Maurice Cole, with loads to be smiling about. Photo: Steindler
Maurice Cole has to be one of the most interesting people on the planet. The famous Australian shaper has stories for days, weeks, and years. From pioneering surfing in France in the early 70s, to making boards for Tom Curren (one in particular which Curren was riding in the famous Backdoor cutback shot, one of the most iconic surf images ever captured), to playing golf with Miki Dora, and on and on and on. Each story sounds like a chapter from a book, and there’s little doubt there will be a book someday.
The latest chapter, and part of the reason he was in Southern California a few months back was to get treated for prostate cancer. He was diagnosed about six months ago, and came to California to receive cutting edge treatment from one of the best doctors in the country. But it’s not all bad news. Cole’s also seizing the opportunity of being over this way to unveil some new and extremely interesting designs he’s been working on in relative obscurity for the last five years at home.
Though he’s shaped boards for a number of world champs, he’s more than a shaper—he’s been an innovator, pioneer, designer, madman, charger, and entrepreneur, among other things. He founded BASE Surfboards, the all-star shaping co-op in Australia, and then suddenly exited. Since then, he and mate Ross Clarke-Jones have been towing large surf and working on Maurice’s next design advancements.
He’s opinionated, controversial, and tack sharp. This is his first U.S. interview in a long while. Enjoy, discuss, and wish him the best on his fight. And look for an update soon, the last time I talked to him he’d indicated there was a lot of news on both the design and health fronts. –Casey Koteen
Great to see you here in California, Maurice. It feels sort of heavy to just jump right in and talk about this, but one of the reasons you’re here is for treatment of prostate cancer, right?
Yeah, I had a stomach complaint in France this year, and when I got it checked out with my doctor in Australia, I ended up having to get a damn colonoscopy. It’s something I don’t recommend to everybody. But, uh anyhow, I went through this whole amazing set of circumstances when I had the colonoscopy, and I asked for my health to be checked by my general practitioner. He called me immediately and said, “Hey I want you to do another blood test tomorrow, you’ve got a really high PSA.” And I went, “What the f—k’s PSA?” And he says, “Ah, look, just do it. And let’s meet really quick.”
So then I found out that I had a PSA level of 35, which is basically inoperable. From there I went to a urologist and they gave me the bad news—that I couldn’t be operated on. They gave me all these treatments, and it was pretty negative actually. They said they could put me on hormones. But you lose your facial hair—and this is the more negative side—you grow boobs, you put on a bit of weight. Luckily, over the years my journey has included becoming really good friends with Dr. Warren Kramer, his wonderful wife, and his family.
He’s the doctor/surgeon that a lot of the World Tour surfers go to.
Yeah, and he did my shoulder reconstruction years ago, and I’ve got a ton of confidence in him. I called him up, and I was in such a negative space. I’d found out that a lot of the treatments available in Australia were not as good as in America. You guys are about five years ahead. My GP will kill me for saying that, but it’s true.
So Warren checked it all out, and we short listed to a guy in San Francisco and a Doctor in Ventura, Dr. Bahn. Then it took me six weeks to get a visa. I finally got out here and they all agreed that I was too far gone to be operated on and take it out, and to be cured. So basically what I’ve done is accepted a holistic approach, combined with modern medicine. I’ve read all this stuff that Dr. Bahn put me onto, in regards to diet, and stuff about sugar feeding cancer, and stress. In the past I’ve been a sugar-a-holic, and of course I love my cheeses since I lived in France all those years.
But I read a book that my daughter got me called Anticancer. A lot of it has got to do with the diet. Suddenly I could envision this entity living inside me, called Mr. C, Mr. Cancer. And I could see that over the last four or five years, I got caught up with a bunch of shady business partners, and ended up losing everything I owned, and went to a pretty dark place. I had chronic depression and went through a very dark period of my life and I was eating sugar and smoking, and letting my diet deteriorate.
But no one forced me to do that, it’s part of my journey. And so all of a sudden I got back to Australia on November 4, I watched the election and was just going, “Yeah, woooo!!!” I watched all of that, Obama getting in. And then I read this book and since then it’s been no more sugar, no more dairy products, no more pasta, no more bread, no fruit—I’ve totally cleaned up my life.
I’m having cryosurgery tomorrow to remove most of the tumors. And then my immune system is going to kick in, so we’ve boosted that up, and this Dr. Bahn is pretty revolutionary.
