Welcome to 20 Queensland Designers. Through the Design Minds initiative managed by the State Library of Queensland I was commissioned to interview a select group of the state’s most intriguing designers.
The idea was a celebration of sorts, a showcasing of some of our top talents, and a more intimate glance into their work and background than may have been recorded before. The subjects come from a broad range of disciplines, and included areas such as medical research and digital games development — areas that are not in the usual ambit of design writing. The premise we decided on was a simple one – to ask each designer what led them to the work they do today. Everybody is interested in a life story, and it is telling that many of the people I interviewed talked about early influences and identified key moments in their young lives that were turning points for their career paths. Each was generous with their time, and candid with their comments. Each has a passion that I believe is imbued in their words. I hope you enjoy these little vignettes and insights into a designer’s mind and inspiration.
“I can run my hands down and wrap my hands around the rails and feel the equal weight of the sides – the way the foil runs – and I’m still amazed at what I can do with my hands.”
Stuart Darcy, aka Darcy, established his custom-made surfboard company on Queensland’s Gold Coast 10 years ago. In 2011 he sold his factory, so that he and his wife and business partner, Michelle Blauw, could travel the world to personally consult with their clients and agents. Darcy has made 27,000 boards in his lifetime, and now works two days a week to produce 1,500 boards a year. He produces from carefully selected factories with staff handpicked for their experience and understanding of the craft. His production and research includes places as diverse as Newquay in the UK, France, Portugal, Spain and the USA. Michelle is the Founder and President of the Australian Surf Craft Association. Darcy Surfboards supports the Surfing Wantoks charity in PNG and promotes surfing education in schools.
When did you know you wanted to design and build surfboards?
I started making surfboards at 14 through necessity – to earn some money and so I could surf. I found I was really good with my hands and could draw. In my age group had to use your hands more and make things to have fun.
At 17 I had a choice to make between pro surfing, which didn’t pay so well then, and modeling. I chose modeling and spent years travelling the globe and was very well known. I met Michelle in 1987 when she was 17 and I was 24. I’d broken my leg snowboarding and when she became pregnant with our first child, Avalon, I decided to stay in Australia and do art on surfboards in a factory. That led to shaping.
I regard shaping as an art – it’s the same as sculpting – you have to get the shapes right. When you’ve been doing it for 30 years and think about the finites and how a surfboard can work for someone – that is where the art is most expressed. Surfers start to understand the intricacies of a board because they understand the shape of it and how it will perform in the water. The differences are so minute, but they make the difference between a good board and a bad.
People come to us, as we are well known throughout the surfing community. Now we can get to more clients by travelling around the world. We have a three-year plan to see everyone and develop a strong worldwide clientele. The younger, new clientele takes time to develop and it’s important to us.
You can watch people fall in love with their ability to do what they want in the surf. I help teach them technique in the surf. I’m a psychiatrist at times. When someone comes back and they’ve ridden your board and have the biggest smile on their face from ear to ear – you can’t beat that.
We position ourselves with our customers in a very personal way. I talk about how and where they stand on board, the fin placement and lots of other aspects so that they come away so much more educated about their equipment and how to use it. It takes a lot of time to do that, but I think it’s important.
Our boards cost anything from to $900 to $3000. There is a limit to the charge because they don’t last forever – they’re fragile, light and flexible, so they can’t last. Also, people want to move on and change – it’s about material function.
In the factory we practise ethical manufacturing processes, using lean manufacture [low wastage], and have successful environmental credentials. We capture our emissions, and are known worldwide as the most environmental surfboard producers, although there’s no official recognition in the industry for that.
There are so many unbelievable shapers out there who are pure artists – it’s very hard to learn how to hand shape – and these guys are getting pushed aside by people with machines and marketing money. I think it’s a dying art. Unscrupulous operators can copy our designs by drawing them on computers and scanning then machine-cutting them. We don’t have copyright on our board designs. Every board I do is for someone in particular. I’m not producing for the mass market. All our boards are commissioned pieces.
I can run my hands down and wrap my hands around the rails and feel the equal weight of the sides way the foil runs and I’m still amazed at what I can do with my hands.