the book. And I said I wanted to catch up at Easter, and that I had some boards that were the fastest, carveyist, best barrel riders, and were unbreakable, and if he knew someone who’d be interested in testing a board like that, to send them my way. So after he lost at the comp he came by and saw me and we cruised around and had a chat. And after a while he showed me his boards and asked what I thought. And I said, “Well, not much. All you’ve done is shortened them, put an egg nose on, and stuck four fins on the bottom. There’s nothing new from a hull design standpoint that’s new or different.”

So I showed him a board that had different stringers, big concaves, carbon on the tail, and all that. I let him borrow the board, but I told him it’s not to leave the country, because he was leaving to Queensland the next day.

Maurice Cole

They towed Kirra a few days later on it, and he said it was one of the fastest boards he’d ever ridden, turned great, and that he’d made two barrels that he thought he wouldn’t have made on another board.

So it was like, okay, great, there’s a bit of inspiration. He gave me such good feedback, and I think it inspired him. And he has been giving me a little bit of credit here and there, and he actually wants to make me a board now and I’ll probably swap him one back.

Other than Kelly, I’m guessing you’re still probably not planning on making boards for anyone on tour?

There’s no sense in anyone in contests or on the WCT trying to surf these boards. They don’t have the time for someone to develop a completely new design. After Hawaii everyone goes home for Christmas, and the tour starts up again eight weeks later. In there you’ve got Christmas, New Years, and no one wants to risk or experiment too much. They just get their best board or two from the last year, and have their shaper copy ten more of them, and hopefully they’ll get a few magic boards for the year. And that’s what’s stifling any creativity and innovation on tour. It just doesn’t allow for it. There’s not the time or the interest. There’ll all surfing the same kinds of boards.

Over Easter I checked out some of the guys boards and put a rocker line on it, and they’re rocker lines that go back seven or eight years. That’s why I come back to the Formula One analogy. There’s no technical angle left on tour, and Kelly’s proved it. Just by trying something different, it became the biggest news story in surfing, other than his tour, of course. So basically, if you do contests, I don’t won’t shape boards for you.

There’s this same old formula that’s been around. There’s nothing really coming out of the dream tour for the consumer, other than a warm fuzzy.

You’re on your way back over to the states for Sacred Craft this weekend, what’s going on with that?

Yeah, I’m interested to have a look at it. From what everyone’s saying it’s going to be a getting together of all the eccentrics, the lunatics, the craftspeople, designers. From the Carl Ekstroms to probably Rusty, but I’m looking forward to it.

And maybe it’s a foundation for a new industry? Because our industry has been rocked on the head. The boards are so much the same. If someone riding your boards won a world title in the 80s you were guaranteed two to three years of incredible success, and office in Japan and Brazil. If someone wins a title on your boards now, because there’s nothing different in the boards, I don’t think it converts to sales anymore.

So these business models of big quantities of boards, and branding it with a name, like a Mick Fanning model or something like that, I just don’t think it works anymore. Because what’s different in Mick’s boards from this year compared to last year? Not a lot, I don’t think.

Kelly Slater test riding a Maurice Cole design that he later claimed to be one of the fastest boards he ever rode.
Kelly Slater test riding a Maurice Cole design that he later claimed to be one of the fastest boards he ever rode.

I’ve gone out of that loop completely, and a lot of people have said I’m absolutely crazy for not making boards for people who do the comps. There’s two sides to that: I don’t think those people can ride the designs, and I always get emotionally involved with that contest scene, trying to help people, and it takes so much energy from me. I’ve done that all my life, so now I’m taking time out for myself to rebuild the business. It’s not based on fashion, or replicating some good old design constantly. I’m just not built that way.

Coming back to Kelly for a minute, there was an interesting bit in there I wanted to ask you about. The first time we talked months ago, you weren’t ready to talk about him trying that board. Is there a downside to letting the world know that Slater has been trying out your boards?

Yes, because it becomes fashion. Just because Kelly says and does, there’s a huge amount of the market that just goes, “Yeah, that’s the bee’s knees.” The last thing I want is to become fashionable. Everything I do comes from a technical base, to a point where, well, I’m talking to you guys, but I knocked back all interviews in Australia. I’m doing one with Surfing World, a life story, and that’s it for the year. My capacity is at maximum right now. If I wanted to give my ego a bit of a pump up, then yeah I’d go and drop Kelly’s name everywhere. But I don’t have any real interest in that, because then I get inundated with people going, “Oh man, you’re the greatest, blah blah blah.” And all Kelly’s done is rode one of the boards, and you’d have to ask him, but I think it was a great experience for him because it opened his eyes to concaves. I gave him a whole bunch of ideas, and hopefully I was an inspiration from a design point of view.

Maurice with some of his new tow-boards that are 1" thick and light as a feather.
Maurice with some of his new tow-boards that are 1" thick and light as a feather.

But I don’t want it to come back to me with fifty phone calls a day, and I’d be back on to this merry go round of fashion, and I don’t need it. I’m happily making boards for recreational surfers, and some of the best tow surfers in the world. When I’m ready, maybe I’ll shape a couple of boards for some pros in the next year or two, but I’m in no hurry. There’s no pressure on me to do that. I think there’s another world out there of surfboard design and manufacture that’s not connected in any way or form to the competitive circuit.

Although things with this whole “rebel tour” have calmed down a bit lately, I’m betting you’ve got some interesting thoughts on it.

My thing with Kelly’s tour would’ve been to turn the WCT into the WQS, turn the current WQS into a pro/am, and then do third tier above all that of maybe sixteen surfers that only went for six months of the year, and maybe only had six or eight contests.

I sat on the advisory board for over twenty years, and represented the surfers and tried to help them. The thing a lot of the surfers don’t realize is that the ASP is fifty percent owned by them. All change can happen as long as the surfers are united, then they only have to have one vote from the other side to get whatever they want. We proved that time and time again.

Maurice Cole and legendary shaper Carl Ekstrom.
Maurice Cole and legendary shaper Carl Ekstrom.

The thing with Kelly’s tour when I stand back from it, there’s a part of me that really worries about the bottom tier surfers. It’s not just about those top surfers, it’s about creating a system that’s equitable for everyone. The system allows a young surfer to come in, get trained, and mentor him into a great world champion. The only thing the ASP produces in my mind, is a valid world men’s and women’s champion. That’s their product, that’s their brand—two undisputed world champions. In boxing, there’s the WBO, the IBF, the WBC, and the only time you ever get a world champion is when someone unifies the titles, because it’s so fragmented. By Kelly doing his tour, it will dilute the world championship.

The surfers are frustrated, but it’s the companies that own the tour and drive it. I’m one of those people that says the sooner we can get Costco, K-Mart, and Target in to help sponsor, where we can get world recognition as a really good sport and something that’s worth selling. Why isn’t there a global TV deal, and a global sponsor? Because the product isn’t interesting enough to anyone, and I think that’s where Kelly comes from in pushing it. They believe they can create a product that they can sell to the world better than the ASP can, or that’s the promise anyway.

But I worry about the fragmentation of the tour. I think it could’ve all been done within the ASP, to create a new tier above, if that’s what the surfers want.