Eye Symmetry Is A Surfboard Company For Right Now
The post-MySpace gen aren’t all bad.
Say what you want about the modern face of surfing, but you can’t fault its ambition. Post-GFC, DIY culture has evolved, and in its place comes a younger, slicker, more-forward thinking creative. Max Stewart started Eye Symmetry Surfboards three years ago. He saved the coin to set up by working days glassing boards for various shapers on Sydney’s northern beaches, and nights fixing shoes. Today, the lights at his Manly shaping factory are consistently bright, due to his biz now covering costs. His latest venture, three years since the inception of his company, he’s adopted a son, of sorts: Hector Santamaria.
I meet the pair at Eye Symmetry HQ, a sizeable factory/shaping facility in the outskirts of Manly. The boys are eating toast and sitting around the breakfast bar in the middle of the showroom. We discuss the craft that I’d broken whilst bailing on the weekend – one of Max’s – and Hector immediately points to my glasses and says, “You wear contacts when you surf?” When I reply no, he deadpan rolls off, “Well, maybe that’s the problem,” to much laughter. Hector and Max are a wonderful juxtaposition. One’s a Puerto Rican pro surfer of sorts, the other, an ambitious kid from the northern beaches of Sydney. Max is quiet and considered, Hector’s burning with energy, and answers questions with his mouth before his brain’s had time to compute an answer, making him a wonderfully earnest interviewee. Max now sponsors Hector, and he’s effectively an employee. Hec’s easily a good enough surfer to be getting his bills paid by one of the more established companies, and has turned down offers, to devote his surfing to Max. “The other companies are just thinking about themselves, you know?” he says. “Max thinks about me. It’s about inspiration and the energy around you. I like how Max lets me do my thing. It’s just, beautiful.”
“Doing his thing,” in this instance, is travelling the globe with Max, surfing his guts out, filming and pushing Max’s shaping as much as possible. “I just wanted to make surfboards,” says Max. “And then this guy came along and now I’m making films and trying to launch his career as well.” Hector’s been riding Eye Symmetry boards for two years now, and I ask him whether he can feel the difference between the boards at the beginning, and the ones that he’s riding now. “Oh yeah,” he fires back with excitement. “I can feel, y’know? Even on this trip (Hector’s joined Max in Australia for two months) there’s such a difference in my boards. I’ve been telling him, ‘Dude, I’m having a lot of fun on this board.'”
Hector grew up in Puerto Rico, and it really sounds like a hell of a place to come of age. “It’s like a mellow Hawaii,” he tells me. “It’s tropical, but way more mellow. Maybe double mellow.” In his younger years he was a full-on Hurley super grom, but admits, that even at the age of 12 or 13, that he still wasn’t really into it. “I told my mum, ‘What am I going to do with all these shirts?'” he laughs. When asked what he thinks is the worst thing about surfing, Hector’s suitably coy: “That’s a hard question man, I don’t want to make people feel bad. But I think that surfing should open the mind a little bit and just start creating. I just love creating, y’know? That’s the best thing in life for me. As soon as I put a clip out I critique it: More energy, more power!”
One of the major things that’s lacking in traditional surfboard shapers is the ability to market themselves. Long the bastion of the unsung hero, shaping’s an art form that happens behind doors, unseen. To draw attention to your work, rather than have it spread through word-of-mouth due to its quality, was somewhat of a faux pas. Eye Symmetry is not that kind of surfboard company. Well aware of the marketing costs, Max’s created a little outfit for himself consisting of shareholders, who have the required skills to get the brand out there. Photographers Chris Grundy and Alex Brunton are young Sydney kids who have fingers in the surf and fashion photography pies, and they each have equity in Eye Symmetry. Any projects that the boys cook up are surfed by Hector, filmed by Max, and photographed by Alex and Chris. A mini-media house if you will, that makes it an easy package to promote as you’re presented with quality assets. Anyone who’s ever been on the internet knows that without quality images to evidence, words don’t mean as much. No such problem here.
Another trump for the Eyesymmetry family is is the involvement of two-time World Champ Tom Carroll in the company. Max has been working with Tom for a number of years, and attributes a lot of his innovation to Tom’s ideas. I look up to the rafters where’s there’s a quad with a rounded nose and flyers, with the unmistakable spray and Quik sticker of Tom Carroll. I’ve never really seen a board like it – it kind of looks like a spaceship – so I ask Max where the inspiration for it comes from. “That was Tom actually,” he explains. “He gave me direction on the hull bottom and I worked out how I was going to make the rest of it. Tom’s super open-minded when it comes to boards and he’ll really try anything.” Working closely with a young buck who just wants to fly, and an older, more refined surfer like Tom who’s looking for power and flow, has obviously had an effect on Max’s shaping, and it’s led him down some interesting paths in the pursuit of a product that’s only getting better. Also, it’s all epoxy, a material that Max swears by. “Traditional poly’s so much easier to work with,” he explains. “You can build a poly board from scratch in, like, three hours. But with epoxy it’s minimum a week. It changes what you can do with colours because the setting times are different. It’s a much harder material to work with. But, it’s stronger and lighter, and that’s something I believe in.”
Max’s also developed what he and the boys have come to call the ‘octo-rail.’ The theory behind it is to make the rails of boards a series of hard edges, rather than one continual surface. “Hard edges create speed, whereas curved surfaces create drag,” explains Max. “I made some experimental boards for Hec and Tom for last year’s Japan trip, and they felt like they engaged better with the wave surface, creating more hold and therefore drive. Now the boys don’t want anything else on their boards.”
Sitting in the corner of the showroom is a quiver of five boards that are dripping in brightly covered pyramids, eyes and monsters. The boards are striking, and not exactly miles from the sort of scribbles that you’d see defacing Oscar Wright’s boards, but they’re just, well, more refined; looking more like wall-hangers than functional objects. They’re part of a collab that the boys have cooked up with noted New York artist Dima Drjuchin. He painted a quiver for Hector, and the merry band were about to head to the deep south coast of Australia to shoot Hec flying above the dark green kelpy water, and make a short film. “I first saw Dima’s art on the Father John Misty album cover,” says Max. “He naturally does all our stuff: Pyramids and bright colours, but he’s got his own slant on it. He’s just doing his normal art and it fits into the brand, he was the man when I asked him to paint them, he’s so humble.” So off they head, Hec on surf, Alex and Chris on lens, and Max, behind the scenes, but at the same time very much at the forefront. This is a surfboard company for the internet age, and making quality surf craft is just the beginning.
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