When it comes to surfing, I’m proud to say that I maxed my special meter for 15 seconds, and rode for 60 seconds, collecting 35,000 points without wiping out, in Antarctica. Outside of Kelly Slater’s Pro surfer though, I never did achieve much on the board. I stood up, which I think is the definition of ‘giving it a go,’ but limited experience, has never stopped me admiring the quasi religious nature of the sport. From the baptismal, first swim of the summer, to giving in to the huge force of the wave when you’re dumped, it’s a culture that goes deeper then Keanu Reeves action films set in Venice Beach (there are more than you’d think). If surfing is a religion, then Max Stewart is, well not the priest, but maybe the guy who makes the pews or something. By all accounts, he’s one of the most exciting surfboard shapers on the east coast, and he’s inspired in me a great admiration for his craft.
BYO: “You surf?” I started, making a joke about the Fidlar song “Max Can’t Surf.”
Max: I’m not one of those every morning guys, but yeah I do, a couple of times a week.
BYO: Who works at Eye Symmetry with you?
Max: It’s just me. I hold the fort and make all the boards and everything.
The building that Eye Symmetry is in is divided into the production process of surfboard manufacturing, and sales. The room closest to the road exhibits boards in their final stages of production, one-step back you have their resin process, and before that the shaping bays. There’s an exhibition room, with completed boards, and the point of sale system for clients. It’s an incredibly impressive set up for a 23 year old, and the boards use the highest quality of products, including epoxy resin and fiberglass. It’s this ambition, and quality alike, that’s attracted big name players such as Tom Caroll to their doors.
BYO: How did you meet Tom Caroll?
Max: I met him while I was still working with my old employer (world famous Haydonshapes). Pretty much the day I was leaving he came up to me and I told him what I was doing, and when I set it up I sent him some emails, and then all of a sudden he walked in the door and asked for some boards. He uses them around here, just around the home.
BYO: Are your board’s ideals for any location?
Max: They’re based for here, but I could make them for anywhere. The waves are different everywhere in the world. In Australia, they’re pretty varied, but generally Sydney, east coast, it’s usually 95% of the time small, and pretty weak. We get a lot of wind swells. So I make the boards suited for that. Where as somewhere in Indonesia needs boards with more curves. Sydney boards need to be flatter, so they’re fast. Also, concave, so if you’re looking down the board, the curve in the board goes rail to rail.
BYO: What’s the process to design these boards?
Max: There’s a bit of hydrodynamics, but the surfboard shape doesn’t change too much between shapers. There’s a general recipe for the best board. I use a computer to design them. Pretty much a CAD sketch up that you send to the machine that will cut a rough foam board for me to shape. You can also hand shape, but I don’t have enough time, and it doesn’t necessarily make a better board. Plus this software works better for team surfers, who need precise dimensions.
BYO: How long would one of your boards last?
Max: I’ve only heard of one of my boards snapping. I build them to last, even the team boards, so I get the boards back and can sell them on.
Max’s boards start at eight hundred and fifty dollars, which will score you a custom sturdy, and light, professional quality board fit for a world champion. However, there’s more to Max’s strategy than just quality, Max is working to innovate a design that hardly see’s changes. He’s made a couple of boards, with carbon fiber stringers. You know that piece of wood that runs through the middle of the board? Apparently, that stops the board from breaking in half, while also allowing it some ‘snap’ back. Max has replaced that wooden piece with carbon fiber, which changes the flex, and makes the board last longer.
“It’s experimental,” he tells me, “its all R and D. I have to make the stringers by hand. It’s adding four hours to a surfboard.” He feels confident however that when he gets the recipe right, it’s going to free him up to do some pretty wild things, including boards that offer a faster response when you turn through a wave.
It’s a beautiful drive out to Brookvale from the inner city, and the beaches are a crowd-less reminder of summer. It’s worth the drive to check out this young, ambitious guy rising up from the noise of want to be surf shapers.
Most people buy boards by walking in to the store at 162 Harbord Rd, Brookvale NSW 2100 Australia, but you could also fill out an order form on the website.