Nick Blair is a surfboard shaper from the East Coast of Australia, he makes performance surfboards and uses cutting edge techniques and materials. To me the name Nick Blair was always associated with something that just got in the way all of the time.
Fifteen years ago (ish) my wife and I were touring Europe for the summer in our campervan with our surfboards, trying to find the perfect place to live. We had given ourselves three months, some cash in the bank and no particular timetable. Looking back, life was good, but isn't it always? There is something to be said for the human brain not being able to handle happiness. It has to make up a drama if there isn't one. I remember making up things to stress us out, like where to take a shit that day or what we were going to cook for dinner. These seemed like huge decisions, because they were, they were the biggest decisions we had to make. The other thing about living in a van is that space and tidiness becomes a lot more important. Everything has it's place in the van. There was no 'dead wood' as far as utensils or tools go. Why am I telling you this? It will become clear.
It was Assumption Day in France and we were camped out in Biarritz waiting for the mother of summer swells to pass through, we had a BBQ lit when some guys in an English reg, very small panel van pulled up beside us, they did not know we were English (we had German plates on our van) but heard us talking the Queen's tongue and introduced themselves. Turns out they were 20 years old and had spent some time in Australia, they had come back to the UK only to be depressed immediately by the biggest flat spell the UK has ever seen, so bought a van and called a 'road trip'. They had jobs to get back to and were squeezing in three surfs a day like the frothing groms they were. Their names elude me now, but the waves that they pulled into the next day will forever be etched into my remembrance.
So it turns out the lads could surf. Very well. They were full of chatter about the aforementioned and long awaited swell that had been upgraded massively and was showing already at sunset. The winds were good, the weather warm, the perfect day was just a sleep away. The fire was lit and we got to passing the early evening, the conversation was full of nervous energy, the anticipation heavy. We talked and compared surfboards, one of the lads had a board he got in Australia, he had it custom made by a shaper called Nick Blair. It was, without doubt the most seductive and eye catching design I had seen, I wanted to understand how it worked, I was asking questions and it became apparent that this board was a favourite and had been for a while.
I awoke to the familiar noise of wax being rubbed on a surfboard and then a bang bang on the side of our van, " Surf's up James" came from outside, van doors closing and then excited running down to the beach. I shot out of bed, nearly killed myself trying to get my wetsuit on in a hurry in the van, grabbed my board from the roof and was running down the beach all in about 3-4 mins.
When the swell gets to a certain size in that corner of the Bay of Biscay, the same corner in which you find Hossegor and Biarritz, the level of difficulty goes through the roof. One minute you are looking at a friendly beach break which barrels even when tiny, the next you are looking at triple hold down neck breakers. The view I saw that morning was of the latter persuasion. However, a surfer's pride is enough that a wet-suited man can not turn around and walk away. To suit up means you are going in, to 'wuss out' was not an option even though I was shitting myself. During my extended 'warm-up' on the beach I saw one of the guys take off on this double overhead, thick slab that barrelled perfectly, he came out and I swear to this day any WSL judge would have hit the ten button there and then. I also noticed the same little Nick Blair rocket under his feet that I was admiring the night before.
Thirty minutes later, I exited the water glad still to have my life and major appendages intact. I had been pounded to dust, caught in set after set, had not even made it out the back. Dejected but glad, I sat on the beach and caught my breath only to see the front half of the Nick Blair board wash up next to my feet. Minutes later, the other half of the board appeared attached to an extremely agitated lad, he had broken his favourite board and the only man that might be able to replace it lived about as far away as is possible. We all know that feeling and its not a good one.
The boys left for Calais that evening and left the two halves of the board with us. I wanted to keep it, I had plans of making surf furniture, maybe a table out of it or some shelves. My wife reminded me that we did not have a lot of space. Determined to keep the board, I said I would tie it on to the bikes that were fastened to the back of the van. This turned into a massive hassle, as every time we got the bikes off we had to first move the two halves of the board and then back again. Pretty soon the pieces just became something that we had to move around every day.
The Nick Blair board traveled with us down the Spanish and Portuguese coast and back again, then back up to the French Alps which was home at the time. The snapped dream machine then stayed in the Alps for another year before being loaded up for a move back to the UK, where it stayed for another 6 months before being put back in a van as part of our worldly possessions. I was not letting go of this thing.
Fast forward another two years and we had started a surf camp near to Hossegor, France. It was off season and we had some shop fitters staying who were fitting out the new Vans store in town, they had finished and decided to leave all the extra promo Vans stuff with us. Yewwwww, right! Amongst the goodies was a huge roll of Vans stickers, like wallpaper with Vans prints and sticky.
I finally knew what to do with the Nick Blair board that had caused me so much aggro all those years, I wrapped it very carefully in the Vans sticker, and both ends of it are still in the surf house on the wall to this day. They looked like a real Vans board and people used to ask me about it all the time.
So there we have it, the story of my introduction to Nick Blair as a shaper.
A lot of years later and I come across the shaping legend's name again, Nick shapes, owns and founded Joistik surfboards and is heavily invested in the new ‘Karboload Technology’, his shapes look as mesmeric as ever and I really wanted to reach out and ask him a few questions about his boards.
