Darren Handley, the legendary shaper behind DHD. Photo: DHD

Darren Handley, the legendary shaper behind DHD. Photo: DHD

The Inertia

Darren Handley didn’t know he wanted to be a shaper until he created his first board. “I really didn’t think about the whole shaping side of things, even though I watched many people shape,” he tells me. “All I thought about was, ‘When’s this board going to be ready, ‘cause I want to get surfing Kirra on it.’ That’s all I really cared about.”

When he was 19, Handley started working at Pipedream surfboards, a Gold Coast surfboard company run by shaper Murray Bourton. Darren was also one of the team riders – part of the deal that came with working there. “There were so many surfboard brands – just little tool sheds,” he remembers of the Gold Coast in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. Before that, he rode for a guy called Zorro, but Murray said that if he was going to work at Pipedream, Darren would ride for him.

Darren started off where most shapers do, sweeping the floors, but soon progressed to helping in other ways – glassing, sanding, polishing, making fins. However, the idea of making his own boards somehow didn’t even really occur to him. “I never really had this urge to shape,” he says. “It was never on my radar. I was just enjoying the smell of the resin and the luxury of going surfing when the tide was right and the winds were right and coming back to work.”

Two and a half years went by like that. Darren may not have thought of himself as an aspiring shaper, but he was getting an education in the art of surfboard manufacturing nonetheless. During that time, he noticed that above Murray’s bay were two racks full of boards that seemed to have gone completely untouched. Stacks of boards would move in and out of Murray’s bay every week, but these mysterious boards always remained, ignored or forgotten. One day, Darren finally asked about them

“These are stuff I’m playing around with,” Murray replied. “The top one there is the one Chappy Jennings tried to have a go at finishing.” Chappy was a hard-charging goofy footer and Murray’s best team rider at the time. He’s perhaps best remembered now for his role in the 1982 surf movie Kong’s Island, where he appeared as a scrappy grom, surfing G-Land alongside Rabbit Bartholomew and Gary Elkerton.

Darren pulled down the board to have a better look. It turned out Chappy hadn’t gotten far – the board was only about halfway done and the rails were still completely square. But looking at it gave him an idea.

“Do you think I could have a go at finishing it?” he asked Murray. “I’d love to make a board for my brother.” Darren’s brother was 12 years old and still riding a hand-me-down from their dad. This would be as good a place to start as any.

Murray agreed, so Darren took Chappy’s board into the shaping bay and started to work on it. “What would take me four minutes now took two and a half hours,” he remembers, “But they were probably the best two and a half hours I’ve ever had in my life. I just didn’t realize how fun shaping was and what it felt like.”

When he was done, the board was around 5’8” by 18” by 2.25”. It was a squash tail, with barely any rocker and a beak nose that probably would have been better suited on a longboard. Darren sprayed it blue and glassed on a set of thrusters (this was the very beginning of the thruster revolution and every week Murray was coming up with a new fin template). There was no DHD logo to mark it as his handiwork, just “Pipedream” written on the foam.

“God, it was pretty ugly,” he remembers. “There was just no flow in it. I just didn’t know what I was doing. It was just, ‘There’s the bottom. There’s the tail. Where am I going to put the fins? That’ll do.’” The board felt good in the shaping bay, but once it was glassed and sanded the mistakes started to come through. Murray laughed when he saw it.

None of that really mattered, though. His brother loved the board as much as Darren loved making it, and it felt good to have made something for him. “It was just the start. He’s still surfing today,” adds Handley. “He still comes by and buys two or three boards a year from me. I created my own brother as a customer.”

From there, Darren was on a mission. It was as if those hours in the shaping bay had changed him, or maybe just revealed something that had been there all along. “That was really when I went, ‘Alright. I’m glassing. I like to do everything else in surfboards. Now I want to start shaping,’” he says. He set about learning how to shape in earnest, returning to the bay week after week to work on old blanks.

Darren remembers the time fondly, not only as a period where began to really hone his craft, but also as halcyon days for surfing on the Gold Coast. “It was just a great time of life,” he says. “Kirra was always breaking (it was before the Superbank, so Kirra always had better banks than Snapper, but Snapper would get its banks every now and then). You’d surf Kirra four to five-foot some days with eight or nine people in the water. None of the pros were here. If you lived here, you lived here. This was before everyone realized this was the place to be. It was a great time of our lives.”

As to the whereabouts of the board now, Handley doesn’t recall. “If anyone finds it, let me know,” he adds. “I’ll give them a couple brand-new surfboards for it.”

Editor’s Note: The Inertia’s Cooper Gegan works with well-known shapers to tell the stories of the first boards they created. Read about Stretch Riedel here. 


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