Photos by Molly McCabe
Michael Nation’s Raglan journey started with a block of wax from Raglan Surf Co.
He and his mate, Sandro, had flown in from California that morning and were gagging to get to Manu Bay. The boys (first to admit they love a good yarn) ended up spending their first few hours at RSC, chatting away with Liz and Nat Hughes. That was 2016, and Michael - more commonly known as “Mikey Potslopper”, is now a familiar face in the Raglan community, and the head potter behind WestCoast Stoneware.
We caught up with Mikey, who seems to have found the perfect balance between surfing and “pot-slopping”.
Hey Mikey, can you tell us a bit about yourself? Oceanside is a bit of a hike from here, what brought you to Raglan?
I was working for a stoneware company back in California. New Zealand had always been on my radar and, as far as I knew (from Endless Summer I guess), Raglan had the most consistent surf. I saw there was pottery in Raglan - go figure, perfect scenario! So I got in touch and Tony [Sly] just happened to need someone right away. I sent him some images of my work and set-up to show I knew what I was up to and he seemed pretty convinced. That was back in 2016.
Pottery is a pretty unique trade. What got you into that?
I started pottery when I was seventeen, right on the tail end of high school. The following year I got a job at a company in Encinitas that specialised in hand-made, hand-thrown, good old-fashioned stoneware for restaurants and hotels. They had a huge production set up - they’re still a very successful business. I worked there for about three and a half years.
You didn’t go to art school then?
Nah, both of my sisters went to College but I left school and went straight to work. I had a lifestyle to keep up and that’s all there was to it.
But also because you loved throwing pots right?
Yeah I loved it, it was hypnotising for me. It’s one of the things that I could actually keep a focus on. I didn’t really have a choice, I was caught in the spiral of it from the start.
So how did WestCoast Stoneware come about?
Beach, my homie - and now my business partner - has been pushing me to do my own stuff for as long as I’ve known him. He was like, “why are you working for other people when you can be making your own work?” I was broke, I had no money to pay for materials or equipment to start the business. I was basically a “lifestyle worker”, saving a bit for surf trips but that was it. But having someone who wanted to get on board and help make it an actual profitable business gave me a bit of drive. Not only was Beach supportive, he was interested, always asking a bunch of questions about pottery. He’s also whizz on the computer, a whizz at marketing, and he’s a friend. It seemed to be a really good fit - I make the product and he pushes it. We’ve got just under a dozen different wholesalers on board already.
So now you work for yourself, what does a typical day look like for you?
I wake up around 7.30 and check the waves - first things first! Then it’s straight to my coffee plunger, load her up, smash that. Light up a doobie. Pottery is literally a non-stop kinda job, there’s always work to be done, but when I start usually depends on what the waves are doing. That’s lifestyling. Being your own boss means if you want to go surfing, go surfing - but you’ve got to have that time management and discipline.
And where’s your favourite spot to surf?
In Raglan? Ruapuke. In the world? Either Ruapuke or Rincon, California.
In one word how would you describe your surfing style?
If I’m being cheeky - “pretending”. Like pretending to think that I surf good. If it feels good, you can pretend that it looks good. Other than that, relaxed. I’m not going for airs and shit. I just like to connect a good bottom turn to a good top turn, cutback, floater or lay back. Simple book of tricks, but I’m after style. To me, that’s got everything to do with it.
And your favourite move?
I would love to get a proper full-body layback. Just a powerful layback where I can extend my whole body, get pushed up by the lip right away for the next bottom turn for my next move. If not that, just the good ol’ roundhouse cutback. It’s timeless. It never seems to disappoint either. You can’t beat the sensation of it.
Luke Hughes, he’s got it y’know? Obviously, coming from his family - he’s the son of a board maker. Growing up in that shop and seeing it all the time. And it shows when it comes to his craft.
What’s your Hughes board of choice?
My board of choice is a Gherkin2, definitely. It’s an all-rounder. It’s fun, it’s a bit wider, got a bit of girth to it - I like boards with volume, I don’t like riding things that are potato-chippy. That’s my go-to, but I also ride my SB19 when it gets bigger. I’m very much more of a twin fin kind of guy, but the Gherkin2 really put me back on the path of riding a thruster. I hadn’t surfed that kind of board for about four years before I came to Raglan.
Did you get either board custom-made?
My SB19 was a custom, I told Luke I needed a surfboard that was capable of holding six-foot points as well as four-to-five-foot beach break barrels if the time came. I’m not much of a big wave surfer by any means. We talked about what I wanted to get out of the board, what it could be capable of doing. He wanted to know exactly where I wanted to take my surfing.
What’s your advice for someone looking to get their first custom-made board?
Know your capabilities first. Know what you want to surf like. Know where your interest lies. The only way to get a custom to feel right is to go into the absolute depths of how you want to surf. Everyone has had a custom made surfboard that didn't go the way they wanted or hasn’t met their expectations, but sometimes you get a board that’s more than what you expected and that’s when everything lines up. Luke Hughes, he’s got it y’know? Obviously, coming from his family - he’s the son of a board maker. Growing up in that shop and seeing it all the time. And it shows when it comes to his craft.
And bonus question - cos I know you’re a bit of a muso - what are you listening to at the moment?
Ah so much shit. I’ve been playing guitar heaps with my girlfriend, Molly, and she’s getting into it which I’m loving, but when I’m throwing - Frank Zappa. I don’t usually listen to him, but I’m buzzing on him really gnarly right now. Some of his shit’s really wild and a bit out there but some of his stuff is so good - jazzy and bluesy. You gotta pick the right album. If you get a weird album you’ll be turned off immediately.