Surfboard collector Damion Fuller is enchanted by wave ridings rainbow - coloured past.
Australian surfer Simon Anderson revolutionised surfboard design in the mid-1980s when he introduced the three-fin thurster. The style was unbeatable in terms of performance and functionality and its popularity soared, with variations on the triptych popping up in surf shops, and competitions, across the world.
But like all things, what is seen as innovative one day can all too quickly become the norm. And as the surfing industry began to chum out boards for the mass market, appreciation for innovative boards, like those from surfing's past, started to dwindle. That is, until now A new breed of vintage surfboard aficionados are connecting through cyberspace and sharing their love for a lost art. And an Australian dude called Damion Fuller is at the helm of the resurgence.
"I think after '85 you had the birth of professionalism in surfing," says Damion in drawn-out Aussie tones. And from that point on surfers were just given free surfboards by companies and this need to innovate - for the surfer to feed straight back into the surfboard design - kind of immediately ceased. A lot of professional surfers today don't even know how surfboards are built. So for me 1975 to 1985 is a really lovely period. It's almost like when Picasso was first experimenting with sculpture, paint or cubism, pushing the envelope of the technique. From a surfing point of view there was a break [after that period] of the craftsman-designer surfer, the waterman, the poet-warrior.”
Damion indulges his love of vintage surfboard design through a rotating collection of about one hundred and eighty boards, all of which he rides at some point. But after his wife got sick of him surf-waxing lyrical about twin fins and swallowtails he decided to start a blog, called Board Collector, and find some likeminded souls. "I just started putting my boards [online] and the spiderweb of people that I've met is amazing," says the Bondi Beach-local affectionately.
Inspired by the popularity of his blog, Damion decided to go one step further and set up a swap-meet where "music and art can mix with vintage and resin surfboards" in the car park of streetwear brand Deus Ex Machina, where he (used to) work as a fashion designer. He explains: "The swap-meets began as a way to pull together all the amazing people that I've met [through Board Collector]; from old hairy collectors with boards in their garages to designers who are interested in looming about the past. I wanted to pull all the people I've met in cyberspace into reality. And it's growing bigger and better every time." The events have been so successful, in fact, that Damion is transporting the idea to Perth and then Venice Beach, California.
But is there something of the Luddite spirit in Damion and his band of antiquation brothers who romanticise a by-gone era? "Definitely not," says the forty-year-old. "I am one of those people who hates the 'good old days mentality. When I collect boards, I am looking for unexplored innovations that were overlooked. For example, the board that I ride now - a 1978 sky twin fin shaped by Bob McTavish [a pioneering Australian shortboard shaper] - is the best board I've ever surfed . So I contacted Bob and his son told me that Kelly Slater is tiding a similar shaped board at Pipeline today... Which is nice for me because it proves I'm not crazy or trapped in a time warp. It proves that these things are worth revisiting... So no, this is not looking back This is looking for breakthroughs that were overlooked when boards became very standardised.”
And it's not just the shape and functionality of the boards that's got Damion hooked "That [innovative] period of design was really graphically interesting with a lot of use of colour and fluoro. To me, these surfboards are wonderful pieces of applied art. They're handmade and they beautifully painted and yet they still have a wonderful function too." So what happened to those rainbow-coloured boards of yesteryear - and why do boards today seem so bland in comparison? "Ah, the lost art of the airbrush," sighs Damion. "It's not common anymore because it's expensive and that's really sad. I guess its like Macrame; one of those skills that was really popular fora period and then quickly dies out But it makes those boards even more attractive, more collectible for me.”
And with more projects in the pipeline, including a collaboration with the Australian National Maritime Museum, Damion is ensuring these beautiful design anomalies go down in surfboard history.