Donald Brink - Shaper

When and where did you first start surfing?
I grew up in South Africa and moved to the beach when I was 15 years old. I was so excited to become a surfer and embraced its every facet whole heartedly. I do not recall identifying it as a lifestyle at first but my dedication and utter brave enthusiasm was a foundation of such a life that I continue to lead.

Cape Town is a beautiful place and I grew up on a small beach nestled in a cove alongside our Naval Port only a few miles from the Southern tip of Africa. The Indian Ocean and Atlantic Ocean meet here and the separation between the sea is narrowed to a skinny peninsula on this Southern tip. The best waves were really on the Atlantic side, only a few miles away, but with seasonal prevailing winds, the large bay with small beachy coves was all I had access to for quite few years really. I knew little else and was enjoying learning. Day in and day out I would surf alone. The conditions and variables were a fascination not a prerequisite. I met the few locals, who like me, lived on the mountainside overlooking the bay with access to the little beach below. They are still dear friends and we shared so many joys from days together there. It took a long time to really get to know them as they would only show up when the conditions were favorable and I was an addition to the usually uncrowded lineup. I can recall how they began to accept and help me as I learned to surf. I was just so stoked all the time

I'll never forget the fist time I pulled into a clean little forehand barrel. The wave was so glassy and we were surfing the middle of the beach which was a particularly unusual bank that had formed. The beach is not very long but we had a name for just about every 50 meters of its span from one side to another. I began on a flat decked 80's thruster, it really was a beautiful board even though it was really too big for the modern time. That wave was so glassy and fairly close to the shore. I paddled in with ease and although the wave wasn't much more than head high, the line I drew seemed to just come naturally and was obviously the golden path. I crouched down in a smooth form and it was then that the universe showed a new dimension. This is at least how new and unique I sensed it. It was the sound, the loud yet low and hollow tones that I had never before heard. The lip was paper thin and hardly heavy but I wasn't touching sides and it was a clean ride. At this, I remember my friend Sean paddling up the wave face, down the line looking in on his way back out to sea. I began to scream, yet for some reason had the foresight to know to keep it all together and maintain this line in this audible cavern of fresh sense. It closed out on me and I got washed up the sand being so close to the shore. Smiles were the tamest of the results of that waves feeling yet the most apparent in my countenance. The bravest differences seems to have been etched deep within from that ride and to this day I can recall the colors of the curtain, traveling behind its scene. I paddled back out and said nothing, it wasn't needed. Everyone said how funny it was hearing me screaming in the tube as it reverberated out the tiny wave and then ended in a instantaneous mute as the wave collapsed and washed up white on the sands with smiles and rider entwined.

It was the early joys and challenges that were learned there and gave me a very unique appreciation for the sea. It became my playground, with no rules, but a long list of self remembered guidelines for personal safety and reference learning solo and yet so enthralled.

What is it that you love about surfing and the ocean?
To me the precious moments and memories of the wave and the ocean and a ride or a board are all so brief and somewhat fleeting. You invest many years to become competent, to run out into the sea and successfully ride waves well. It's always changing and yet there seems to always be joy to be shared no matter what the day. I view it as my play ground and see riding boards as a luxury to enhance the fun on offer. I guess that's why I often ride odd or experimental equipment with freedom. It's one more element of the curious fascination of the whole thing, paddling out and testing or challenging concept and design.

Do you have a favourite session and/ or favourite break?
Today I surfed really good beach break barrels, in fact it was a memorable day and was caused by the heavy storms and unusually strong four days of rain that just passed. I enjoyed it especially because I like surfing in the afternoon. I think having a small window after school in the early days brings a sense of familiarity to that time of day and mindset. Now days I enjoy shaping first thing in the morning when I'm feeling most fresh and have clear thoughts. I don't mind surfing less perfect conditions, its still just good to be out there and I appreciate it. Today was so glassy in the afternoon and the dolphins swam past just before the sunset.

My favorite break here is probably Lowers. It's the most consistent break that you can ride a fast board on and create the sensation of a roller coaster. There is something in me that equates open face carves with roller coaster rides. I think riding roller coasters usually has me saying "this feels like surfing!".

You grew up in Cape Town, how did you end up in California?
I was traveling the world with a Christian rock band and we played a few months of shows on the East Coast and surfed. Then drove across country to come to a friends wedding in San Clemente, California. That's when I met my wife; her family was well acquaintedwith many surfing icons in town. It was a great introduction to San Clemente and people like Terry Martin. He became a close friend and great mentor over time.

Who/what inspired you to start shaping your own boards?
Art and design have always been a big part of my life. I am fascinated with how things work and love making things with my hands. When it came to surfboards, I noticed the difference in designs, from one to another and started having boards shaped for me with the culmination of different sensations in mind. This was good and I began getting really involved working on surfboards and watching people shape. I finally bought a blank and made my own board. It went really well and I got an order from the first guy who tried it out. I always thought shaping my own boards would be so neat and riding them just fantastic, but that day when I saw somebody else ripping on something I had made and just so stoked, that's when I knew that was the neat part and why I wanted to do this for others.

