First thing I notice about Ellis Ericson is his fin. Big fella. A good 12 inches. Raked and blade-like. I lost a finger just staring at it. He has it perched halfway up this pin-tail retro sled he’s toting.
Not retro. Don’t say retro.
He’s sprinkled in foam dust, Bintang stank and motorcycle grease. He’s bunkered up with the Sydney art crew all lurking ‘round the Deus motorcycle shop in Canggu these days. Hipsters, I tell ya. Making filmy-looking digi-flicks, throwback future-boards and she-devil fins that go slice slice slice. I watch them through my fingers…nodding as if I understand.
One day I catch Ellis in the shaping bay behind Deus where he explains that he is not in fact a shaper from the ‘60s, but really a former ’QS surfer and RVCA team manager from the Northern Beaches of Australia. His dad was a shaper from the ’70s (Bruce Ericson), which recently inspired Ellis toward some of the more historical elements of surfboard design. Revolution era shapes under modernized feets.
“I wouldn’t label anything I’m doing ‘retro movement,’” says Ellis. “I hate when it gets pigeonholed like that. I’m just a surfer with an appreciation for the sport’s history.”
So I ask him about the fin, but he denies any affiliation. “I’m not fin-maker,” he says. “I wouldn’t want to take credit for such a black art.”
Whatever you call it, the boards, the fins, the un-retro movement led him to Bali, which led to a shaping bay behind a motorcycle shop, which led to a large open wound in his leg, which led to jamming a needle into his own flesh multiple painful times.
I’ll let him explain:
SURFING: How long you been back here banging out boards?
ELLIS: Well, I originally came here for five days. I’m not really a shaper, just do my own boards back home. I wasn’t feeling the boards I brought over, so I came into Deus and talked to Dustin [Humphrey] who just said, “Yeah, go back and make yourself a board. No worries.” After I did, he said, “Why don’t you do some more for the shop?” So that was like two months ago.
Your boards are mostly inspired by models from the late ‘60s, right?
Yeah, mostly. Currently I’m shaping my take on a classic Tracker, which was a product of the Shortboard Revolution. These boards were a pivotal part of the evolution, as you can see in George Greenough’s movie Innermost Limits of Pure Fun. I’ve been enjoying the results of these types of shapes in the Indonesia waves. They really tap into the source of the wave.
How’d that go out at Desert Point? Heard you took a bit of a fin chop?
Yeah, it got me pretty good. I pulled in, was traveling for a bit, jumped off and the board just turned into a chainsaw. It felt like I’d been stabbed. I looked down and it was just meat.
Ouch. So, you limp in across the reef…?
Yeah, I come in and this guy we’d been hanging out with who was kind of a magician — like, he was doing card tricks and stuff for us the whole time — he says, “I’ve got a medical kit.” So he pulls out some stitches and numbing cream, gives me a shot and…
I’m already cringing…
Yeah, no one else was prepared to do it, so I just had a Bintang and tied in four stitches.
How’d that go? Painful?
I think I was still in shock. Between the Bintang and the numbing cream, it was pretty do-able. Crazy how tough your skin is. I really had to push the needle through on the other side. That’s the first time I’d done myself, but I had it checked with a nurse back in Bali and she said I did an alright job, except I should have done eight instead of four.
Was everyone else just standing around tripping out?
They were tripping. I was like, “Come on, someone help me out here. But everyone was like, ‘No way.’”
Two weeks later, Ellis posts a photo on Facebook showing that all his stitches have come out on their own. The hole is big enough that you could almost write “So much for home remedies” inside of it.
“Gonna be a hell scar,” says Ellis.
So, here’s a glimpse of the “not retro” Indo project Ellis has been shaping up with filmmaker Jimmy James Kinnaird from the bowels of Deus to the barrels of Deserts. Shaped, surfed and filmed in the present tense of 2011. —Nathan Myers