“It’s Harder To Shape A Board From A Machine Than By Hand”
Shaping, surfing and making your mark in an overpopulated industry with Andrew Mooney of Serpent Sleds.
If you’ve seen the name Andrew Mooney before, it’s likely paired with footage of the Central Coast chap surfing waves most of us would rather watch from shore – or even the safety behind a screen. He surfed Cape Fear (on torn ligaments), tackled oversized Kony’s last year (above) and is also more than adept when it comes to throwing a finner in waves under six-foot – Waves Magazine (RIP) didn’t throw him the title of “best freesurfer” in 2008 for nothing.
Ten years on, Mooney isn’t quite at the forefront of progression anymore, but he is at the top of the list of those capable of shaping performance craft and then surfing those boards exceptionally well.
The likes of Al Knost and Ryan Burch are at the pointy end of unconventional self-directed shaping, but Mooney is different; he’s less concerned with assyms and peculiarity and more focused on conventional shapes, what could be called, ‘high performance’ shortboards.
Andrew started shaping in his mid-20’s – relatively late in life – but that’s nothing a keen eye and gutful of determination hasn’t fixed. Eight years on from his fin plugging beginnings, Mooney’s board brand, Serpent Sleds, is chugging along and rightly deserves an eye under the spotlight.
Between balancing time in the bay and testing boards, we chatted up Mooney for all things shaping: aspirations, machine shaping and the steep learning curves involved in board design.
Andrew Mooney amongst the walls plagued with payments, plans and glassing gear.
Stab: Mooney! Sum up your last 12 months for us.
Andrew: Yeah it was good! I did a South Aus trip early last year [you can watch the comeback trip up above], other than that though I headed over to Canada for a mate’s wedding. Owen [Milne] came over to film the wedding and we headed over a little before to do a bit of a roadtrip. We surfed this wave that was similar to Jeffrey’s Bay – except it was a left. It wasn’t that cold either, I was sweet in my 3:2 most days which was a little surprising considering it’s Canada and all.
Owen’s working on a clip from the trip now which should be finished soon-ish.
How’s biz back at Serpent Sleds HQ?
I’m over it…[Laughs]
Its been great, working my arse off at the moment, which stems from a good reason I guess, it means there’s plenty of orders coming in. I’m still doing the majority of the work and at a real tipping point with the business though, I’m bringing a few more guys in to help keep the wheels turning.
How many boards are you churning out?
I try and do around eight boards a week usually, but it ends up being more around ten boards [laughs].
Ideally, I’d like to have a full-time laminator. That’s a consuming process and I’d rather spend more time on design and other aspects of the business that are important.
One of the downsides to being a shaper is the diminishing of your time spent surfing. Mooney surprisingly finds a healthy balance.
When did you first get into shaping?
A while ago, around 8 years ago when I was in my mid twenties. I always spent hours in Bill’s [Bill Cilia] shaping bay before I started to shape myself and spent hours picking the eyes out of the design of every board I rode. So before I started, I had all the curves and design locked in my mind already, it wasn’t as if I was shaping at that stage, but I had a basic understanding of design and a really good idea of the look in boards I liked.
So you started shaping relatively late, who helped along the process?
Nirvana Surfboards [editor’s note: a shaping company started in Lakemba by Bill Cilia and Alf Jeffries in ‘71] took me over to the states for what was essentially 2 months of handshaping, that was a massive kickstart and I really can’t thank those guys enough.
Then when I came back I was working out of a shaping company in Tweed Heads doing Nirvana’s. I had all this knowledge around me. Greg Webb, Wayne Deane and a bunch of really good glassers and sanders went through there that I picked things up from.
My role at the time was plugging boards, I was installing all the old FCS plugs into almost all of the boards that went through the factory so I analysed the tail shapes and outlines of every board and handled a bunch of boards every day.
Did you have a mentor?
I haven’t really had a mentor as such, but on the other hand I’ve kinda had many. Bill Cilia didn’t really mentor me as such, but would give hints along the way.
I got to ride his boards for years and felt some amazing stuff, same as with Greg Webb who’s an incredible designer of high performance shapes. I used to talk to Stuart Wissing a lot about board design and also Rod Hocker [note: Tom Carroll said in his book that Rod Hocker shaped him his best ever board] helped me out a lot.
They used to send me files with curves and rail shapes and talk on the phone about design for hours so they were more mentors than anyone else. Unfortunately they’ve both passed away now.
Otherwise I’ve had boards from DHD, Luke Short, Mike Psillakis, Chris Vontak; ridden boards from Lee Stacey, Jason Stevenson, Jason Rodd and a host of others so I’ve picked up a bunch of stuff from feeling those under my feet as well.
