It’s not often a shaper gets to witness one of his young team riders develop into a two-time world champion. Typically a surfer outgrows his childhood shaper, eventually moving on to a bigger brand more adept at handling the volume of boards pros typically need each year.
But the collaboration between John Florence and his shaper Jon Pyzel is something special.
Florence has been riding Pyzel's surfboards his entire life. He trusts Pyzel to make boards that go well in everything from 2-foot Rio to 25-foot Waimea, and because Pyzel churns out boards with such consistency, Florence is never left stressing about his equipment before an event.
Now that Florence has secured his second consecutive world title, we gave Pyzel a ring to ask him about what went into shaping Florence's quiver before this year’s world title showdown at Pipeline.
Going into this Hawaii season, specifically the Pipe Masters, how many boards did you make John?
We got back from Portugal and I immediately started working on his Pipe boards. This year he ordered 8 boards: two 6’2″s, two 6’4″s, two 6’6″s and two 6’8″s. They were all "The Ghost" model, which is what he's been riding pretty much all year. It's literally the same board he rode at Trestles, Portugal, and Tahiti, but just bigger versions.
So I made him that eight-board quiver, but he picked them up and noticed they were all a bit thick through the nose—which is the style of that board—but these were extra full, because I had adjusted the files a little bit. So I immediately made him eight more, but I adjusted them to match up a bit more with his favorite 6’2″, the board he had won Margaret's on. The first eight were colored solid with black rails, and the second eight we did colored decks and black rails, but with clear bottoms, so he could look through the pile and differentiate between the batches right away.
So, he had 16 new boards to try before the event, and I'm sure some “old faithfuls” sitting in his garage. What did he choose to ride in the contest?
[Laughs] Old faithful. The whole event he rode the same 6’2″ that he won Margaret River on. And then he actually ended up breaking that board in the semifinals. Ross [Williams] gave me the tail because he knew that board was special. It was the board he had a breakthrough on this year, and it ended up being the board that really turned him on to riding "The Ghost" pretty much exclusively.
The crazy thing is that was the first board John broke all year in a contest. That's pretty rare. He got through a whole year without breaking a single board in a heat before Pipe, and he surfed a lot of heats [laughs].
That's crazy. But what's crazier is that after all that work you went through, slaving over a new 16 board Pipe quiver, he still chose old faithful.
[Laughs] Pipe hasn't been great yet this year so he didn't get a chance to really try them. That day when Insanities got good, he rode the thicker 6’4″ and 6’2″, and was actually stoked on them, but then it pretty much went flat until the contest started. It's OK, those boards will just stay here for the winter, because aside from Tahiti, they're too big to ride anywhere else. It's funny, it's a whole different approach for John these days. I was telling him the thick 6’8″s would be sick for Sunset and he was like, 'Nah, I think they're kinda big, I'll just ride the 6’4″ out there.'
Regarding his feedback, does John get into every intricacy of board design the way a guy like Slater does, or is he moreso concerned with how things feel?
He's a little bit of both. The board we ended up basing "The Ghost" model off of was interesting. It was totally different from anything he'd been riding and I never anticipated it being the board he'd ride all year. I gave it to him in the beginning of the year thinking it would be good for Pipe, and then he went out and did a giant rotation on it at Backdoor during his first session on it. But it's great John ended up liking that board, because to me, the best aspect of that model is that it's a simple design. It's got a lot of good ingredients for everybody. Any person could take John's personal board and go surf it and probably do pretty well on it.
John is different from someone like Slater, who is more technical about exactly why he wants you to do something with a board. John feels boards really well. He can pinpoint a problem to fix or a positive thing we can enhance based on exactly how the board performs on every part of the wave. And he watches footage enough that he really analyzes everything and understands the feedback he gives me. Same with Ross [Williams]. He picks up on little things and brings them to me. It's a great team environment, and we've all been working together for so long, it's not like anyone's feelings ever get hurt.
From a broader perspective, you've shaped back-to-back world titles and you've won the STAB in the Dark two years running. Is it safe to assume business is picking up?
Our business has been steadily increasing for a long time. But those things help, for sure. It's easy for people to write you off when you have a guy like John riding your boards. People will say stuff like, 'But he can rip on anything, he'd rip on every board.' Which is true. He would rip on any board. But when you get a little validation outside of that—first with Dane [Reynolds] and then with Jordy [Smith], it's pretty nice. And then, just to see how good and consistent John is surfing. For me, the highlight was Margaret River. That blew my mind. I was so stoked to be a part of that. That was one of those moments that will stand out, almost like a marker in surfing in some way, just the way John was able to surf in that event in big waves.
At the same time, I know that if my boards don't work people aren't going to buy them. Having the best guys in the world ripping on them is great, but bottom line, the guy who buys my board, if he thinks it's a piece of shit, my business is shot [laughs]. I feel fortunate enough to be onto a formula where I feel like I'm in touch with what people like, from the average Joe and all the way up. That, to me, is what I want to do. I just want to make people stoked to go surfing.
[Top image: Florence’s yet-to-be-used Pipe quiver. Photo by Pyzel]