Builders Q+A with Donald Brink

How did you get into shaping?
I have always been fascinated with how things work and I love design, art and tinkering with my hands. When I started surfing these natural curiosities dovetailed into the many elements included in a good board. It wasn't long before I began to build a quiver, get boards made for me the way I was envisioning them. And then go on to learn the entire process for myself. I did every part before I shaped my first board. When I did picked up the planer, it was essentially the closing of a full circle and to me, the most feared and reverent part. Looking back it seems silly, but it was a good way to learn the entire cohesive collection of concepts in a board and I built them all start to finish from day one.

Did you have a mentor?
I’ve had people who gave me a chance to observe their approach to shaping and even giving me chance to glass, sand, hot coat etc. These are people who I’ll forever be grateful to and essentially encouraged me to do it on my own. David Van Ginkel (DVG Shapes) who shapes Brendon Gibbon’s boards was the first guy who really gave me insight into the way to approach a shape. I later moved to J-bay, playing music and surfing, where I met Robin Fletcher Evans, perhaps the most talented craftsman I have ever met. I went on to work for him in a loose set up in Cape Town. Moving to California was a grand introduction to many great shapers and I respect them all. Terry Martin became a dear friend and we shared so much of his last few years discussing life, boards and the bible together. These people have been very instrumental in my path, but I didn't really get to sit under any ones guidance for a long time being trained in how to shape. Wish I had, but it gave me an urgency to figure it out for myself and apply understanding to the concepts that I knew and test others along the way to realize for myself what works when designing. Terry was

What was the first board you shaped?
I could shape one with my eyes closed right now feels like, so vivid are the elements in my mind. It was a 5’5” 80’s flat deck single wing tight swallow twin fin. Board was a gem.

Could you do what you do back home in South Africa?
I guess now I could. It took traveling and being exposed to various waves and demands for design from around the globe to start applying what I'm working on today. I’m not sure how quickly that path would have evolved without such journeys. South Africa really is a Wave Mecca. I long to be back and have that variety of wave conditions to reference and test in. It’s wild and free with the rugged beauty waiting to be tamed or threatening to be be challenged. Hawaii seems similar so often and the warm water will always win.

Experimentation is a big part of your process. Have you made anything that was a complete flop?
Anything?! More like many things. I’ve failed at great concepts that took developing to refine. I have also gone way beyond what hydro dynamics and a surfers ability demand. From all these flops I’ve learned things I’ll never forget and better still have a deeper understanding in. This develops a confidence in what is working. These are the school fees of pushing boundaries - looking for the best and most efficient designs.

How do you approach new concepts does it start with a detailed plan or is it more intuitive?
I do both. If there are shared thoughts and a customers vision in the mix sometimes it’s worth referencing the drawing board and expressing the goals in mind. It helps to share the details and highlight the dedication to subtleties. My own fascinations are countless and lie front and center in my mind. I go about these in a very natural way and enjoy wrestling them into being in real scale. I have drawn things down and even made scale models to conceptualize better and find the cohesion that is so necessary between all elements.

When did you shape your first asymetrical?
About 10 years back- 2006. A very small single fin with a textured deck and flowing foil.

How were you introduced to asymetricals?
There was no beautiful introduction. I remember polishing a board for Robin years before that had a tail detail in asymmetry for “Roosta”. I was fascinated by it but overwhelmed with the other details at hand at the time trying to learn everything. It was a small memory of what I remember to be a subtle adjustment for an incredible surfer. The next one I saw was the first one I made and truth be told it was only asymmetric because it was designed to fit in my truck behind the seat and be ridden on one wave. It was obvious that certain elements of design were of more benefit in varying degrees than others and changing one side from another to meet these for the conditional ride was fairly simple. I began to experiment with many retro full volume designs here in California and enjoyed the available flow in these waves but was at a talented loss in connecting the dots day in and out from front side to back. I reconsidered the asymmetric change to help one surf the way you stand rather than simply a one trick pony or direction specific build. This has been where my design passion has remained. It’s a custom concept that lets you surf either left or right but stand one way. If you consider steering a toe rail differently than the heels side, admit you are are committed to one of them at a time and with the differing degree of leverage and disparaging sensitivities the changes can be better understood. I like to think of it as a design choice to promote your surfing lines and thus a concept that is relevant to any board and can be applied to the elements of the flavor at hand with understanding and care. I built a few of these kinds of things and Jeff Quam, from Laguna, observed the progress. He commissioned me to apply the changes to some of his favorite flavors and concepts the he and Midget Smith and Terry Martin had worked on. He showed me the ’72 footage of PT and the asym set up and fin choice then. Although I have always loved surfing my exposure to the history growing up was so restrained, now days I find myself reluctant to keep abreast of who’s doing what. It’s not that I just want to do my own thing, its more like I just have so many things in my mind that are best brought to a simmer and produced over time. Making mistakes and learning along the way, but perhaps like mentioned earlier, learning things for yourself was always encouraged and produces a deep deep understanding. There are no secrets in my shop and I’m willing to share all I have learned, we can grow and share together. Afterall, this progression we have come to enjoy has been paved by like minded and generous forefathers. I see people copy things in every area of life and prefer to imagine what life could be like if every single person simply did what they were created to and add what they were born for we could be more secure in our own paths and quicker to help one another together. Be yourself, you were designed to be creative and innovative and it's your responsibility to develop those things from within. I love this brand (Vissla) and the vision for people to make things and push the limits. I’m certainly not too focused to be influenced by what's progressive around me but have come to realize that once you start building on some very personal experiments the future forwards can always be one better imagined and then created. When it comes to asymmetry, I have had tremendous pleasure meeting Mr. Carl Ekstrom and Ryan Burch a few times and we have shared some amazing thoughts and stories. I love learning from these great minds! Tom Morey is another dedicated thinker. It’s an application of design, and progression will always be stemmed from a better vision of how things can be.