Then its all your own testing after that.
No matter how much you learn or you’re told, its all trial and error and that’s when techniques begin to sink in.
Trial and error indeed
Is there any shapes that are easier to nail down than others?
Ive found I’ve had a lot of success with twin fins earlier on since I was looking at them with the aim of gaining heaps of drive out of the board to compensate for no middle fin. Whereas I was looking at manoeuvrability of my high performers early on and not having as much success. Ive learnt a lot from succeeding with the twin fins and aspects of the early success that felt easy has crept into the performance shapes, if that’s the right word, because they all perform in their own right in their own ways.
If you want a board to carve on the open face, fit in the pocket, do an air and also release the tail – it’s difficult to design. You’re always chasing that perfect board. JS and DH have been working on shapes their whole lives and would’ve been refining some shapes for years.
Do you still test all of the board yourself?
I test all of the designs myself, but I have a bunch of dudes who trial them out for me and give me feedback on them too.
Not only did Mooney shape the board stuck to his soles here, he paddled into this wave.
Starting a team perhaps?
Yeah that’s the plan, the next step from here is to start compiling a Serpent Sleds team which I’m already working on at the moment.
Favourite board you’ve ever shaped?
Probably my last Hekkaz Tekkaz, which is the latest model under my feet at the moment. I’ve been trying to dial that shape in for seven years and now I’m starting to do everything I want on this board.
Years ago, a regular customer of mine in West Aus ordered a standard 5’10” shortboard and I decided to base it off that first handshape that I ever made. I dialled up the entry rocker a touch and the tail was off so I just used a standardised template for that, and then he was giving me feedback claiming it was a “magic board”.
That was six years ago and since then I’ve just kept refining it. It got worse, it got better, then worse again and now it’s at the best point it’s ever been. I’d usually have to make ten of the same model just to get one major advancement from the last benchmark I’d set. That board is now the Hekkaz Tekkaz.
I ride it in everything from around 3-foot up to 8-foot waves and from a 5’8” up to a 6’-plus.
The Psychological Slave
Is that your most popular model?
Mmm Maybe, It’d be between the Hekkaz Tekkaz and the Psychological Slave
With the Psychological Slave, the outline, bottom contours and everything is the same from when a guy ordered a board years ago. I only made a few minor adjustments to the foil.
I first shaped it around four years ago for a guy, then made a few for some other friends without ever riding the board myself. All of the feedback was positive and one mate said “don’t change a thing”.
I decided to finally ride it myself around 12 months ago and it’s been my favourite board for the past six months in small summer-y waves. I took a squash version of it up to Noosa a few weeks back and it went insane.
Give us your thoughts on machine shaping?
I think it’s amazing, you’re able to pop out the same magic shape every time, but getting there can be tough. I believe it’s actually harder to get the machine files dialled in than it is to make a great feeling handhape from scratch. You think you’re making a minor adjustment on the program and it totally throws another aspect of the design. Doing it by hand is easy if you can shape, you can just cut through where you want the curves to go and you’ve got freedom and room to move to get the cure you like.
Machine shaping has been a lot harder for me, you’re designing the board on the screen and what you think you’re getting can be totally different, it’s easy to get lost with design and can take a few cuts to get the next advance on design the way you want.
I was talking to Darren Handley at the Manly Pro and we both connected over not being able to get a certain curve in the program that we can easily do by hand.
Essentially, it’s easier to finish a shape off the machine, but it’s a lot harder to get the file exactly the way you want it.
What about mass-produced overseas shapes on the shelves?
…fucked I guess.
It’s just big money making more money and I think there’s a lot of soul lost there.
Jordan Constantinou throwing the fins free on a Withchetty Grub somewhere near it’s Central Coast birthplace.
I see you’ve delved into the enviro-board aspect too.
Yeah, a little on the ‘envirosled’ model.
The foam is recycled and there’s also a couple of resins I use that are a little more environmentally friendly as they’re a higher plant base. I’m also waiting on a cloth where the fibres are constructed from a leaf as opposed to being artificial.
All shaping should start going in that direction, the boards still perform just as good, people just have hang-ups about these types of boards. The cores the exact same, it’s just that it’s been recycled and repurposed and then there’s natural cloths and resins too.
Plans for the year?
I guess just focussing more on the high performance stuff and then I guess working on developing a team. I want to start making more videos too and maybe some full length movies.
I feel like the boards are performing well enough to compile a team, hit the road and then make some weird sort of movie. Having fun and then showcasing how the boards perform at the same time.
Follow Andrew and Serpent Sleds on Instagram here, or check his website out here.
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