Joel Fitzgerald doesn’t want you to believe that he’s reinventing the wheel. With such an engrossing and tight-knit lineage to surfing folklore, it would be hard for anyone to believe any different. After numerous phone conversations and an email pitted with a host of questions, what transpired was a sparkling glimpse into the mind of an enigmatic surfer, as well as a surfboard designer who has one foot planted in the past and the other firmly pointed towards the future. We’re stoked to bring you this small piece on Joel Fitzgerald, a surfing larrikin and an integral part of the Australian surfboard landscape. Please enjoy.
Joel Fitzgerald, you are a man of many great surfing talents. When entering a country, what do you put down as your occupation, professional surfer of surfboard shaper?
Builder. I am a builder by trade, shaping is my occupation, part time.
Along with your brother Kye, your surfing has always stood out amongst the masses. Lately your profile has been gaining considerable momentum. What do you feel has been the catalyst for this increase in popularity? Has it been your work with Deus Ex Machina, social media, the calibre of your boards, or something entirely different?
Well I think the market place is getting tired of tri fins and is now ready for change. People are more open-minded about design and experimentation. I think to some degree, Deus has been able to reach a large market with their web content and have pushed the alternative side of surfing to bring something timeless or classic to reflect their image. I could be in the kaleidoscope of something beautiful but I doubt that, I think the surfing speaks for itself and shaping your own boards is where we are going right now. Single fins are making a come back, twins and keels, finless and all sorts of craft are a part of surfing these days. I am just a part of a great number of people who are doing great things in the surfing world or so we think we are. It’s fascinating that we are such a creative bunch of humans. Surfers have the power to see real change and help the world in a much greater way I am sure! We as a tribe can save our country from mining coal seam gas. Buy local, Australian made goods. Stop the killing of whales. Support Sea Shepard and Save the Kimberly please. I think greener ways to make surfboards is a great start and that would get my popularity vote!
Why did you decide to down the carpentry tools and take up surfboard shaping?
I will always be a carpenter. I enjoy the work, it pays well you don’t have to put up with a lot of shit and you finish early to go surfing. I guess it’s a matter of doing what you love and trying different things. It just got a bit hectic for me with the boards, so I backed away from the building for a while to focus on some shaping.
In the four to five years that you’ve been shaping have you had to overcome any considerable challenges, or has it all be smooth sailing?
The only challenge is being your biggest critic. I have had good people around me and have been supported by my wife Chrystal and had guys like Richard Pavel look over my shoulder. I would say I have learnt a lot in a short time and am really enjoying the process.
“I DON’T WANT TO CHURN OUT A LOT OF BOARDS. I WOULD RATHER SURF MORE—MAKE A COUPLE A WEEK.”
Have you ever felt overwhelmed by the Fitzgerald name?
No I am a Fitzgerald Fitzy. I am proud of being a Fitzy.
When you make a board for yourself do you have to add additional width and thickness to counteract the weight from your sopping wet afro?
No, I am not that big on this much thickness here or there, function over fashion.
You recently surfed a sizeable Desert Point swell with Ryan Burch. How was that particular trip and what did you discover from watching him ride his alternative asymmetrical boards?
Ryan is a great surfer and designer. He is light-years ahead of the pack. Surfing needs this kind of expression and passion. It is sort of like when Bob Mc Tavish cut 3 ft of the nose of his board in ’69. Everyone went BANANAS! ‘Operation Deserts Storm’ was the highlight of the year! Not for the barrels so much but for the intensity. The swell just got so big, too big for Deserts. Ryan and I were the only ones out and then a couple of 15 ft sets just barrelled on our heads! Ryan and I will always remember that feeling of those sets coming then trying to stay calm while you’re getting ripped apart. Remember the breathing techniques and all that shit. I was so glad to get in after that experience. We had a great laugh about it for the next week.
Do you feel that the surfboard industry has been damaged due to the consumerist narrow-minded vortex that many surfers opt to follow these days? Why have the masses resorted to dumpster diving when gourmet meals are being dished up by there local shapers on a daily basis?
I put it down to this—there is enough for everyone and there is something for everyone. Surfers are smart; they know what’s going on! You don’t want us guys (shapers) to get too popular! I don’t want to churn out a lot of boards. I would rather surf more, make a couple a week and charge a premium price. Things will change, there is a change coming then you will go, God, I am going finless or body surfing or make my own board.
Is the progress of surfboard design, and to a greater extent the development and refinement of surfboards from eras gone by, harmed by modern day trends?
No I don’t think so. Function over fashion—the trend is to not buy into the bullshit.
What benefits could the average surfer expect to gain from riding a single fin?
There are no benefits, just have fun and appreciate the cosmic wave of energy under your feet. Maybe that’s what the average guy may get out of a single fin.
What is your favourite board to ride at the moment?
Sea Gypsy 2+1. I don’t have one, I broke mine at Deserts.
Matty Yeates is glassing some of your boards at the moment. You must be stoked on how they’re turning out?
Great! He is an artist with the laminating and is a great shaper. That’s where it’s going—shaping and laminating your own boards.
What does 2014 have in store for Joel Fitzgerald?
Finally Joel, if you were in a band what would the band be called and what style of music would you churn out?
My wife Chrystal and I jam all the time with friends! We are called the Turtle Dreaming Band of Wolf Dreamers or Gypsy Caravan or Mexican Mojitos and we churn out the reggae and jazz and blues.