So this is an experimental, cutting edge procedure?
Haha, that’s one of my puns, I’m supposed to say that. Yeah so it is, it’s a really cutting edge procedure, and there’s a little bit of risk involved, more so than getting a traditional hormone and radio therapy. But I’ve taken risks all my life, I don’t know how many times I’ve nearly died. I’ve lived the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. It seems my life’s been like that even though my family would just like it to get a little more balanced. But that’s where I feel I’m at now.
It’s been a real wake up call for me. All these amazing things have happened since I’ve come over here, I’ve caught up with old friends like Jeff Baldwin and Steve Sherman, and some really good old friends. It’s like all of a sudden all this magic is appearing in my life and I see it as an amazing thing, and I wouldn’t be sitting here today and have been able to develop all these new boards that I’ve been working on for the last five years.
There’s going to be a lot of people wishing you well, and we wish you well, too.
Yeah, some people go, “I wish you luck.” But I’ve always said, “You don’t rely on luck, you make your own luck.” It’s a part of having a really positive outlook. It helps to have people around you that are positive, and I’ve realized that I’ve got a group of friends, a real bunch of freaks, and they’re all so positive. One of my sayings now is, “One of the greatest challenges is always turning a negative into a positive.” You always can. It’s easy to say, but I’m actually living it day by day now.
You mentioned going into a dark place for a little while, with your last project unraveling. But at the same time, that also led to you having all this time to develop these new surfboard designs that you’ve brought with you to unveil.
Exactly, I had nothing else to concentrate on, and so I got into this. Ross Clark-Jones and I would have days of surfing twenty foot waves and testing boards, and the boards got better and better and we’d change from all fiberglass then we went to carbon and Kevlar. We were making quantum leaps in design—very deep concaves.
The World Tour is a bit dull and boring, to say the least. So I went down another track of testing boards; we’re doing tow-ins—I call it my Formula One, that’s the analogy. You’ve got the fastest cars, the best braking, the best air foils, you’ve got the very best of it all. Why do they spend billions of dollars on Formula One? Because they don’t bring that technology down to the next level.
So I’ve done the opposite again, I haven’t used the pros this time for board testing. I tried to get pros to surf some of these boards, but people would just reject them and not even surf them. So I just kept going down this track, and surfed them myself, and Ross, as well. And I’ve got friends and people like Jeff Baldwin, who are the first people to surf these boards and they’re just going, “Huh, they look weird.” But, there’s a lot of thought and substance in every part of these boards. And that’s where we are now. It’s like a whole new world. I’ve come out and gone, “What’s everyone been doing for five years?” I’ve come out from under my rock.
Maurice and his Pro Tow model. Photo: Steindler
Formula One is a great analogy. When I think of Formula One, some of that technology will probably never make it down to a Honda Accord. So how do you determine what from the tow designs makes sense to incorporate into the average shortboard?
To me, you’ve got the motor; the motor’s the bottom. I realize now that the big concaves, well, it’s like catamarans. The next thing is the fins, they’re the tires and the suspension. It doesn’t matter how good your car is, you’ve got to have really good fins.
Coming back to your question though, everything that works on a tow board at those speeds must work on a regular surfboard, going at lower speeds. So if the fins that we’re using will cut through the water at 60 to 70 mph without any cavitation or spin out, they’ll work for a normal shortboard.
It’s refreshing to see some high performance board design that actually looks much different than the standard shortboard. It seems like we’ve been talking about refinements for a decade or more.
It’s been ten years where we had double concaves and all these little bits. Everyone’s been fine tuning stuff to death. I’m not going to say who I made boards for that wouldn’t surf them, but it’s such a closed mentality. I’ll spend hours shaping a board and some lazy f—k won’t have the time to wax it up and ride it for a half an hour. And to me, that’s the way the whole surfing world went.
Everybody was riding glass on fins. It’s as boring as twenty-year old dog shit. Where does the next generation of surfboards come? Where does the next generation of surfers come?
Shapers were mentors before, we’d help people with contracts and things like that. I think there’s been a collapse between the surfer/shapers, and the companies have directed whose surfboards you can get for free. Instead of the kids growing up with their local shaper, who’s supposed to be an older, wiser guy who wasn’t in it for the money, he was in it for the passion and the love. It’s just something we love doing.
I’ve seen now that those young kids are plucked at an early age and pushed down these other tracks, and they lose a mentor and a whole perspective on what’s real and what’s not real.
