Interview by Dan Crockett
The town of Byron Bay in New South Wales has transitioned from whaling station to country soul to dropout central to incredibly expensive beach side real estate. I often feel like the original inhabitants must feel buried by an avalanche of hippies, backpackers, hipsters and city slickers. But they are still there, in the cracks, holding on to the magic that drew them to the place. I have family roots in the place, my dad’s brother took the ten pound boat many years ago and my cousin grew up surfing there. It was the first place I surfed, NHS specs attached with a neon strap. I remember on that day a golden light in the afternoon, the hinterland glowing. Up behind Byron in a quiet little valley, close to the madness but a million miles from it too, Beau Young has made his home. From a legendary surfing family, Beau has gone through several incarnations in his career as a world champion longboarder, musician and shaper. With an English girlfriend and a baby on the way, he recently stopped by to shape a bunch of boards at Open.
Where did you grow up and what was it like?
I was born in Grafton, about an hour and a half south of Byron Bay. My mum and dad had left Byron due to the growing population. There was likely only about six surfing families there, but they wanted solitude!
The farm my dad still owns is half an hour inland of Grafton, a one hour drive to the nearest beach. I spent my earliest childhood in a tent with my older sister. The farm is still a place of solitude for us as a family.
My childhood memories there are vague but the farm remains a constant: quiet, open spaces, river streams, heavily forested mountainous country with horses, dams, vast surrounds and time to think and create, whenever I go there the days feel so much longer than any other place I have ever known and I like that.
And where feels like home now?
I have a little farm now and that’s definitely home. It’s a totally different landscape to my dad’s farm, lush and tropical, 25 minutes from Byron but still I can find solitude at the local breaks if I’m willing to walk 10 minutes….which I always am.
But honest, home is in the breath. No matter if I’m in the shaping bay, stretching or playing guitar. When I breathe out, a small smile comes to my mouth and I am happy, this is my feeling of home and now I know I am going to be a dad soon, the smile is even more solid.
Time lapse of Beau in hand-shaping a Pendulum Swing at Open last year.
Has your homeland changed, on land and in the water?
Change is a constant. I am not great in crowds, but every human on earth has the absolute right to experience the joy of riding a wave. The connection should ultimately have you becoming a better person, looking out for and loving wildlife, our environment and its protection. Overpopulation and human expansion is inevitable and it is fast paced and hectic, I pull over all the time on my little country road to let others in a hurry pass by, but I like to think the inherent nature of a human is good. For me, the biggest thing is our beautiful, wonderful world and all the animals that reside within it.
How do you think longboarding has changed during the time you’ve been close to it?
I love the glide and feel and tradition that surfing holds. I really only longboard in waves below shoulder high and ride a single fin log, but I see no divide between one form of surf craft to another, ride whatever makes you happy. It is total horseshit to think one form of wave riding is better than another because we are simply so fortunate to be doing it.
A large percentage of the human population never even get to see the ocean, much less ride her incredible waves. Riding a longer board 9 foot or above is showing respect to our elders and the beauty is in the art.
I think people imagine you are a longboarder but since borrowing your 001 wombat many years ago (not sure how I got it but I loved it) you’ve been shortboarding heaps, which do you do more?
When I designed the original Wombat there was really nothing like it about (now every shaper has a template and plan shape with similarity). It was a great time for me because I knew I was turning shortboarders onto a different feeling and longboarders would ride the wombat when the waves were bigger.
At the time (over 20 years ago now!) making a 6’4” stubby, with a wide overall plan shape and a simple vee bottom just wasn’t done. I wanted an ode to both Wayne Lynch and Ted Spencer and it is cool that people remember the shape and functionality, and simplicity and functionality never goes out of fashion in my opinion.
Do you get to surf with your brother much? What do you think of the direction he’s taking?
I was down at angourie and the farm there last week, we didn’t surf together but I did have a splash with my nephew Indigo and my Dad which was lovely.
Bryce is an amazing guy. We hung out, played fierce ping pong, played guitars and shaped. I love where my little brother is at, he is surfing incredibly, shaping, glassing, jamming, skating and doing it all in his own way. There is no point in creating unless you feel you have something to give and great learning along the way as well.
Bryce and Ryan (Burch) are super tight, like brothers, they gel really well and I have always referred to Ryan as boy genius because he is just so switched on. Not only extremely intelligent but his hands on feel for shaping and creating is mind boggling. They bode well together as best friends and brothers, I am proud of the things they create, my dad loves his quiver of Burch Asymetrics.
You’ve both beat pretty alternate paths, how does your dad see it all?
My Dad has always been about following your heart. I think surfing and music are probably the hardest industries to make a living to be honest yet that is our path and we are completely true to that. I can’t speak for my brother but for me I feel I have no choice but to follow a creative life.
How did you come to shaping?
I’ve always been fascinated with surfboard design. I shaped my first board as a teen, built a shaping bay out at dad’s farm in my early twenties with dad and Andrew Kidman. I love the process so much! Shaping from a block of foam right through to the final sweeps with a fine 320 grit paper at the back end! But I credit my brother and Ryan Burch for reigniting the flame.
At home I shape in a full space suit with full face mask and gloves, it is so very ironic that shaping is hazardous, especially considering you are making something beautiful and fun. I enjoyed shaping with more enviro blanks at Open.
My friend Noah swears by your boards, what’s the magic formula?
It’s lovely Noah enjoys the boards. I dig shaping for him, such a humble, great surfer and charger. I think simplicity is key with board shapes, always have, the simplest things seem to go best. Design functionality is the equation that interests me, like the Platypus model I know Noah loves. It has a low down rail, 70’s style but with more bite, narrow plan shape straight vertical upright twins (for immediate engagement of turn) single concave for speed and propulsion and a board that can ultimately fly and hold in 1- 8 foot powerful surf.
I just like talking boards, it may be all those years of listening to Greenough’s ramblings but you can’t fault that guy’s genius. I like dissecting what works along with experimenting.
How’s the music going?
I have another kid’s book coming out here in Oz later this month “Dinosaur Rock”. Five dino tracks for one to five year olds. I’m really proud of the kid’s music, real instrumentation and incredible musicians, each track with its own feel. Music is a tough industry but lots of fun. Kids are the best audience, no preconceptions and they love to dance.
I am really wanting to produce another regular album and I am compiling it together at the moment. I love producing tracks, pretty similar to shaping a board really, a whole bunch of fun steps in place to produce something your proud of at the back end.
I got talking to your dad once about how he wished he could have defined surfing not as a sport but as a form of dance and self-expression, have you talked to him ever about that?
I think that’s dads one big regret for sure. He mentions it a lot! Always saying “surfing is not a sport” and I couldn’t agree with him more. Saying it is a sport is such a cop out, it is so much grander and more majestic than a basic sport. It’s comparable to a deep meditation, it leaves you feeling high, in bliss and so small yet part of this vast incredible world.