Ed Sinnott in his element
COASTALWATCH | AUSTRALIA'S BEST SHAPERS SERIES
ED SINNOTT, ESP SURFBOARDS
There is a fraternity of Australian boardmakers and shapers who were there from the start, and were integral to the emergence and direction that surf craft took in the 60s 70s and 80s. It was a time where boardmaking was a raw combination of art and hard yakka. A board was a sculptural art work and every new blank presented an world of provisional opportunity.
Ed Sinnott was part of the NSW South Coast crew early in his life and now resides on the North Coast among a hub of other creative shapers. He credits his incredible designs and craftsmanship to the artist within, and time spent in and out of the water with craftsmen like Terry Richardson, Frank Latta and Michael Peterson. “Shaping surfboards really is an art form.” He says. “It’s invigorating and equalising.”
Sinnott spent his teens in in art school painting and sculpting. He completed a creative arts major in painting and combined this with a diploma of education later in life. His artistic depth and skill was fundamental to his experimental designs and was what developed his reputation and dynamic knowledge in being able to make anything from a 5’2 grom board, a 9’6 Hawaiian gun or a retro log.
Young Sinnott grew up surfing the Port Kembla and Windang area of the Illawarra before getting amongst the dust and grit as a boardmaker in 1976 . It was John Skipp of Skipp Surfboards who first employed Sinnott to be part of his hand-crafted board business and it was here that he began to recognise the connection between his art and the aesthetics of a well-made board.
“In those days every board was shaped off the blank and if you got through six to eight boards a day in summer, it was a pretty good day! When you were shaping off the blank it was crucial to have a sharp eye and good skills to produce boards at a consistently high level.” It was this high level of craftsmanship that helped Australian surfers become the best in the world, he says. “The Australian’s were the best surfers in the world because we had the best boards – Nat Young started it then Wayne Lynch, MP and Mark Richards influenced the world with his twin fins – he won four World Titles. Then Simon came out with the thruster. They were two of the best paradigms in board designs came about from surfers. Australian surfers.”
Sinnott in 1982 in the Skipp Surfboards shaping bay
It was a time of hard work but balanced with great surfing - four decades of it for Sinnott. “It was quite a lifestyle, there were no hours about it. We’d chase swells then work our asses off. People were who were surfers shapers, glassers and sanders; they lived to surf.” I am still getting up predawn up here in Bryon sharks or no sharks.
Sinnott professes that he’s always been very experimental with boards, like his fellow alumni. “In the old days we were all experimenting, we all had different templates and made very different shapes. If you look at the old boards they were hand carved out of foam with a planer and they were all quite sculpturally different.”
“There were so many styles of twinnies, singles and thrusters, it wasn’t so corporatised as it is today.” He puts this down to the defining motion that each board was organically made, so the curves intrinsically flowed with body movement. “The design parabolas now aren’t as experimental as they were before thrusters came in, and we had to get smarter and faster with our work. I worked right through the single fin era and when Simon Anderson won Bells and we started making thrusters. Straight after that event it exploded and we were flat out to keep up with the demand. We were all hand shaping and at the rate we were working it was blood sweat and tears. ‘81 - ‘83 was full-throttle. I was so fit carving the foam with those heavy planers all day and surfing my brains out when I wasn’t in the shaping bay.”
The change in board design in that era meant that people went from “drawing big soulful lines to jagged explosive lines.” Sinnott says. “People jumped on them and it was like a big paradigm shift in performance. It was so interesting for people to have this new kind of board that brought a whole new experience and expression.” For Sinnott, it was a huge design shift and the start of a new movement and opportunity for surfing.
The ‘80s was a period where the experimental shapers flourished and a number of designs were created that have survived to this day or have been revived; just like the channel bottom. “We made so many of them in the ‘80s.” Said Sinnott, “But when the new generation of shaper came along, they didn�t want to know about them. They are a time-consuming board to shape, adding about two hours on top of a regular board’s shaping time and production.” His reasoning behind their re-emergence and intrigue amongst the surf community is that people just haven’t seen them for a while “They look exciting and fresh - completely revived.”
Despite the hard yards he put in with hand shaping, Sinnott doesn't believe that modern shapers are any less experimental with their designs and pushing the limits of what’s possible with surfboards construction. “They’re using the technology they have to be creative these days, really embracing different pallets. If anything they are a little contained by the market, however guys like Greg Webber are still pushing boundaries, and I still trying too.”
For this well-rounded artist, it’s all about keeping the soul of his journey as a shaper alive. “These days we cut costs and try to keep it rolling the old way. My little showroom is in my factory, you still smell the resin when you walk in; our boards are Byron Bay built.” He says, “There are no middle men, I’m more interested in the soulful essence as an expression of who I am, what I’ve done. I love making boards for people and surfing with them.”
When you talk to Sinnott about a new board you know you’re going to get one of the finest surf crafts possible. “Custom shapers, we’re like rubber.” He says, “We know the mechanics of the boards and if you like an idea, we can help you put your idea into the design.” But if you’re into numbers, the hands and eyes of this legend have passed over 18,000 surfboards, so they’ve seen a thing or two.
LOOKING FOR A ESP BOARD? Ed recommends the DRAGSTER because of its versatility as a high performance board. The ELECTRO FISH which is a retro twin fin, fish that flies and is so much fun in smaller waves that has had great customer feedback. And if you're in the market for a log, Sinnott recommends THE STELLAR LOG, that he says is a real soul cruiser and easy to glide on.