Thanks to a clusterfuck collaboration between Emirates & South African Airways, I managed to only just roll into the competition area at Jeffery’s Bay last week as Felipe Toledo and Wade Carmichael paddled out for their final showdown. I was let down not only by the airlines but also ever so slightly by my bearded Aussie countryman. The one aspect of my first week in South Africa that certainly didn’t disappoint however, was the weapon I found waiting for me in the Albatross carpark early the next morning.
We’ll get into the details of what made this board such a winner, but first, let me introduce the man responsible for shaping & hand delivering it to Jbay.
Hailing from seven hours drive up the coast in Cape Town, Mat Marais has a fierce reputation all along the Garden Route for excellent quality surf craft delivered on time at unbeatable prices. I was made aware of this not by my editor nor Mat’s sales guy Justin. Instead, it was thanks to the stream of praise he received from punters and pros alike over the short time we spent together. (It’s important to note here that the only information I had on the brand previously was that a friend of a friend in Portugal surfed them and was a fan).
We heard it all over a couple of days; satisfied customers who recognised Mat and wanted to thank him for the ‘lekker Hip Kebab’ he shaped them recently, to current pros quietly admiring his work ethic and prices despite contracts with bigger board sponsors (hence the lack of attributed quotes). In fact, there were so many crews frothing out constantly, that I found it difficult to get him alone for a few words. We started our interview in the Corona tent on a lay day of the women's event, moved it to the sand with beers in hand to find our spot, and ended up walking a hundred metres up the beach at the base of the dunes as someone wanted to thank him for a shape or say ‘howzit?’ everywhere we turned. At this point, it was becoming hard to remind myself that this was, on a global scale, a lesser known brand with a single shaper operating from 700kms away.
Mat had a lot of interesting things to say. The brand is a strong one, with a very good ethos and a humble yet optimistic outlook on its future which is reflected by the owner and shaper. In fact, Surf Bunker would like to explore that further, and will in an upcoming piece on boards, shapers and finding yourself the best ones to make the most of your hard-earned.
But we’re here to review a board, so here it is. The very impressive M*A*T Surfboards Target model.
BRAND: M*A*T Surfboards
MODEL: The Target
SHAPER: Mat Marias
BOARD DIMS: 6’0 x 19” x 2 5/16” - 29L
SURFER DIMS: 6’0” - 82kgs
CONDITIONS: Day 1 - 4ft / 5ft sets - Clean faces, sometimes hollow & fast
Day 2 - 3/4ft - Clean faces, slower
Day 3 - 2/3ft - Difficult, bumpy closeouts
Day 4 - 3/4ft - Sharky dusk session, very fast
Day 5 - 1/2ft - Almost non-existent beachies
The board felt good as soon as I picked it up. I was worried it would be tail heavy, or feel too narrow or any number of things that makes you dismiss a board straight off the rack. It looked shit hot as well with the black rail spray, black decals and white tail pad of their own branding, which doesn’t help the performance of a board but certainly never hurts the overall impression.
Mat explained the low entry rocker, foam distribution, kick in the tail and everything else he sees as elements of the perfect Jbay stick. I pretended to understand everything as I waxed her up and screwed in my fins… I’m fairly dialled in when it comes to board design, but there's an obvious difference between a surf shop attendee turned part-time surf journalist and someone whose world revolves around the art form. Mat is clearly the latter. He told me he had drawn some inspiration from Ace Buchan’s Jbay boards, tactfully mentioning that he had added a few tweaks including a little more foam in the rails for me as ‘Ace is a bit… well, a fair bit lighter than yourself’, and that was nothing but a good thing; I’m no pro and it doesn’t do me any favours trying to surf boards that are designed for much better, lighter surfers.
This board was shaped with one set of conditions in mind. We were lucky enough to score exactly that on the first morning, with Albatross (the very tail end of the Jeffery’s stretch) serving up consistent 4 footers with bigger sets steaming down the line, opening up occasionally and challenging us to figure out whether to pull into, race or slice open the first section in similar fashion to Supertubes (where the comp is run). After that, you could either watch someone further down the line capitalise on your mistake or reel off a series of turns until the inevitable, slightly heavy closeout section.
We somehow had it to ourselves for the first hour of the session and the board, quite honestly, felt like magic. It paddled well thanks to the added foam under the chest. It allowed me to take the high-line and generally beat the first, stretched out section to rattle off a few turns, so the generation of speed was there. The extra tail rocker gave the board hold through carves and snaps with back-foot pressure applied to the pad as well as allowing fin release when that pressure was reduced, and I was even able to snag a head-dip to down-carve to snap combination I could be quite proud of. Mat saw this little combo from the channel, and the stoke he exuded felt very real as he saw his creation achieving exactly what he intended it to; smooth rail to rail transitions and drive in the pocket. After the first test session, things were looking good for The Target.
If you’re thinking its extremely unfair to test a board in near-perfect waves and give it a glowing review, then you’re correct. I felt the same way, hence the following days I surfed the same board in gradually diminishing conditions. The WSL called lay-day after lay-day, but we continued to find a variety of different conditions from smaller Albatross to frustratingly bad Magnatubes, back to a surprisingly fun yet sharky dusk session at Albatross and then onto the beachie at St. Francis Bay in ankle-to-knee high ridiculousness.
As the wave-size and quality diminished, so too did the functionality of the board, but this was to be expected when you’re looking at a performance shortboard in these dimensions suited for a beefy point break with so many juicy sections. The evening shark-dodging session at Albatross produced similarly awesome results to the first morning on the sets, and it became obvious that when the waves provided some push and an open face to lay into, the board co-operated without a hitch. It cut through onshore chop nicely. I could even get to my feet in the tiny beachies, and with a lot of heavy breathing and arm swinging, squeeze out a pitiful pump to float combo although I was missing my groveller badly at that point.
The verdict? This is honestly, in over 23 years years of surfing, looking like my favourite performance shortboard… ever. From the long, long list of Merricks, Mayhems, JS’s, Firewires, Supers, Pyzels, Taiwan pop-outs and local small-time shapes I have owned, plus the rest, it looks poised to take the cake. I think that comes from a combination of the shaper understanding perfectly which waves the board was going to be ridden in as well as the size, shape and ability of the surfer he was crafting it for along with possessing a real skill and understanding for shaping. As with any great board there is also that intangible element of magic that you can’t quite put your finger on, but I would encourage you to consider M*A*T Surfboards next time you’re looking for a shaper with an impressive skillset, who also actually gives a fuck that they put you on the right shape for your needs.
NOTE: This is not a paid article of any kind. Surf Bunker is not into that. It’s just a really, really good board.
Editors note : A huge thanks to MAT who was ready to put his shapes under our feet and let us tell you all about them. If you want to find out a bit more about MAT, check out the interview article we did with him here.