SB: Thanks a lot Nick, can you tell us a bit about the new Karboload Technology you are using?
Nick: Karboload is a unique epoxy layup on stringer-less EPS foam that utilities our exclusive Y-Flex technology. With Y-flex, the central carbon bottom strip splits at the leading edge of the side fins and flares out in a “Y” shape towards the rail (at specific measurements, depending primarily on the fin setup). The Y-Flex bottom harnesses the energy through the turn and carve like other bottom carbon strips, but where it differentiates and excels further is by additionally channeling the linear flex energy along the bottom, to transverse forces and flex through the tail third of the board. The energy feedback, acceleration, speed and liveliness through not only the turn, but more importantly the turn transitions (a result of the differing pressures between leading and back foot) are immediately noticeable and still allow a parabolic, uniform and tapered release of the energy through the more flexible tail. We’ve had world champ feedback on these and the distinct advantage and point of difference was immediately noticeable.
We balance this with various options on the deck, such as single carbon strips or half deck strips (or none). The most popular option however are the dual carbon tape strips on the deck, positioned at a specific measurement apart (under the heels and balls of the feet), parallel and running from nose to tail. These dual carbon deck strips optimise torsional twist by controlling and utilizing the energy harnessed from torsional twisting along the length of the board. Named Parallel Performance, they were pioneered and trademarked by surfer and inventor Troy Clutton, who also brought C-Drive fins to the market. Importantly too, the carbon is utilised on the outer layers of deck and bottom with the glass laminate- so that it is truly in tension when the surfboard flexes (in internal carbon laminates used by some technologies, the amount of tension and therefore energy feedback, decreases parabolically towards the centre of the core as the surfboard flexes). We are able to customise and manipulate the overall flex through various glass layup and tape options, to optimize flex for each surfer in specific conditions.
SB: I have been reading that Karboload Tech can be scaled up for improved performance in large waves, how is that?
Nick: To clarify this, what we’ve found in testing and noticed in our customer and athlete feedback, is that our Karboload tech is far more stable over 4 feet that other epoxy layups on the market, which tend to become unstable and twitchy at that size.. Provided the wave face is reasonably clean, Karboload is performing stably in the solid 6-8 feet range and above. One of the reasons for this is that from the get-go we have engineered the flex to be smooth and parabolic along the length of the board, to match as closely as possible the flex of a PU board. We wanted to harness the instant feedback and and amplified recoil properties of carbon, whilst maintaining this uniform feedback- without the distorted twitchiness and erratic flex displayed in other epoxy techs in the market.
SB: How long have you been shaping and what is the best board you think you have ever shaped?
Nick: 23 years. I began shaped my first board in my backyard shed when I was 15, and persisted with a few shapes throughout school, until I began building and selling boards at 18. I think for any experienced shaper it would be hard to name a “best” board, although we all have memorable ones in our careers. For me I have a couple handshapes which I developed really good rocker curves from that I still use in my foremost models today, such as the Silent Savage model. Design-wise I’m quite stoked with what I’ve achieved in some of my small wave models such as the Cab Sav and Cab Sav II, as well as some of the guns I’ve enjoyed shaping.
SB: How do you rate surfing in the Olympics, do you think it will change life for us surfers?
Nick: Not particularly, but I acknowledge this is a contentious subject for many surfers. I think the main benefits are felt by the communities where the Olympics are held. All of my business acquaintances in Japan for instance, are really excited about surfing being incorporated in the Japan Olympics, and the revenue it is expected to generate, which is going to inject much needed funds into communities and the surf industry there. I think it will be really beneficial in this instance.
SB: You have been shaping for a while. How have you seen the surfboard shaping world change over the years?
Nick: It’s always evolving and moving forward. The shapes are getting better and better, more consistent and I think there is a lot of innovation occurring with materials available to us and alternative crafts. For me the biggest thing has been social media- to quote someone like Dennis Jarvis from Spyder surfboards in California, a few decades ago you couldn’t even walk into another shaper’s bay, but now guys are talking and sharing. So I feel there is more of a community spirit and healthy peer interconnection. I think it’s raising the level and is showcasing the amount of talent out there, plus it’s accelerating the learning curve of young up-and-comers.
SB: I love the look of 'the slipper' model. Could I have that in Karboload tech, how much would it set me back and how long would the wait be.
Nick: At the moment we’re turning around our Karboload work in 6 weeks or under. The slipper is a great model and works perfectly in Karboload tech. It would set you back $995 (AUD) which includes your five fin plug setup (FCSII or Futures) and standard layup, clear or with included rail spray (1-2 colours).
SB: Thanks so much to Nick for his time, those Karboload boards look like they need to be tested. Thoroughly. By me. But seriously, after shaping and being on in the leading edge of the surfboard building industry and working with top athletes for 23 Years we think that Nick more than knows what he is talking about.
The fact that these surfboards have been rated up for serious step up boards is something new in the Epoxy world and seems to have gone unnoticed but with the positive feedback of none other than a world champ who is anyone to deny the pedigree of this new tech.
Check out more at Joistik Surfboards website here.