The Stab Interview: Shaun Manners
On signing with Former, landing the cover of Surfing World and TSJ, his Cult of Freedom part and more.
“I bought a Holden Ute a month back and I’m trying to sell it already. I put it up on marketplace and some guy just offered to swap it for a Pajero 4×4 so it’s not looking great,” laughs Shaun Manners from a dusty garage in Thirroul. He’s in the middle of fixing dings when I ring. “I’m really missing dad’s factory to be honest. I’ve got fuck all tools. It’s probably better to do it this way because then I’m more grateful for the boards. I reckon everyone should try and fix boards at least once in their life. It’s so fucked. You’re itchy and covered in resin and you realize how happy you’d be to pay someone else to do it properly.”
Shaun’s got six more weeks in a granny flat in Wollongong before heading South. The move has been driven in part by a philosophical belief that growth requires getting out of your comfort zone, which ironically for Chun, is the rugged coast and heavy-water of the West. “At the end of last year I locked myself into West Oz and I was getting real comfy. I really like the feeling of being close to home with my parents and sister and working at dad’s factory. I could’ve stayed forever but I was like, ‘that’s not actually what I want to do’. I feel like I’ve exhausted the waves in West Oz. Blastoid and Rage 3 were both heavily anchored around there and I don’t think anyone needs to see more of that. So I packed a car full of boards and came back to the east coast. There’s a bunch of waves over here that I don’t know how to surf well and they scare me and the only way I’m going to get better at surfing them is by living here. I’ve got six weeks in Thirroul then I’m going to head south closer to Noa, which is great because we can push each other surfing and play music. We’re actually meant to be playing a Bodyboarding festival in two weeks but we haven’t practiced,” he giggles, adding “needless to say, it mightn’t be our most polished gig.”
It’s not a stretch to say Shaun’s gone big in the past year. Between finishing second at Stab High Indonesia and filming a full Cult of Freedom (COF) part for Globe (set to be released soon), he also landed the cover of two of the most respected surf publications in the world: Surfing World and The Surfer’s Journal and topped it off by inking the first major three-year contract with Dane Reynolds and Craig Anderson’s brand Former – something we can finally announce publicly despite him having adorned their stickers on his nose since January.
Side note: as a good faith gesture Former chose to keep the announcement hush until Globe came out with his COF part (which he finished filming in September 2022 but has dragged on thanks to Globe’s major restructuring changes, plus a first draft that musically was a little off-color).
Shaun signing with Former is big for both parties. Dane spoke at length to the expensive lessons learned in the past eight years as a brand founder in HSGP. Indeed, Former has blossomed from being a boutique cash volcano headquartered in Dane’s garage to a business with legs that can inject money back into the culture. Finally being able to cough up the dough for one of the world’s most exciting freesurfers is a strong indication of its maturation. Shaun is equally chuffed after bouncing around from Billabong to Globe in recent years. Plus, is there really a larger compliment as a freesurfer than being approached by Dane and Craig to be their brands first team rider on good coin?
“If I could tell a 13-year old me sitting on the floor squinting at a 20th Century tele watching Dane and Craig on repeat that they were going to sponsor me one day I reckon my little lid would have popped. I would have never believed it. It’s a weird feeling when your team managers surf better than you. I was surfing some scary waves the other day and I was like ‘fuck my bosses would be all over this, there’s no pulling back now’. Dane and Craig were kind of the reason I wanted to pursue the freesurfing side of things so it feels really natural” says Chun. “I’d say it’s put some PSI in my tyres for sure,” he laughs.
Funnily enough Shaun’s deal with Former was initially brokered by Noa Deane, who sent Dane a message in the early hours of the morning after Toby Cregan’s bucks party letting him know Shaun was interested. Interestingly, Noa told Stab in HSGP that “he’d be rattled riding for Former knowing how well Dane surfed”. He was more than happy to nominate Chun though. “I pretty much owe it all to Noz. The shit talking actually paid off for once,” he guffaws.
Shaun told Stab there’s plans to release a signature range of apparel with Former later this year. And with budget to film there will also hopefully be some A-grade accompanying surf footage. “I feel like I’m confident in terms of what I want to make, and everything I’ve brought to the table so far they’ve been super supportive of. Equally I want to help them. It’d be sick to go huge with the company because I think it can,” he explains.
While you can find plenty of evidence of Shaun having a good time on the internet, he’s far from being lost in the sauce. At twenty-five years old, Shaun’s had a spotlight pointed at his dome for much longer than most his age. Vicariously he’s absorbed the pitfalls of taking a career for granted and playing into the cliches of freesurfing that romanticize degeneracy. Despite being the same age, chatting with him at Lakey Peak felt like talking to someone with a few thousand more miles on the odometer, as is often the case with people who have needed to grow up quickly. Surf media (such as our own) have played our own small role in reinforcing the trope that freesurfers must destroy their gray matter if they want to be the ‘cool kids’.
“I love to drink beers but I’ve kind of wrapped up doing anything too scorched,” says Shaun. “I know you can’t be a blast unit forever. There was a bit when I was younger and I didn’t know who I was when I was guilty of exaggerating certain things. Particularly when I lived in Byron and was hanging with heaps of older crew. You know how everyone in Oz will stand around smoking ciggies and shit? When I stopped I was like ‘Fuck, what do I do with my hands?’ On that Stab Vacation trip I started diving for Crays with Balaram. I’ve always dove for fish, but I kinda rediscovered how mental it is to be swimming 20 meters underwater for a minute and a half. That ability also gives you confidence for heavy water too. Simply put: if I want that, I can’t be rinsing myself all the time. No ones superhuman, the damage catches up with you. My main goal is just to keep whacking it as hard as I can and get cooked fit* to borrow a phrase from Noz’’.
Translation*: get fit by cooking yourself.