Is it important to you to change the way people think about wave riding?
Careful now. Yes. Let me explain. I don’t like to tell people how to surf, I feel surf coaching is an underrated and incredibly integral part of refining fundamentals than then can be applied to better enjoy and unlock any design while riding. I expect people to be honest in what they are able to do and also have a vision for what they want to do. Many struggle expressing both. With design I aim to let them achieve this kind of ride and desired line with ease and better said throughout a variety of conditions. Adding help to promote what you’re after in the first place is what this is all about. For this I expect you to have a vision for this ride and apply fundamental technique to do so. Perhaps changing the way people think about what they are riding would be more accurate. Better still, changing the way people dream about how they want to ride, thereafter we can design things to do so better.

Who are some of your favorite shapers?
I like the beak-nose on the Bolts from Tom Parrish, well they are all good but to identify little things that I resonate with. Short boards: Wade Tokoro and Eric Arakwa have a sweet flow and consistency in their cadence. Locally Matt Biolos has really balanced rockers I admire and Timmy Paterson has a raw essence in his boards that's real. Britt Merrick is one who’s boards I saw growing up back home Cheyne Cotrell would have them and perhaps the nostalgia of the Merrick lam did some magic, but his boards are special. Roger Hinds whittles a planer better than anyone, Rusty Priesendorfer probably has the best oversight on how to articulate the details in a design. Terry was a machine and Josh his son is an ace on the tools too. Ryan Burch is an underrated craftsman but a freak surfer and designer, Jeff McCullum is fast and crisp. Malcom Campbell is meticulously refined and the bonzer is perfect, design wise Hayden is hydrodynamically very balanced, Tomo has brave elements excellently collected and refined. There are so many, I just like people doing what they believe in well.

Why do you think some people can be so closed minded about board design?
They are insecure in themselves and have less than what seems invested in their surfing. They could be cheap. Possibly ridden the wrong board before. Depends on where you live, but quite possible there is not too much on offer that's suitable or relevant. Sadly and I say this not as a judgment but rather what I’ve gleaned on my personal path. I’m not sure just how stoked many people are simply to have an opportunity to play in the sea, this outlook alone is transformative and nurtures a grateful and excited approach to any shore, board and more.

What break throughs have you had with experimental shapes?
I designed a reversible finless board that you could flip-over to left or right with a wave specific rail and a forgiving beach side. It’s a great concept and have had plenty fun rides and shared the joys with some. This particular thought was imagined to be produced in a soft form. That would be fun. Figured out some pretty cool variable drag effects shaped into the boards that are working well and were initially simply a reaching for excellence in design looking to balance flow and honestly having no reference. Feels good though, so I keep going. I also get pretty lost in fin set ups and foils etc. there have been some big surprises and rewarding rides.

How important is science to you?
Without science there will be no reference for the rules. I hate rules generally but in a physical realm it creates a platform on which to apply design and art to promote a reality that doesn’t yet exist. To dream of what could be and be governed by a greater system of understanding can only be enjoyed if you submit and surrender to its laws. Then there can be a freedom from which we can start to become alive.

Donald Brink
Instagram / @donaldbrink

Interview and Photos by Kenny Hurtado