A few years back, Chris "Phantom" Garrett's accountant asked him: "How much do you love making surfboards?"
"It's my favorite thing in the world," said the Gold Coast shaper, "I'd keep doing it even if I were retired."
"That's too bad," said his accountant, "because after looking at your books, you'd actually be making more money if you stayed home and did nothing all day instead."
Around this time, the eccentric shaper known for making boards for everyone from Dave Rastovich to Kieren Perrow, was churning out more than a 1,000 hand-shapes a year with little help from machines. Despite a constant frenzy of work, things were getting tougher financially.
So he got rid of it all. Sold the house. Closed the factory. Bought a plot of land and he and his family built a tin shed to live in. From there, he began shaping from home, growing his own food, making his own bio-diesel and living very simply.
He hasn't paid for a tank of gas in more than eight years. He eats three meals a day out of his own garden. And he continues to hand-shape boards as far away from the mainstream as he can get.
"I found that if you consume less," says Garrett, "you actually get more out of what you have."
The change proved successful. But he wasn't done simplifying just yet. Phantom packed his family and disappeared to Bali, taking up shop in the shaping rooms of Deus ex Machina. "It's the first 'job' I've had in my life," he says. "But it's nice not to worry about the business side of things too much. It lets me focus on being creative – which is the whole reason I'm doing this in the first place. Oh yeah, and going surfing."
SURFING: It's disturbing that so many talented surfboard shapers struggle to make a living. Of all the stuff our industry produces, boards are the one thing we actually need.
CHRIS GARRETT: I consider shaping a noble and worthy pursuit. To me, a surfboard is like a sculpture or a work of art. But there is something wrong with this paradigm we've created where shapers are paying pros to ride their boards. The system is promoting the average surfer to ride boards that probably don't suit their skill level. I love the interaction between surfer and shaper – to me that's what it's all about.
ING: So, are your boards influenced by pro surfing at all?
CG: I don't pay much attention to pro surfing, surf mags, or movies, as I’m usually too busy doing other stuff. Actually when Dave [Rastovich] came into my factory and started ordering boards, I really had no idea who he was and it wasn’t until people started telling me, "Wow, you've got Rasta on your team now – how'd you do that?" that I realized he was somebody special. I’m asleep at the wheel sometimes.
ING: Is rider feedback important to you at all?
CG: Absolutely it is, because it's about making what the client wants. But it doesn't matter whether the client is Rasta or you or me or some weekend-only surfer — it's just as important for me to be able to interpret what they want their board to do on the wave. I love making customs. That's what I live for.
ING: What is the most essential part of board design?
CG: Obviously rocker, plan shape & foil are important, but for me it's really about the rails and their relationship to the board. It's more than something that just connects the bottom to the deck. In reality, they're like fins & surfing is essentially just fin & edge. And it's the feeling you get when you're on rail — accelerating & spiraling through the wave that makes it exciting and fun. I tend to concentrate more on this area of design more than anything else.
ING: How do you approach a new shaping project? A blank canvas?
CG: Shaping's really about getting rid of all the bits you don't want. I just whittle away until I'm happy with it.
ING: Sounds like the way you've approached life.
CG: Yeah, well, it's gotten me this far. It's gotten me here. Surfing's such an amazing thing – all the places it takes us and the friends we meet. We're lucky people. We really are.
[With that, Garrett gets back to shaping. He seems happy. It doesn't take much.]