State Of Grace. The surfboards and philosophy of Australian shaper Josh Keogh.
Right now (I am writing this in the middle of the night) there are countless thousands of nameless Australians throwing themselves over the ledge of some shallow and anonymous wave, surfing it better than you or I ever will. The talent pool runs very deep. To the outsider this giant island is a blur of fantasy gold coast points, heaving desert slabs and everything in between. What you realise after a bit of time travelling there is that a huge diversity of distinct subcultures exist, on a slightly different track to the expected stereotypes. From an isolated town called Merimbula, where New South Wales bleeds into Victoria, Josh Keogh has emerged as a bright new presence in the fine art of building surfboards.
Like most bits of Australia you’ve probably never heard of, Merimbula has a wave or two. Contrary to expectations, it isn’t mobbed with crowds and you are often surfing alone. “We have a number of world-class sand bars that are nothing short of amazing when the conditions align,” Josh says, “within a few hours drive you can access some of the best and heaviest reef break waves in Australia. We kind of have everything within close proximity.” Australian surfing legend MP even spent a lot of time in the area. Being cut off from the surfing industry at large, most locals look to the WSL for surfboard inspiration.
Josh has approached things a little differently. The early noughties marked the point in time that the stock white shortboard started giving way to other designs in Australian lineups and, in the twenty years since that point, a lot has changed. “I feel like it’s a really good time to be a surfboard maker in Australia,” Josh says. He’s taken massive inspiration from a crop of young surfer-shapers who make (and shred on) their own craft. This includes global characters like Ryan Burch and Australians like Max Stewart, Shyama Buttonshaw and Ellis Ericson. Josh highlights the fact that all of these guys are on different pathways in the boards they build and the methods of construction.
His own journey into shaping happened at the age of 18, after suffering a serious back injury while surfing. At the time he’d wrapped his whole identity up with the sport and losing that suddenly opened up a huge physical and emotional hole. Master shaper Terry Glass, who lives a few hours up the road (practically walking distance for Australians), took Josh in and set him on the path of becoming a shaper. “He is still a dear friend of mine,” Josh says, “and I feel very fortunate to have spent so much time with him over the years tapping into his vast knowledge.” Josh also spent a lot of time in Torquay around craftsmen like Wayne Roach, Maurice Cole and Greg Brown. Josh also considers sidecut fish pioneer Mick Mackie a mentor. “I grew up watching Mick surf,” Josh says, “and he is such a kind and generous man when it comes to imparting wisdom and information.”
Josh is known for his take on the fish design, The Monad, and is unfolding a huge variety of further models. He sees the fish as “a timeless design that will remain relevant as long as there are waves to ride it.” But he does see developments coming up for waves of consequence. “I think the major evolution will be big wave guns that incorporate the defining features of the fish design,” Josh says, “personally I think the age of the quad fin pintail spear is coming to a close and there will be a new movement of guns that resemble something totally different. Stay tuned.”
Josh is passionate about the process of making surfboards and travelling to shape. “It’s allowed me the opportunity to travel all over the world,” he says, “to visit new places and meet people with a different point of view, I have had the opportunity to make surfboards for some of my childhood heroes, to be invited into their homes and to surf with them.” With Dave Rastovich as a test pilot (Dave approached Josh out of the blue to get a board for Hawaii), Josh is getting invaluable feedback. “From what I can gather Dave is a quiet guy who lets his actions do the talking for him,” Josh says, “he advocates passionately for the things he believes in and appears to live his life based on principle and a mutual respect for the natural world. He also knows a shit load about the functionality of surfboards!”
Shaping provides Josh with an opportunity to evolve as a human being and better understand the broader human condition. Well-read and erudite, Josh lists Steinbeck, Thoreau, McCarthy and others as a literary influence. “I wake early to read and have done for many years,” Josh says, “and it is the characters and stories in the books that help me better understand myself, and the human condition as a whole.” Josh also brings an unhurried grace to riding waves big and small, learning from each wave to better refine his shapes.