My summer season in France was coming to an end and I was migrating North for a trip to Ireland. This is when I got the message from a very excited Jim, one of the head dudes at Surf Bunker. Between excited breaths I heard, ‘Hi Nic…there’s surfboard shaper…he’s a legend craftsman… also a barrel riding ripper…he’s currently in France…shaping at UWL…gutted, I can’t go…can you go…jealous…woffle woffle woffle’.
The shaping world and the shapers that live among us normal surfing kooks is a new and eye opening environment for me! I was always led to believe that it could be a rather uncomfortable experience visiting a shapers domain, getting looked and scoffed at as if you know nothing about what you're claiming to know about surfboard design. Shapers can look into your surfing soul-they know, yeah, they know if you know! As for me, I don’t know much and put me in front of a pro, then for some odd reason I suddenly forget all that I thought I knew!! This quickly reduces me to surf kook rubble asking for my mummy!
Well, that’s what I thought till I got enticed into the underground world of shaping and I have to say, I’m really pleasantly surprised. I haven’t had to call my mummy, not once!
Guess what, shapers are only human! Not some God on a pedestal that can see through your surfing soul and crush you with a knowing look. No, a shaper is a living, breathing human being that has spent countless hours testing and perfecting their craft in some pretty unsociable and dangerous-for-ones health kind of environments. To add to insult, this is all done whilst we’re probably out enjoying a few waves and the shapers busiest time is during the summer season! Have you ever been into a shapers bay in 40degree heat? It’s no joke!! So, let’s cut them some slack and don’t believe the hype. Go visit your local surfboard shaper, you’ll come away a little wiser, baffled maybe, but still a little wiser and you’ll probably walk away with the one of the best boards in your quiver!
So without further a woffle, it’s my pleasure to introduce to you a very inspiring man who I was fortunate to meet. After my brief chat with this legend, I came away thinking, ‘this guy’s cooler than the Big Lebowski!’
Neal Purchase Jnr - Owner and Founder of Neal Purchase Designs.
Like I said, I don’t know much about the shaping underworld, but the Purchase name I knew. Getting the chance to meet a renowned shaper such as Neal Purchase Jnr himself was something I wouldn’t miss for anything in the world, even if it meant I might not make my ferry to the Emerald Isle!
Neal hails from Australia which is where he’s still based. Every year he makes his way to the French surfboard manufactures at UWL, who are dedicated to only high quality custom surfboards. Created in 1991, their workshop is the place where the most influential, the most creative or underground of the international shapers stop during their European visits. I’ve had a board glassed there a few years back and it’s one if the most solid boards I have in my quiver.
Some people you meet and instantly warm too, this was the case with Neal. From the second we met, he had a warm smile on his face and he was extremely welcoming. He seemed genuinely happy to carve out time from his busy schedule to sit and shoot the breeze with a random dude from a random surfmag, which he’d never even heard of! He really was a very easy going person to talk with and my only regret is we didn’t have more time to keep gassing on about surfing and life.
Neal is the son of legend shaper Neal Purchase, who has been quoted to have helped kick start the so-called shortboard revolution back in the 60’s. One of his designs was the 8’4 ‘The Virgin’ and this put him on the radar. This rich history of surfing and board design has been passed down to his son and thank the surfing gods it has!
If you check out Neal’s range you can see he has an old school background with some modern multiplicities that give his boards a timeless look. They are simply stunning.
Neal has been quoted as one of the best barrel riders in Queensland, especially on his backside!! Basically this guy rips, just check out his smooth backhand style’s in ‘Glass Love’ and you’ll come away inspired. Combine the history of surfing, shaping influences and his shredding skills, the result is a guy who knows his craft inside and out. He’s also pretty nifty with a guitar and plays in the band ‘Haldane’s Daughters’ and he’s also the co-founder of Rhythm!! Can he get any cooler?
The answer is yes! He’s now produced a wicked awesome surfboard that will make you look more than twice, a board with a unique twist…
The Duo is a board with two single fins! Yes, you read correctly, two single fins! Just when I thought I was starting to understand some of the science behind board design, this crazy cat comes along and messes with my mind!
'The Duo blends variables of Singles and Twin Fins, it produces a smooth deep drive unlike anything else I have ridden.' - NPJ
After chatting with Neal and watching him surf, you can see he likes to surf for the feeling. He’s not necessarily into twinkle toed cross stepping, more big smooth and deep turns, with drive, purpose and of course maximum glide and speed. This is what he thrives to achieve in his board designs. The focus is on designing sleds for the best feelings and macking speed.
'Performance is nothing without glide’ - NPJ
'Single-fins do a lot to smooth out your surfing and makes things simpler, but I like the extra turbo that a twin-fin gives you' - NPJ
That’s how he came up with The Duo. The idea had been swimming about in his brain for a while and when he first shaped one, he says he pretty much nailed it first time.
For the first Duo prototype, he used a blank with slight rocker and an outline similar to his quad-fin model, The Quartet. The dimensions were 6’0 x 21” x 2-1/2. The bottom shape had a slight concave up front and blended into a double concave at the tail end. For the fins, he used single-fin boxes that sat parallel to the stringer and spaced out 3” from the stringer (6” apart).
Since the first prototype, he’s experimented with some alterations such as changing the fin placement closer to the rails, adding cant and toeing the fins in, but has returned to the 6” gap between the two fins and kept the fin boxes parallel. He reckons that the simpler, the better.
Top Deck and Outline
The current boards come with a flat deck and foam carried out to the rails, combine this with the wider/curvier outline, it makes The Duo a good paddler. Some might worry that with the wider outline it might not work so well in good hollow waves, but fear not, I’m told and have researched the reviews and this isn’t the case. The board is known to excel in hollower waves.
Edges/Rails - Like a single fin they like low soft rails and tucked all the way to the tail.
Rocker - It’s a low entry and even rocker.
Concave - Single to double.
Tail Shape - There are a couple of options for the tail shape. There’s the subtle round pin tail, which is great for hold in the barrels and then the rounded kind of square tail for all round performance.
Fin Set Up and Fins - Well, it’s a Twin/Single fin set up!! Fins to use are forward double foil and size will depend on the size of board and the surfer.
That’s the low down on NPJ’s background and some insight into the board design. I also wanted to get some insight into who NPJ is, so we did a quick fire question round to really get to know the inner Neal…
Quick Fire Questions
SB - Favourite colour
Neal - Green
SB - Favourite surfer?
Neal - Curren
SB - Best thing to happen to surfing?
Neal - Open mindedness.
SB - Worse thing to happen to surfing?
Neal - Boards made in China
SB - What board for France?
Neal - Duo 6’8 & 6’10
SB - Beachy, point or reef?
Neal - Reef
SB - Wave size and shape?
Neal - 6ft and hollow.
SB - Favourite album or song
Neal - Jethro Tull - Bourée
SB - Thoughts on wavegardens/pools?
Neal - Bring em on.
SB - What’s in the pipeline?
Neal - Constant evolution, trial and error.
SB - How many boards have you shaped?
Neal - Roughly 800 a year…10’000 boards give or take
SB - What do you think is the single aspect other shapers get wrong in shaping?
Neal - Only using machines! A shaper needs to learn and maintain eye and hand co-ordination.
SB - How important do you think it is for a shaper to surf his own boards and surf regularly?
Neal - Super important so that one can create a signature feel and then giving it to the people.
SB - Anything else you’d like to add?
Neal - Enjoy everyday.
Cheers Neal for you time and to UWL for being so welcoming and open to our visit to the warehouse.
Neal will be back in France next year during the month September, get your orders in quick smart.
Keep on keeping on