What’s happened now is that everybody is getting their boards from two or three or four shapers. So everybody was riding a similar thing, because there’s this fear of doing something different, like Cheyne Horan did. Even Tom Curren went a little off at the end of his career there, trying out some pretty wild equipment. Whereas Kelly Slater has always, until this year, stayed on the same sort of equipment and probably the same dimensions. That’s absolutely no criticism of anything, it’s just an observation.
Everybody has followed in the same thing. But go back to the old days, when Mark Richards won a world title on a twin fin, and Cheyne Horan came second on a single fin, and Simon Anderson came third on a three fin. The judging criteria was just in shock, because there was all these different dimensions.
The evolution of the surfboard was a yearly thing. If you went back in those days and surfed a two-year-old board, you might as well go out and longboard. At the moment–and you can see it with Kelly–he surfs this old Simon Anderson that he’s had for years. It’s like Linus’ blanket, I think it’s got something to do with that. Of course now Kelly’s been surfing shorter boards and stuff like that. Well, we’ve been doing that for quite a few years, but I’ve been under a rock in Australia.
Yeah it may take someone like Kelly experimenting with his boards at places like Pipe to challenge the status quo.
When I saw Kelly riding a 5’11” at Pipe, well, I used to surf with Dane Keoloha at Backdoor on our 5’10” twin fins. Backdoor is a pretty serious wave. I think Dane’s still probably the best surfer at Backdoor that we’ve ever seen. He could surf a 5’10” twinny out there at six to eight foot. Why do you need a gun? There’s all this front of your board that’s getting in the way.
We’re coming into a very exciting part of surfing again. I can see this whole new rebirth, the whole questioning of things. It’s not about quantity, it’s about quality. I always like to imagine five years in the future, like, “What sort of surfboards are we going to be surfing?”
When you look at the high performance shortboard right now, what are the shortcomings you see?
Breakage is number one. You can’t work on anything new because the minute you get a feel for something good, they just don’t last that long. What about design, or something you want to improve?
You’ve got to think in extremes, negative and positive, however you want to see it. If you think about design, are we going to go faster or slower in the future? It has to be faster, one would think.
So the first thing is, boards have got to go faster. You can’t go fast unless you can carve. That’s what we’ve noticed in the tow boards. We actually come off the bottom and try and go harder and faster, our whole vision is to accelerate out of the top and go faster, down into the bottom. There’s no breaking of the curves. We’re trying to put together a bunch of curves so you’re actually, by the end of the wave, accelerating from say 45mph to 55mph.
I’ve hardly spoken to any shapers in the last four or five years but you’d have to ask them, “What’re you working on? What’s new? What technologies are you working on? What’s your vision for the next two years, three years?” I’ve got a really clear vision of that now. It’s being able to surf a wave faster, and quicker, and carvier. How do I attain it? We’re already doing that in tow boards.
Tell us about the main design changes you’ve made with these boards.
I’m putting a really deep concave through the whole board, which means you get a really straight bottom line which gives you all your speed. By doing that I’m creating all the curve on the rails. With the concave, they surf off the back foot a little bit more, so the back foot is your power. I prefer thrusters with them, although I’ve done them in four fins. I’m not a great believer in them but the four fins make boards feel really fast.
If someone picked one up, the other thing they’d notice is that there’s a lot more foam up in the chest area where you’re paddling.
There’s more foam under your chest, but I’ve actually thinned the tails out, and I was going to call it the camel toe. I’m calling it “TowdeChameau,” sort of a French one.
But yeah, they paddle really well. And there’s more width up front, so they’re really stable at high speeds. Anyhow, I’ve brought a batch with me here. There’s very few available in the world or will be for the next twelve months to two years.
If someone has a magic board it’s probably a five-year-old design anyhow. It’s been one-percented to death. It’s been fine tuned to death. I’ve done the reverse again. It’s like the reverse design theory. Anyhow, this whole thing is a great opportunity; coming to the states, using this set of circumstances, and dealing with the cancer thing, just to spread the word. All I’m asking is, if people get them, don’t let anyone scan them and completely and totally rip me off and then claim it. But then again, it probably wouldn’t bother me anyway, that’s someone else’s problem. Because by the time someone scans that and does it, I’ll have a new design. Have no doubt, we’ll have a new technology.
TW SURF’s Justin Cote ripping Maurice’s Pro Tow shape. Photo: David Gray