The Surfersvillage Interview
Art For Art: Bringing a sculptor's sense to board design
Surfersvillage Global Surf News, 7 September, 2014 - If Willy Wonka (the Gene Wilder one, not the Johnny Depp trainwreck) was a low-key bro who shaped surfboards, you’d have something like Jeff ‘Doc’ Lausch. Shaping since the early seventies, Doc gained media attention in the nineties with his futuristic designs.
Long before the future primitives Alaia resurgence he produced a finless board called the Unidentified Surfing Object, yes, the “USO” which instead of being a simple wood plank, had a metallic and space-age jet wing contour. Yes. Cool, forward-thinking stuff.
But it was his work with iconic teamriders Brad Gerlach and Donavon Frankenreiter and the subsequent line of thinner and smarter boards that etched the Surf Prescriptions logo into the collective surfing psyche. Since then Doc’s built a solid business and continues to experiment with design. His latest jump forward has to do with materials and a new special something called Varial Foam – a stringerless blank that reports to have new, positive flex patterns.
How would you describe what you do for work to a very small, inattentive child?
“I’m a toy maker – I make toys for big boys and girls.”
In the nineties you experimented with design at a time when there wasn’t much experimentation going on with surfboards. Slater’s glass slippers were everywhere and, except for the fireball fish, most surfers wanted to ride his boards & dimensions. What was the best thing to come out of 90s surfboard design?
“Where not to go? Ha. Unless you’re Kelly Slater, and even he doesn’t ride those things anymore. I think the biggest thing that happened was that a lot of guys went long boarding, high performance long boarding, because they couldn't ride those ultra thin over rockered needle nose boards that filled the shops racks at the time.”
What was a design that came out of that period (you tried a finless model) that you still believe in 100% ?
“Its hard for me to say ‘this was 70s, 80s, 90s, 2000s’ because I feel every sort of design is continually reinvented over time, so it’s hard to answer that one.”
The current push in design evolution seems to be materials. What materials are you excited about these days?
“Well that’s pretty easy – Varial foam. Out of all the new stuff that’s out there, the Varial foam seems to be the answer to most of the reasons you’d want an advanced material – it’s lighter, stronger, and still has great flex. The foam itself has integrity unlike any other foam core on the market. And the fact that you don’t need a stringer, and all the inconsistency that goes with it – stringer size, stringer flex, uneven glue – with all of those variables out, you’re able to reproduce a board much more easily with Varial foam. It can also be glassed epoxy or poly which is nice to have that flexibility.”
Over your career, what is that you do professionally that you are most proud of?
“I think going outside of the box, trying different materials and different ideas and shapes and things – the fact that I do that often is what I’m most proud of. Being able to bring my creativity to surfboard shaping.”
Tell us what has been your biggest mistake?
What did you learn from that mistake?
“You never know… As things progress and things moves forward, you can’t be all things to everyone – you become diluted if you become everything to everybody. But at the same time, by being a certain thing, I don’t want to be pigeon-holed into only being one thing. I try to be what I am, but at the same time, leave myself open to other possibilities. I don’t want to be a hypocrite.”
Doc's Varial Foam designs © Anne Louvet
Is there something going on in the world that makes you scratch your head and think: “But this is soooo important! Don’t they get it?”
“I don’t even know here to go on that… I believe in a higher power, and I think life is just a training ground for that anyways, so everyone’s just on their own path. I don’t think you should judge anyone, because everyone sees things through their own eyes, and has their own agenda, which is a normal, natural thing, so there’s no reason to judge. Let everyone just figure it out.”
Share with us your biggest Rocky Balboa moment. (You know, where he punches the frozen meat and then runs up the stairs).
“Maybe when Jay Larson won the Rusty C5 Challenge at Lower Trestles – it was crazy because the contest was $20,000 winner take all (this was a long time ago, the 90’s, I believe). It was a pretty cool event - it was $10,000 to the surfer and $10,000 to the shaper, and no one had ever done a contest, and I don’t think anyone has done one since, where the guy that shaped the board was deemed the winner too and was rewarded. So Jay won $10,000 and I won $10,000. That was a pretty cool moment.”
If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing? Working on cars?
“No… Ah, I don’t know. It’s kind of crazy because I’ve been doing this for so long. I’m a creative and artistic person, so I think I’d be creating and be artistic in another medium other than surfboards; probably painting and sculpting and creating art for art. I feel like my work is art, but it has a use too. I’d probably be doing the same thing that I’m doing, but getting paid heaps instead of what a surfboard builder gets.”
OK, you get to drop into five moments in history – surf or otherwise. Please name them and why.
“I’d love to drop into the cowboys and Indians time with like 25 surfboards, into California especially would be amazing. Be some alien guy that came from the sky and surfed all the great spots without them being super overcrowded like they are now.
I’m supposed to come up with 4 more? I think that’s it…
I dunno, I guess it would be cool to see certain historic events in surfing go down – but I’m not that good of a spectator. I’d rather be out there doing it. I’m a fan – I love to watch it on the web. But if there’s waves, and a Teau’poo final streaming online, I’m not gonna sit inside and watch the contest – I’m gonna get out there and surf myself.”