There’s this German dude in my neighborhood. Big blonde fella, surfs every day. And every time I see him, he’s riding something new. It’s always something made of wood. By hand. By him. At home. His name is Marcus Gniest, but most people around Bali know him as Journey.
For a guy who’s only been surfing five years…he sure is building a lot of surfboards.
So, one day I drop by his house. His “factory,” I mean. Sawdust in the air. Whining planer. Wooden boards scattered around the yard. Big wooden longboards. Razor thin alaias. Thicker hollow alaias. Solid wood fish. Veneered quads with tiny square fins. Crazy stuff. You pick any board up and kinda just trip out on it…like, “Damn, I wonder what this would feel like.”
And that’s basically how Marcus shapes. He’s wonders the same things. And then he builds it and finds out.
YAH: Do you think the shaping world is pretty close-minded?
MARCUS: Totally. Tom Blake put the first keel fin on his board in the 1930s, but it took ten years to get it onto the market. That’s how surfing is. Very stubborn and straight forward. Look at the beach. Everyone is carrying the same board around.
There are a lot of alaias in your quiver. How did you get into that?
I like to slide around. Alaia surfing is a loose as you can get on a wave, which is as close to snowboarding as you can get.
Is that where you started? What was the evolution?
My background is chemistry and physics. And I was always wondering what the f–k is this fin doing under my board. I think the evolution of the fin is just getting started. Especially in high-end surfing — fins are everything. And people still don’t know what’s going on. The big fin companies are killing it on their marketing, but their process is backyard level.
So, you got into fins to find out what was going on?
Yeah. And also I was pissed at the price. I thought I could do it better and cheaper by myself.
Yes. All wood fins. Wood has properties you can’t beat. It’s lightweight. It’s flexible. Not damaged by water. It’s even ecological.
Why aren’t the bigger fin companies doing wood fins?
They have some, but they’re just a wood veneer over fiberglass. Optic only, but no wood properties. My fins have a hollow wood core, then covered in fiberglass. So very light, good flex properties, and they also float.
So, an alaia is almost like a big fin, right?
It’s the rails. But the old school designs were too narrow. Back in the 1800s, alaias were for the poor, common people. Not for the clan chiefs. Poor people can only get a small tree, not more than 15 inches wide. They were mostly riding prone. But now everyone wants to stand up, and it’s f–king difficult. So, you change the volume and go wider, but you can still slide around.
What’s the latest evolution?
Hollow alaia. Paddles better. Catches waves better. I added some small keel fins, but nothing that hinders the slide. Just so you can bottom turn. Not everyone can surf like Rob Machado, but we still want to enjoy those same sensations.
So, you’re not worried about upholding alaia tradition?
Not at all. It’s not the point to ride a 19th Century board…the point is to have fun.
There’s a lot of other crazy contraptions around here, too. Do you just take any request?
It’s what you can do as a shaper — any f–king thing. Some guy comes in says, “Hey, what do you think about a guitar that looks like a cigar box and sounds freaky?” OK, sure. Or, “Hey, I want to have a skateboard mounted on my BMX…” Um, OK. (Note: both these items are laying nearby.) Now someone wants a wooden stomp-box. We just finished a 5’8” hollow mini-Simmons with a hull entrance and carbon-fiber tail. I’m also building a 12-foot Simmons board.
Someone ordered that?
No. That’s just me. I got some big pieces of wood so I thought, “Why not try?”