“Oh my God, these are amazing,” I exclaim on walking into Barracuda’s new shaping bay. Newly shaped boards are lining the upper half of the room.
“Don’t fucking touch them.” Scott responds.
I don’t touch them. I want to so badly. They’re all perfect, lying in their racks, waiting to be glassed and surfed. Smooth and white, illuminated from below by the shaping bay’s florescent lights, Scott Rowley’s hand shaped surfboards are things of beauty. But for now, I will not fucking touch them.
Rowley is an interesting human being. Slightly foggy eyes look out from a face that’s craggy from years in the sun. Craggy from too much salt water. Craggy from too much experience doing what he loves: Surfing.
A messy ponytail falls down from beneath a foam-dust covered hat and lands on a foam-dust covered shirt, a little bit too big for his slight frame. The bottom half of his face is hidden by a dust mask, muffling his accent-ridden voice and hiding an easy smile. His hands are white from the dust. It’s deep in his skin, stuck to his hair, giving him an odd porcelain finish on top of his rough Kiwi base coat. He’s a little rough around the edges; a drink poured with a little bit of middle finger laced with a drop of back off, but that’s only the top of the drink. For the most part, he’s made of a wealth of experience backed by a supreme confidence in what he’s doing and the balls to tell you when you’re wrong. He’ll tear a joking strip out of a person he’s just met, wrap your hand in a firm shake, and tell you a joke that your Grandmother wouldn’t like.
If anyone in this world can claim to be a gypsy, it’s Scott. Born in New Zealand, he began his life as a vagrant at the age of 18, when he headed to Australia’s east coast to chase the waves we’ve all seen in magazines. He moved into a house in Torquay with a shaper and began sucking up the beginnings of the knowledge he has today. After a minute back in New Zealand and building his own travel boards, Rowley boarded a boat and began a year-long sailing adventure through the South Pacific, including Tonga, the Samoas, and Fiji – spending two months on Tavarua and the surrounding islands before the industry got a hold of their perfection and exploited the shit out of them. “I was sailing around the South Pacific on a yacht as a crew member, and one of the guys I was with turned me onto it,” he told me, looking down an unshaped blank with a practiced eye. “I went up a couple of times. The second time I went up solo, in ‘79 or ’80. For the first month, I was there totally solo. It was heaven. I was young and not scared of anything, you know?”
After surfing empty, perfect waves, he headed back to New Zealand in 1981 and started up PEAK Surfboards, where he shaped for anyone and everyone from friends to Wiararapa hellmen and high profile junior surfers.
He spent the next six years traveling, building surfboards, and looking at the world. Then he took a six month journey to the Pacific Northwest in ’87, and ended up immigrating to the US in 1990.
When I met him, Scott Rowley was ghost shaping for a Vancouver Island based surf company called Barracuda Surfboards. A few months earlier, I got to talking with the new owner of Barracuda, Will Hazen, about a magic board I had shaped. It was almost perfect for me – for about two weeks. Then it fell apart. Fins broke out on bottom turns, and, as much as it pains me to say this, I am not a strong enough surfer to blow out a fin on a bottom turn. Cracks developed in places where they shouldn’t have, breaking my heart with each tiny fracture.
“Bring it in,” Will said. “We’ll get Scotty to make you another one.”