Surfboard shaper brings his American on-the-job expertise home
In 2013, Simon Jones (Ngāti Pikiao, Te Arawa) was a Māori surfing coach, competition judge and wannabe-board-shaper living in America who happened to chat to a guy on a California beach. That guy put him on the path to his dream job with a serendipitous introduction to an American high-end surfboard manufacturer.
“It's kind of a tough industry to get into really even though you might love it like I do. I feel like I got lucky just meeting some random guy at a beach in California,” says Simon.
However, that chance meeting was just the beginning; Simon had to put in a huge effort to prove himself before he was eventually allowed to start shaping boards at the renowned Channel Islands Surfboards.
“I started on night shift, just putting the fins into the surfboards for about six months, then I moved to sanding the boards. It wasn’t a nice job to start with, you’re drilling holes in foam and it’s dirty and you’re playing with resin,” explains Simon.
“The whole time I really wanted to become a shaper. That is the pinnacle of surfboard manufacturing, the shapers get all the credit!” he laughs.
“After my shift, I would go and practice shaping on throwaway blanks in the workshop. I watched the other shapers and saw what Al Merrick was doing. He is the founder of Channel Islands and he’s very famous, like Kelly Slater.”
After making more than 200 ‘practice’ boards, Simon was able to put the company name on a board he had shaped. Then, it took another 3,000 boards before the team left him alone and stopped ‘nit-picking on every detail’ of his mahi.
“There’s no bit of paper that says you are good or not good, you are your qualification. So, you have to show people how good you are.”
In 2021, with the pandemic in full swing, it was time to come home with his American wife and the eldest three of his four kids now aged eight, six, two and three months.
“I really love surfing, and I wanted to make it better in the country I grew up in. I think that it’s detrimental to surfboard making in a country if you don’t have a local shaper who is making good quality surfboards. A lot of boards in New Zealand are being made in Thailand or South Africa or even Australia.”
So, he approached another American surfing legend, Timmy Patterson, to enquire about taking his surfboard franchise to New Zealand. After Simon once again proved himself and his skills, Timmy told him he’d had a few other offers to sell his boards in New Zealand, but he wanted to work with Simon because they got along well, and he was impressed with his skill.
“He said he just wanted someone who knows what he’s doing and who will spread the ‘aloha’ (love and fellowship) and stoke (excitement) of the T. Patterson brand, and I was happy to be that guy for him.”
Simon is now focused on building the business in New Zealand. He is slowly spreading the word that his boards are customised in Aotearoa by a Māori board shaper (under the American franchise) and that his small adjustments to the boards have a big impact in New Zealand surf conditions.
Pictured: Simon Jones of Ghost Industries, who custom manufactures surfboards by hand under the T. Patterson Surfboards franchise in Pāpāmoa.
- This story first appeared in Pūrongo a-tau - the Hanga-Aro-Rau Inaugural Annual Report 2021/22.