A breakfast with Matt ‘Mayhem’ Biolos in which the unusually specific nature of Kolohe Andino’s boards are discussed; Stab’s theory that Mayhem succeeds because his surfboards are designed for average surfers first and then filter upwards rather than vice-versa; and the discovery that Kolohe’s pops Dino and his speed runs at Uppers were responsible for creating the outline of surfboards ridden by every monster airing kid…
It is a gloomier than usual Sydney summer morn when I scoop up California’s Matt Biolos at the Sydney factory of his shaper pal and occasional biz associate Mr James ‘Chilli” Cheal.
In an industrial zone a few clicks from the beach, we see Biolos a fittish man of middle age, unshaven but not derelict, Jewish but not orthodox, grinding out boards for punters who’ve paid $80 over retail to taste his meats.
Can y’believe it? Taj Burrow and Kolohe’s personal craftsman ruining his lungs for surfers who may or may not’ve ever loosed a fin in their lives? Considering not one of those 100 sleds has my name on it, I don’t know whether to be stunned or jealous. “Every name on the order form is someone you wouldn’t know,” he says thirty mins later when we’re socking javas at the Armchair Collective in Mona Vale. “But, that’s what we’re here for! That’s what pays the bills!”
It’s a pet theme of Mr Biolos’, the importance of looking after the lil man first and believing rewards will follow. “That’s what makes surfboards so special. It’s the only piece of equipment made the way we do it.”
I lay out my theory that his success is strongly related to his ability to make stable platforms for average surfers and that once pro’s get a taste of it, they want it. Therefore, his designs filter upwards whereas most shapers get their feedback from a professional and let it filter downwards, often to no one’s benefit.
“The Sub Scorcher was an average guy’s board that Kolohe rode and then it trickled up and now you’ve got Drivers and all those higher-volumed boards being ridden by the hot shots. I’m shaping high-volume boards for Julian Wilson and thinking, whoa, how did that happen?”
Mick Fanning is another surfer who believes in the high-volume mantra. He was riding boards of around 24 cubic litres, often to radical success, but last year he was kinda feeling that there was more to life than a six-o by 18 3/8”. After riding a Kolohe board at Trestles he upped his cubic litres to 26 (Taj is a 23.5, if you’re wondering). “Put that volume into one of Darren Handley’s already amazing boards and they’re unbelievable,” says Matt.
We talk for a while about how Taj, when he was on the brink of leaving his board sponsor Firewire, made Matt promise he’d be there for him, surfboard-wise; about judges scoring flow more than ever before (Taj beats Adriano!); and in a scenic tour away from surfboard design talk about how Matt initially viewed the presidency of Barack Obama with suspicion (high taxes!) but now he digs on the guy. But, what stuck most in the conversation is the obsessive care taken in the building of Kolohe’s boards.
“(Kolohe’s pops) Dino’s a better version of Dr Frankenstein. He’s the ultimate grinder. He’s fanatical. I’ll be in a meeting and he’ll pace back and forth outside the door just waiting for it to end and then he’ll storm troop in and throw nine boards on the floor. Dino pushes and pushes. We get 30 blanks and we weigh ‘em all and write the weight on the order form. Then we weigh ‘em after they’ve been cut and then after they’ve been glassed. Dino personally drives ‘em to the glasser and paces back and forth at the glass shop making sure the laps aren’t too short, making sure the laps aren’t too long, weighing ‘em after they’re glassed, checking the fin angles and if the fin angles aren’t right he cuts ‘em off and puts ‘em back on again. He came to Australia, called up (shaper) Lee Stacey and said, ‘Fuck it, these waves are so sucky. I want more angles on the fins.’ So they fucking cut the fins off five boards and fucking put them back on. It’s… intense.”
Dino is more than just the meticulous father of a prodigy, howevs. Back when he was owning the US domestic circuit, Dino’s speed runs at Trestles helped create the forward outline that now, accidentally, has become the ideal shape for every hi-fi kid.
“Dino and I developed that forward outline nearly 20 years ago. Dino wasn’t using it for finners but it transitioned over nicely. Dino was always surfing Trestles, surfing Uppers, and he needed that forward outline to get down the line to do those floaters and now Kolohe uses those templates and those rockers to build a strong foundation. They force you to put it on a rail. They force you to draw out your turns. And, almost by default, they give you a much better platform for nose picks and landing backwards.”
Back at the factory, Matt stomps back into the shaping bay, the whip of Mr Cheal grazing his ample cheek. A dozen more boards to hack; a dozen more dreams to realise. – Derek Rielly