Luca Rossi - Babel Surfboards
Luca Rossi, 32, Babel Surfboards, 4 years since board #1.
Who taught you to shape?
I'm mostly self-taught. I've never had an official mentor who's taught me how to build boards.
When I first decided to give it a crack, I went knocking at the doors of the factories in town, asking the shapers if they needed any help. I thought maybe I could clean the factory, anything really, just to get a look at the pros doing their thing. I didn't have much luck with that. The only guy that was kind enough to let me watch a board being shaped was Corey Graham. He probably doesn't even remember it, but I appreciated it very much! I didn't ask a single question, just watched. I think an element of how I shape now is based on my memory of watching Corey build that board.
I think being mostly self-taught has its benefits. The learning curve's steeper, and it's much easier to make a fool of yourself (been there several times), but what you've learned sticks in your head, becomes your knowledge, and then you have better chances to create your own style. I suppose that's the ultimate goal - to be recognised for that style.
What inspired you to first start surfing?
I grew up in a town of 5,000 at the base of the Northern Italian mountains, between Milan and Venice. My parents always took us to visit the sea (3 hours' drive, but it was always flat as a lake) during summer holidays, and my dad is a die-hard fisherman. I've always felt somewhat connected to the ocean.
I'd skated and snowboarded for a few years before I started surfing, which was pretty much a myth in Italy at that time. I remember being obsessed with waves even before seeing a proper one break (which wasn't until I visited Brazil in my early twenties). I remember being 13 and watching the only surf video I had, non-stop, and daydreaming about waves.
When I was 19 I moved to Padova, near Venice, to study physics and astronomy. Being closer to the sea, I bought my first shitty surfboard and waited for the winter storms that brought freezing, onshore chops for me to surf solo. People who walked into my room used to laugh seeing my board.
Once I graduated, I wanted to continue studying astrophysics in Melbourne, so I landed in 2013 with my backpack and my shitty board (which I scored pumping Bells on a few times).
Looking back, I think that I moved to Australia to make surfing a reality. I was in Melbourne for a few months, but I packed up and moved to the Coast as soon as I could. While I was completing my PhD my fascination (obsession) for surfboard design grew, and that was sort of it for me. I can stare at surfboards for hours. I feel I have taken quite a detour to put my feet in the ocean and wrap my hands around some foam. But sometimes it feels like I was meant to always be here.
Who from the Surf Coast inspires you the most?
If we're naming names, the two shapers that have inspired me the most are Corey Graham and Darren Dickson. I've always liked their approach to surfboard design, they make things exciting. It's a harder path to take, than just sticking to well-established designs, and when you experiment there is always the chance that the experiment will fail - so it takes guts. They both have different styles, but they're both eclectic and recognisable. I appreciate the fact that they create what they're interested in, and I think people get boards from them for that reason. I think people see a part of themselves in what these guys do.
Your shaping style features a bunch of alternative, fun shapes - what drew you to these designs?
I try to come up with designs that I'd like to ride myself. I'm not a very high-performance style surfer, and I have to be realistic about the kind of waves I normally surf. But I love high-performance surfing, and I have a shortboard and a step-up for when the conditions are right. I've been focusing on fishes the most - I love how effortlessly they carry speed, and the buttery-smooth feeling you get under your feet. Like any other design, when you start digging into it you really start to understand that the variations are endless, and you'll always be surprised by what works. But I love making shortboards, logs, mid-lengths, anything really. I'll have a crack at whatever comes through the door. I've been trying some asymmetrics lately and the feedback's been really encouraging.
What's the favourite board you've shaped, and why?
The first board I ever made. It's such a piece of shit, and I'm still blown away that it can actually be surfed. It's been used and abused by so many mates, and repaired countless times. She eventually retired last year. But it represents the start of something very special for me, and is a reminder of how far I've come, and how much more there is left for me to learn, explore, refine and improve.
What's your focus when you're designing new shapes?
I love good surfing, and I want to make boards that work - I'm not particularly interested in making pretty boards that will be hung on a wall. I keep tracks of the specifications of the boards that I make, including rocker lines, bottom contours, outlines, foils, fin setups and placements, glass jobs etc. I'm analytical and try to be as precise as possible. I'll refine designs where I see potential, which is possible thanks to the feedback from people who ride my boards. I shoot a bit of video of mates riding them, which I analyse at home to see what the board is doing, the good and the bad. It's kind of an incremental process and it helps me to constantly evolve my designs. That said, there's been times when I couldn't sleep at night, woke up feeling weird, went into the bay, and came out with some pretty odd stuff.
If you had a chance to surf the Melbourne wave pool, would you be down?
What board would you shape to ride there?
I'd need to see the wave first, but going in blind, probably a log haha!