Sean Doherty On: Ellis Ericson Bringing The Shortboard Revolution Full Circle

4 Oct 2015 1 Share

Sean Doherty

Senior Writer

Ellis subconsciously progressing through the ages, Photo by Josh Simpson

Ellis subconsciously progressing through the ages, Photo by Josh Simpson

The backyard of Ellis’s Bangalow farmhouse is strewn with dead surfboards. It’s a veritable graveyard. He strolls amongst them in the uncut knee-high grass, picking up their sallow and sunken carcasses, manoeuvering them in the midday sun for a glint of contour, a sign of life, running his hands along the rails tenderly like you would caress the warm corpse of a recently departed loved one. But for Ellis these surfboards aren’t dead. Far from it. Ellis is feeling for a pulse. You see, he’s already dug up the 70s and brought that decade back to life. Now he’s busy re-animating the 80s and 90s.

As we wander the yard he tells the stories of each board.

“This one my friend found in the gutter at Suffolk Park, near my mum’s house. I rode it out at The Pass and it went great.” The wax is three decades old and black. “Gotta keep it original!” He cackles before moving on. “This Merrick’s pretty sick. I got this off a friend who found it in Japan. And that Nirvana over there… I picked that up at a garage sale. Mate, they’re everywhere if you know where to look!”

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"Ellis broke free of his generation some while back"

Ellis and his blue hair moves across the yard. “And this Bonzer, I found this on Craigslist in the States, at Laguna. Al (Knost) and I were driving down from his place at Newport and we were trawling Craigslist for all these old boards, ’cause there are so many over there. We were just about to go past the turnoff when we found that Bonzer. Rrrrrrrrrrr! Hit the brakes! We pulled in and this guy goes, ‘A hundred bucks.’ It had full Astrodeck, it was legit. It’s 6’4½” but doesn’t especially surf like it. Hey, this board got me into Bonzers and changed heaps of shit for me. I took it to Deserts and it blew me away. It handled sooooo good.

You know how Deserts is a fast wave but you want to be in the pocket all the time? Well this board’s slow enough that it puts you in the pocket without having to race out and check back in. I was riding it with this super flexy seven-inch Greenough style fin. You’d get sucked up the face and feel the fin load up then you’d go fwoooooooooom! Like a bullet. It was sick.” 

Ellis, feeling for a pulse, Photo by Josh Simpson

Ellis, feeling for a pulse, Photo by Josh Simpson

The board he’s bringing back to life at the moment is a box-railed Peter Daniell thruster, shaped by Stuart Cadden circa 1990, complete with double deck grip. “I was up here at the start of last year and I always go thrifting, looking for clothes and old things, and ended up at the Lismore car boot sale. This guy had driven up from that town just north of Coffs… what’s the place? The one with the Hindu temple? Woolgoolga, that’s it. He had all these old boards and wetties, a couple of remake single fins that I have no interest in whatsoever, and here was this old board sitting at the back of the racks with the full blue and white deck grip. It caught my eye. I asked, ‘How much?’ and he goes, ‘Eighty bucks,’ and I go, ‘Mate, I’ve only got 50,’ that old line, playing hardball and shit. I flipped it over and it had that nice 80s entry rocker and was flat through the tail with four subtle channels through the fins. I took it down to Brunswick one morning and it was solid and the board felt amazing. Then we got that swell run and I surfed it every day and tuned into it, getting used to that flat bottom, three-fin feeling, where it was working and where it wasn’t. You’re not getting the instant push from the concave when you get straight up on a plane, but you find a sweeter spot. You get that acceleration eventually and it feels better. And you can still punt on them; you can still get high on those boards. It has all those accents of the classic 70s boards but with the agility and water throwing capabilities of thrusters today. It’s one of the most pivotal boards I’ve owned… and I got it from a car boot sale!”

As you might’ve guessed, Ellis broke free of his generation some while back, went “spastic in time” as Vonnegut would say, floated back to a simpler era and has been busy re-enacting 20 years of surfboard evolution in his backyard since. The 70s country soul of Ellis’s Bangalow farmhouse is now home to neon 80s thrusters, being surfed by a guy who grew up surfing in the 90s, and self mocks with the irony of today.

But this ain’t fashion for Ellis. 

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Ellis breaking free of his generation, Photo by Josh Simpson

Ellis breaking free of his generation, Photo by Josh Simpson

He’s trying to get inside the heads of the guys who shaped these boards, understand what was going on, and bring ideas across into the boards he’s shaping himself. Old boards in new ways. He’s just been on a month-long surf binge around home with mates Beau Foster, Creed McTaggart and Andrew Doheny, surfing his 80s boards like they were never surfed in the 80s.

A whole industry has sprung up around 70s vintage boards, and Ellis might be getting in on the ground floor of the looming 80/90s retro boom. “There was just heaps of shit going on in those times. It still had the singleys and the twins, it had the birth of the thruster, it still had the Bonzers in there as well as some early quads. What more do you want? It gets written off and doesn’t get acknowledged properly, because design and fin set-ups changed so much between 1980 and 1990. It was a pretty rad time. I was thinking about it the other day. It was one of the most experimental eras, and I’m fully psyched on it.”

"He’s already dug up the 70s and brought that decade back to life. Now he’s busy re-animating the 80s and 90s." 

As to where he goes from here Ellis isn’t sure. “I don’t know, I just feel like I’ve been slowly, subconsciously progressing through the ages now. I’m not done with the 70s yet – I’m still riding single fins – and I guess when I first started shaping, the natural point to start was to go back to where the shortboard first came from, and the era where it transitioned and where all that experimentation and change was going on. Now I feel like I’m moving on from that. I’ve only been shaping five or six years now, and I started out going, like, single fins feel sick, then a year or two later I’m like, twin fins work pretty well. Then it’s these Bonzers surfing great, and now I’m like, these 80s thrusters are so much fun. I just get on tangents. Right now it’s this 80s thing, but I’ll see someone walk past at The Pass with an old board and – shazam – I’ll be like back in 1973."

Ellis is laughing to himself as he draws the outline of an old Nirvana on a fresh blank, his afternoon project in the backyard. Despite his current 80s fixation, he believes he’s slowly catching up to his own point in time. “Oh, you know the 90s is coming next. What was that board Herro rode? That flipped out rockered out thing?” He yells inside the house to ask Beau. “Hey, what was that board Herro rode?”

“The Banana!” Comes the reply.

“The Banana! Yes! And you just know I’m going to end up on a 2000s shortboard at some stage soon. Full circle.” He stops marking out the blank for a second and ponders, before cackling to himself. “Shit, where do I go then?" 

SEE ALSO: Jamie O'Brien Just Needs a Foamie

Floating back, Photo by Josh Simpson

Floating back, Photo by Josh Simpson

Ellis embracing the 90's, Photo by Josh Simpson

Ellis embracing the 90's, Photo by Josh Simpson

Tags: doherty , feature , Ericson , Shortboard , surfing , world (create Alert from these tags)

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