Photos by Frenchy
Most people understand the role of the historian. Asked to define it they may say something like this: historians take a posterior view of events and people, then place them in correct historical context. This is usually done with the written word of the moving image.
History, however, isn't always recorded via those two mediums. Other means and methods can be used.
Last Friday Mick Mackie dropped off two surfboards to Finbox and we caught up for a chat. Mick is a guy who has always deferred to his surfing elders. His boards respectfully borrow from the past and he's quick to give praise to the shapers whose shoulders he stands upon. It's a curious dynamic at work: just as many young surfers are in quiet awe of Mick Mackie, he in turn is in quiet awe of the people that came before him. Take the longview and it's clear that shapers like Mick are vital links in surfing’s historical chain.
So while most people wouldn't consider Michael Mackie a historian – and he would be the first to reject the tag - I'd argue that's exactly what he is; a surfing historian who keeps traditions and concepts alive with his reverent craftsmanship.
Black Gold: Set your food down on the table, Mick. Grab a seat.
Mick Mackie: You guys have got a lot of great records up here. You've got Fugazi...
Self-titled. Great album that one.
Yeah. I've got the one sitting behind it too, Red Medicine.
What have you been listening to lately?
A lot of hippy stuff.
Old stuff or contemporary?
Contemporary. Have you heard of a guy called Jonathon Wilson?
Well I've been getting right into him. His music is like a modern version of the old hippy stuff. He's a younger guy that's taken on all those old elements that had been laid out before him. He does a good job of it. It sounds great.
Are you playing much music yourself?
Yeah I play a bit. I've been playing a bit of guitar in the shed out the back.
The old shaping shed?
Yeah, my old shaping shed is now a music shed.
Have you had to put soundproofing in?
No, it already had bats in it. I'd already put bats in the roof and walls to keep it quiet when the electric planer was going.
Do you plug in?
Sometimes I do. My son plays a bit and he plays my electric while I've got a pick up that I put inside an acoustic. I get a bit of sound out of that. A bit of distortion in the amp and the pick up in the guitar gets a good sound. I enjoy playing that.
This morning you dropped off two boards, both deep swallow fishes. Would you agree that's your signature board?
Yeah I would.
Out of all the boards you shape what percentage are in that style?
Probably 80% at the moment, but it's going to be 100% soon. I'm only going to do that style of board from now on. Just traditional fish outline, or rocket fish outline, with side cuts. I'm gonna specialise in that.
It's clearly your strength. Is that the reason you're going to concentrate on them?
I shaped all the other stuff, all the other shapes, because I respected what my elders laid down before me and I just wanted to learn and see if I could do my versions of those boards. But in my head I've got past that stage and now I just want to stick with snowsurf-type fish stuff.
I don't actually ride anything else. I just ride my sidecut fish, my flex tail fish. It's what I know and I just want to shape that for people, so I'm going to specialise in it. Like Steve Lis only shaped fish.
Is there room for development with fish surfboards?
Well I developed it into the EPS. I like making nice, clean looking boards with EPS and epoxy resins. I tried doing a bit of stuff with Future Flex and all that, but...I think I'll just stick to the type of boards that I brought in this morning: nice clean looking boards in the sizes that customers want. Simplify it, keep it basic and clean looking.
I recall a board of yours I saw a few years back, a Futura, with fish outline and radically bevelled rails.
With chines in it and a quad?
Yeah, with chines. That board seemed to be hinting at something new. For a traditional fish outline it had progressive rails.
They weren't that progressive, it's just old stuff that's been brought back. Richard James had a chined rail Jim Parkinson Jackson when we were kids. A Stinger. A chined Stinger. That was a nice board. It was orange, you should ask him about it.
The only board of his I remember is a black and white G&S from a Colgate ad he was in. Dunno what the rails were like though.
This was even before that. Chined rails have been laid down before that. Not many people do them now but they've been done in the past.
That makes you a bit like Jonathon Wilson then: a young bloke revisiting the elements laid out for you by your elders.
Yeah, except I'm not that young. Turn 50 next week...
Happy Birthday for next week. The two boards you brought in this morning, what construction methods did you use?
They were EPS foam, with 1/8 cedar stringer with epoxy glass and epoxy resin and standard six ounce, four ounce glass mix.
You've been working with epoxies much?
Yeah, I've been riding epoxies for a long time. Probably 8-10 years, especially my flex tail stuff, I started playing around with it because the PU stuff would crack up on me. When I mixed the epoxy resin with a carbon kevlar mix it stopped it cracking. This is on the ones I did the real drop tail thickness on. Came down to a snowboard thickness. But where it came down off the foam and hit the flex section it'd always crack in behind that.
You make your flex tails quite differently to the other guys working with flex.
Yeah, we've all got our own styles of doing them. Mitchell's [Mitchell Rae – Outer Island Surfboards] flex tails contains the foil right through to the tail, it doesn't drop and thin out. Like Jed's [Jed Done – Bushrat Surfboards] ones have a step at the end of the foam, it drops out and the flex has a convex rocker in it.
That convex rocker on Jed's flex tails is an interesting feature, how it bends into the water.
Yeah but when a rider pushes it down the board finds the straight point. It's like having a normal rocker in a board, yet when you remove the pressure, like at the end of a turn, it gives you that real wooshka out of the turn.
You mentioned earlier your not shaping as many flex tails. Why's that?
Ha ha...[rubs his forefinger and thumb together]...they're worth a lot of money and there's just not a big market for them. I do a few. In fact I'm doing two at the moment, they're getting glassed right now. It takes a special kind of guy to ride them.
Do you mean someone talented or someone with an open mind?
The person's got to want to ride that board, they've got to picture themselves riding it. Like any board, when you look at it and you like the shape of it you go, "I really like this board, I can imagine myself surfing it." Your head clicks with it.
So people that want a flex tail, they want to click with it and there's not a lot of surfers like that at the moment.
Is it because no-one in the mainstream has picked it up? The guys you mentioned before – Mitchell and Jed – are on the fringes, I don't mean that in a disparaging way.
Oh yeah, if someone like, say, Joel Parkinson got on one and started experimenting with it that'd be the next cool thing. And you'd think with Channel Islands being owned by Burton Snowboards they would've actually pushed the whole thing a bit more in that direction instead of playing around with tiny increments on boards.
You take a lot of your design inspiration from the mountains – from the old Winterstix, and the work of Dimitrije Milovich – who in the surf world inspires you?
There are certain people, likes there's Dimitrije for the snowboards, George Greenough for the kneeboards and the flex, then you've got Mitchell Rae...it's hard to remember them all. They were the guys that were the real visionaries that made me want to further my own stuff. 'Cause that's all I did.
When I was 12-years old I watched Crystal Voyager in Cronulla theatre on my own. I was pretty amazed. When you love the ocean, and when you go and see something like that with a young, open, and free mind it really leaves a mark.
I can't exalt those guys enough, they were doing stuff that was incredible and that's why their work has stood the test of time.