By Christian Beamish
By any estimation, Brett Simpson had an extraordinary 2010 WQS season. With a string of strong finishes throughout the year, including a win for the largest prize in pro surfing history at the U.S. Open in Huntington, Simpson made a career milestone by qualifying for the newly streamlined Dream Tour. But how does the competitive success of someone who surfs as well as Simpson relate to the more average talents among us? In a sustained, three-year effort, Simpson focused on his equipment and technique to propel himself to the world surfing stage. His achievements are largely the result of his own hard work, naturally, but equally important have been the efforts of a man in his late 50s, working away at a modest board-building operation in San Clemente.
From his background on Australia’s Gold Coast in the wild days of Michael Peterson’s mythic Kirra sessions and Rabbit’s ascendancy, Hamish Graham brings the very roots of high-performance surfing to the contemporary boards he shapes. And it is this knowledge, along with decades upon decades of development of his craft, that goes directly into the cutting-edge performances that Brett Simpson has been laying down. Three straight years of minute adjustments in rocker, concaves, and materials have produced a potent union of surfer and shaper—each enabling the other to attain his highest potential.
“I don’t want to live in the past,” Graham asserts, “but I draw from it.” And the significance in all of this is the synthesis occurring between the old and the new, the way that the 1970s ideals of down-the-line speed, power surfing, and deep tube-rides underlie the futuristic wave-riding of Simpson and his contemporaries. Using S-glass and epoxy rather than polyester resin on Simpson’s boards has allowed Graham to make lighter and stronger equipment while still shaping with standard polyurethane blanks. The boards are “built around him like an old pair of shoes,” Graham insists.
Now, for the rank-and-file, the benefit of such focus is not so much that Johnny-the-grom or Joe-the-funboard-guy can simply purchase a Brett Simpson model from Hamish Graham and start punting airs (God help us), but that everyday surfers who concentrate on what it is that they are doing, in a scaled-down version of what Hamish and Brett have done, can markedly improve their overall involvement with the art—yes, art—of surfing. Unless it is enough to simply throw on a wetsuit and splash around for a few hours, any surfer will benefit from a realistic assessment of his or her skill level, and a methodical approach to finding the optimal craft to ride.
The Graham-Simpson collaboration is important in the way that their sustained working relationship has produced such high-level performances—in other words, it is the willingness of not only the surfer to invest in his shaper, but also the shaper to commit to the betterment of the boards his customer rides. Of course, in straightened economic times it is difficult to think in multiples of boards, rather than simply one, good “all-arounder,” but this too is a matter of commitment, and of priorities. Surfer/shaper collaborations of the recent past have produced a number of design variations, even within the realm of close-tolerance, high-performance boards that give surfers a starting point from which to begin the long process of solidifying their surfing practice.