What was that first board you made?
It was a 5'5" twin fin with single wings and a swallow tail. It had full soft down rails and a panel "vee" throughout. I even foiled the fins from a fiberglass panel. They were an attempt at Mcnab's 81 twin template. I air brushed black bands on the deck with a rattle can and did some abstract art on the fins. The board was really fun and lively and I rode it a lot. The first day I rode it I went to a secluded beach and surfed alone. It was a confidence thing, but also a great memory. The board worked well and the next day I paddled out to a crowded lineup at a known spot. This is when I shared it out on request. Brendon ordered a board right then and there. I went and shaped it and he requested an elaborate air brush. all green and white. That didn't come out so good, but the shape did. It was way better than mine and I was so jealous. I mean I was stoked for him that his board was good and I knew I enjoyed riding mine but the foil was just more balanced and the details I wrestled with on mine were much improved. He loved the board and it changed his surfing too.

How did you get into shaping after that?
My introduction to shaping was a patient path. I got involved and learned what was easily at hand, but I dedicated years to watching boards being shaped. David Van Ginkel (DVG Shapes) really was influential and I watched how to put the right steps together to shape a good board from him at first. Robin Fletcher Evans let me work with him for some time too. I would hot coat, do fins, dings, etc and get to watch him shape and see his approach. These craftsmen were inspiring and so influential.

You make some pretty unique surf craft, what is the benefit of asymmetric boards?
Asymmetry for me makes for accurate and enjoyable surfing with ease on the smallest of canvases. Helping the limitations of ones front side to heel side due to the setup of our feet and ankles. My boards are stance specific and allow the best experience to be learned both front side and back. This is always more challenging in tiny waves, yet the asymmetrical advantages can best help these days and conditions.

It's simple go left or right but stand one way. So regular foot or goofy foot board. You can push and pull yourself toward and away from the wave on your front side rail due to the leverage of your feet/toe to ankle span. On the back hand one can continue to add weight to the heel side yet its more limited when to trying to remove it with out toes behind ones heels.

I look at the frustrations common to a specific design and make subtle changes accordingly to promote the board of reference's flavor and design characteristics. My thought is to be able to enjoy the flavor with more fun...more often. The changes from rocker, rails, fins and more are only adjusted with these benefits in mind and the enhancement of the flavor in question.

I am known to approach the boards I shape with great bravery in the perception of their form and concepts. However my philosophy in life, surfing, shaping and especially board design is to keep things simple. Letting the harmony between the decided elements not oppose one another. Water flows in a simple way, so should the incorporated concepts in your shape.

What is it that you love about your job?
One of the things I really enjoy is the variety of shapes and designs. From tiny quads to ten footers and eps feather weights to heavy wood boards. The details in each craft with excellence in every element is a constant dance. Stoked customers are probably the most obvious reward and my ultimate goal. I really do enjoy enjoy making the fins, shaping the board and doing art. That's what keeps it so fun, it's not a chore at all, but I do work hard. Design is in my mind constantly and I have to slow my thoughts down and act only on ones that are suitable for the time and expense at hand but it really is fun designing new stuff. Even if it doesn't work, that's fun too. I don't mind being wrong and its freeing place to be.

Do you have any advice for any budding shapers out there looking to create something unique but practical?
Don't bother making something unique, you will loose interest or look like a wanna be. Strive for practical excellence with the application of proven and understood concepts. Be motivated by what you want to achieve with a design or board and throw away all preconceived expectations of what that is expected to look like when you designing things to output that. Saying this, simple is always more rewarding and the things you incorporate must work together cohesively. Design entirely with functionality in mind, then you can explain a reason for each part and show the vision of its sum. If things need to be corrected or adjusted you can test your concepts and make adjustments to the specific concepts which will be hugely rewarding when you continue in the progression of the concept at hand.

Ideally, where do you see yourself in 10 years time?
That's a long time away but life seems to move quickly and big dreams feel like they need time to grow. I have a vision for a coffee shop and a window into the shaping bay for a view of the tasks at hand. Perhaps some front end retail and show space, but more importantly I would love to share the daily craft with any and all who are interested. Having a place to let people see into the boards being shaped. I want to shape by hand and take my time on good boards for people who appreciate them. If I could be working uninterrupted and yet have the opportunity for a place to share what I'm learning that would be neat. I do a partner shape with people and have them shape their board along side me, its such an honor and the results are so rewarding. Not every one wants to do that but understanding the detail that goes into a good board or witnessing their board being made has a unique and deep connection.

I enjoy the creative expression of shaping, but I long for more time to paint again, shoot photographs and films...all forms of art really. I guess in ten years I hope I'm building cool things and investing in my family.

The last 10 years have been filed with changes one couldn't predict and they shape ones path. What I have come to learn and constantly resonate with now is that there are things birthed deep inside everyone of us that we are motivated to work toward in our souls. I think admitting I know little and am in control of even less is something that I'm beginning to understand and in ten years I know God will still be God and those things He has birthed in me will be even more clear and exciting with all that I have learned until then.
Can I see myself in ten years time? No, but I'm ok with that because there are far greater things in store for each one of us if we just believe.

Where can we find you online?

Images: Ben Classen
Shawn Parkin


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Posted by: Matthew Ryan, on March 14, 2014
Categories: Interviews