Behind the Brand: Though he learned to surf on the Gold Coast of Australia in his early teens, James Cheal was drawn into the board-building business after moving south to Sydney's North Narrabeen, home of Simon Anderson's original thruster and one of Australia's most powerful surfboard design hubs. Cheal started slowly, focusing more on quality than numbers, which is why he was quickly recruited by brands like Aloha and Webber to do finish work. All the while, he was crafting his own designs, which began sliding under some very prominent feet, including Richard Cram, Nathan Hedge, Chris Davidson, and Shane Powell. In 2004, Andy Irons rode several of his boards en route to his third and most hotly contested world title. Naturally, many more of the world's best surfers have come knocking on his door ever since. Yet Cheal has never paid anyone to ride his equipment. His reputation for quality control and great customer service are his biggest sources of pride.
About his Most Popular Models: Most of Cheal's designs today are centered around the principles of his "alternative volume distribution." One of his best-selling boards is the STEPdown, which is his version of a performance groveller. Cheal believes the conventional wisdom surrounding volume is flawed. "One's perception of length + width + thickness = total volume is a little distorted," he explains. "We've been adjusting foam distribution through the board to cater for bottom curves, allowing for shorter, curvier boards. It sounds bizarre, but Kelly Slater proved it works at Snapper Rocks last year."
Taking the Pulse:"The progression of shaping machines has taken most of the monotonous, unnecessary mowing of foam out of the equation—added with the fact that surfers are now open to trying absolutely anything—allowing surfboard designers to be creative on a day to day basis."Shop Talk
What trend would you really like to see advanced as we move forward? "I'd like to see more experimentation with eco-friendly materials. The end could be closer than we think!"
If you had only three boards to last you through the next year, what would they be? "The first would be a STEPdown, which works great in surf from 1- to 4-foot. The next would be an A2 Semi-Gun, just in case the swell picks up. And the last one would be a Chilli FiSH. I've widened up the nose for more forgiveness, and this board is making it possible to have fun even in the tiniest, most gutless waves."
What's the most overlooked aspect of design when it comes to the average customer? "It's a combination of shape and volume. First, you need to have a proven shape as a base, something that fits the waves you plan on surfing. Then you need to discover the perfect volume for your weight and ability. Once you've found that, you will be able to scale boards up and down and develop a quiver of amazing surfboards that perform."