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Episode 22: Meet Tom Wegener, PhD, Master Shaper and Surfing Legend

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Listen to the episode here

Show Notes

It was the middle of the afternoon in Queensland when I got hold of Tom. In his pink t-shirt, trimmed grey beard, his contagious smile and the sunshine pouring through the window, Tom was an incarnation of the Noosa vibes!

For the few unfamiliar among us, Tom Wegener is a surfer, filmmaker, actor, author, master shaper and an academic. In fact, he has collected so much wisdom on surfing and shaping over the years, he was recently awarded with a PhD on the Sustainability of the Surfboard Industry.

His thesis “Globalisation and the Sustainability of Small Manufacturers: Challenges Facing the Surfboard Artisans of Australia” was published last week and is an amazing read towards understanding what it takes to be an artisan surfboard maker in today’s globalized economy.

Tom is recognized all around the world as a master surfboard shaper. One of the best, in fact. He is specialized in shaping the greenest boards on earth. His boards have been lauded by surfing geniuses such as Rob Machado and Dave Rastovitch. He has a true passion for reviving surfing culture from the 60’s and that’s what he’s been doing for the past 20 years…

“Because through the 1980’s you had Quiksilver and Billabong, and the companies going big, shortboarding was getting really popular. And then the tri-fin came along, and then it became a very aggressive sort of masculine culture and I said, “Well no, I don’t like this. I want to go back to the 60’s. “ I kinda missed the boat, and I wanted to do that over again. So with all my movies and tv shows, and for 20 years, I’ve made surfboards, and I’ve lived the 1960s far longer than the 1960s actually lasted!” — Tom Wegener

In this conversation, we discuss Tom’s tremendous experience in surfing and in shaping. We talk about how his passion for surf archeology and the discovery of Paulownia wood helped him develop some of the grooviest surfboards on the planet.

“This wood was sincerely made by god for surfing.” — Tom Wegener (about Paulownia wood)

Tom, inspired by the ancient Hawaiian models has developed some of the most incredible surf crafts and has managed to revive models such as the Alaias and the Olos (that you’ll find out about them about in the episode).

Today, Tom is passionate about sharing his experience. He explains how and why he shares his knowledge around the world, teaching other aspiring shapers to make sustainable boards with very basic raw materials.

“You can go down the street literally and buy the stuff to make a great surfboard. Right here. You just need a vacuum bag and a hot wire and you could make anything. If you have this thin cork, and the foam that you can get at any hardware store basically in the world, and if you can source the veneer Paulownia, you can make belly boards, thrusters, longboards, 12fters, you could make an olos, you could make anything from these 3 basic materials.
And thats been my goal : is to get people back into making surfboards, cause making surfboards as a highschooler was the best part of my life.” — Tom Wegener

Just check out what you can do with some cork, paulownia veneer and hardware store foam in this video :

This brings us to Tom’s thesis on how artisan craftsmen, in particular the artisan shapers (and their boards) almost disappeared off the face of the earth in favor of mass produced boards, and you’ll be surprised to find out how this industry resisted.

“I thought the Australian surfboard industry was gonna die. Because a lot of my friends had left it. They just said, “Tom, I’m not going to make surfboards anymore. There’s no money in it anymore. All these imports are coming in…the whole thing, it’s all over. The good years are over.” So I started to do a PhD with the idea to help these people, maybe there was something that I could do as a researcher to figure out something, some regulation or who knows what, but something.” — Tom Wegener

You can download Tom’s thesis here: http://research.usc.edu.au/vital/access/manager/Repository/usc:28442 which was inspired by the book he wrote “Surfboard Artisans, For the Love”

Finally, we talk about the currency of time: how chasing money isn’t as interesting or fun as the concept of free time.

“You’re a millionnaire if you can take all weekend off and hang out with your kids all weekend. Cause it doesn’t last very long when they want to hang out with you. It’s a pretty narrow window, isn’t it Imi?” — Tom Wegener

I loved this conversation. I hope you did too. I just love the way Tom manages to bridge the past surfing archeology and with the future. His approach to education and teaching the next generation of shapers is just spot on.

If there’s anything to take from this conversation, it’s you can make a surfboard! So get out there, and start using your hands! If you need any guidance, Tom organises a surf stay/masterclass with his wife Margie in Noosa. Learn to make your own surfboard and have a great time with the Wegeners in the process.

It was an absolute delight and honor to spend an hour with Tom. I love everything about this exchange. I hope you do too.

Until next time, take care, have fun and enjoy the waves.

Ciao

Imi

Links

  • See Tom at work in the Salt of The Earth video portrait
  • Stay with Tom and Margie and build your own board!

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