Bob McTavish - Shaper

When did you first learn to surf and where?
I grew up in Toowoomba so I started bodysurfing in Maroochydore, but when I was 12 I moved to Brisbane so we would be out surfing Curumbin every weekend. Back then it was primarily surf club guys that were out in the surf. It was pretty similar anywhere on the east Coast at that time. Dad had this 16 foot board that I hated, so when I was 12 I made a hollow bodyboard out of plywood, the same dimensions as a modern bodyboard. I started surfing that for the next 12 months or so then when I was 14 I joined the surf club at Caloundra.

When did you first get into shaping?
I left home essentially when I was 14 and lived with my brother when my parents moved back to Toowoomba. I bought this bashed up balsa board for 10 pounds in 1958, took the glass off it, re-shaped it and got it re-glassed by a local guy. I got my first shaping job at a fiberglass factory in Mermaid beach called multi-plastics industries. After a few weeks there I hitchhiked to Sydney and started sanding for Scotty Dillon then graduated to shaping with him in 1962 when I was 18 years old.

What kind of education have you had?
I dropped out of school when I was young but as an avid reader I still enjoyed educating myself with what I wanted and needed to know.

Have you shaped non-stop since then?
Yeah, I went into molding techniques and shaping the cores to go into molded boards for a while, but I’ve been shaping forever.

Molding cores? That must have been pretty early days for that kind of stuff.
It was. I was molding windsurfers for a while then got into molding surfboards for the pro-circuit.  I was molding with Al Merrick and Al Byrne and guys like that. The costs of manufacturing killed me in the end, and all my compatriots moved to Thailand where they would later start Surftech.

When did you start shaping under the McTavish name?
It wasn’t until the 70’s that I started my own brand. All through the 60’s I travelled the world shaping for different people in some amazing locations. In between 1962- 1972 I shaped for over 100 different people around the world. My name carried a bit of a reputation with all these guys so it allowed me to start my own brand in 1972.

During that time, what was your favourite destination for surfing/ shaping?
I loved Hawaii, but I loved places like New Zealand, and over in California at that time was great.

Do you have a session that stands out as your most memorable?
There are so many in the top 10; Sunset in Hawaii is up there. The first time I surfed it was in 1963, I also had 6 weeks of amazing Rincon in California in 1968,  where we were the only guys who could surf from indicators through to the highway because we were the only guys there with short boards, and  another favourite is here in Lennox, which is where I moved in 1968. It was pretty special back then when it was relatively unknown.

You tried your hand at competitive surfing as well did you not?
I did briefly between 1965-67, it was more the gathering of the tribe that I enjoyed about that experience. I

Do you get out for a wave much these days?
I did up until January this year as I’m about to go in for Hip surgery, but I still get out and swim every day. I’m nearly 70 years old and after shaping and standing up all those years my hips and shoulders are stuffed!

Are you still shaping high volume?
No, fairly small numbers these days, 5-6 boards a week on average.

Will you continue shaping in the years to come?
I’m hoping for another 20 years out of the body!

Is there anybody who has influenced you over the years in your shaping?
Not really, I’ve kind of carved my own way. In saying that there are a lot of people I respect as fellow shapers such as Sam Egan and Joey Larkin.

What is it that you’re most proud of?
I’m still interested in progressive design, but the one thing I’m proud of is that I’m still going! I love it. I’m currently shaping a board for someone in New York who wants it made like a board I made from back in the late 60’s, and later today I’m making a 6-foot version of a V-bottom Plastic machine from 1967.

What are your go-to boards these days?
I’ve been riding a 7 foot twin fin which is unusual, one of my all time favourites in my garage is a 9 foot fireball that is now produced by Surftech, I also have a 7 foot V- bottom, and an 8 foot V- bottom. So I have 3 very different new developmental boards and the 7-foot twin fin that I made about 15 years ago.

Do you have a large collection of boards that you’ve shaped?
I have about 30- 40 boards I’ve managed to retrieve. I didn’t start collecting until about 5 years ago. I get a lot of people coming to me with old boards of mine asking how much they’re worth and what they are.

Do you have any advice for up and coming shapers?
You have to be passionate first and foremost. You need an understanding of physics. Not like high school physics, but relatable trade specific physics. You need to know how things work and why. You have to aspire to be a designer more than a shaper.

Where can we find you online?



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Posted by: Troy Roennfeldt, on May 18, 2014
Categories: Interviews