By Lucy Galbraith
Cover Photo by Raphael Mariani
You’ve been described to me as a true Southern Man who loves to get away on a journey, often solo to remote locations, where building a fire on the beach for a post surf cup of tea is the norm.
Which brings me to the question - how do you have your tea?
I’m cringing at the [Southern Man] cliche… but, it’s gumboot, no sugar, and a little bit of milk. Leave the bag in - it’s gotta be in for four minutes - and don’t squeeze the teabag when you pull it out. That makes it bitter.
Interesting… I understand you have a whole drawer dedicated to tea. How many different teas do you have?
Yeah, in my father’s house there’s two drawers. At my mothers there’s one. There’s always at least one drawer full at my flat. Hold up, I’ll just count them for you… twenty two. There’s twenty two there right now, but loose leaf is a different story.
Wow, ok… why?
There’s a tea for every mood, you’ve gotta have a lot of herbal options cos you can over-caffeinate quite quickly. There’s also a few herbs in the garden to make fresh teas, they’re always the best. I don’t know how you’re gonna tie this into the interview.
Well it’s about variety, and I understand it’s also how you like to surf.
Your passion for surfing is across many forms - small wave fun, performance, big waves, barrels. What excites you the most?
Haha, well, I would be inclined to say big surf, but it’s probably more the chase. We’ve got a lot of coastline here so I’m always looking at reports for a lot of different places. There’s a long list of favourite spots that could be classified as inconsistent, but if you’re in one of those spots, on the right tide on the right day...
So what is your favourite spot?
I’m all for domestic travel. I don’t really think there’s many surfers in New Zealand that capitalise on it as much as they could. I’m really lucky to have the Catlins on my doorstep. I grew up on the north coast of Dunedin. It’s the less consistent coast but when it’s on it’s on. If that swell’s coming and the tide is right and it’s offshore we’re gonna get pumping waves. The south coast here you could wake up and get a perfect report and it actually is shit. Catching a north swell, I’ll drop everything for that. Same goes for the Catlins.
Speaking of the Catlins, you’ve surfed that pretty massive huh.
The Catlins get most of the swell in the country. Other than freak swells that travel up the west coast or hit Gizzy, it would probably be some of the most consistent, high-intensity big ocean swells that you’re gonna get in New Zealand. That’s a dynamic here, something from an early age I started to think about.
You were thinking about riding 30-footers from an “early age”??
I often wonder how I ended up in this situation - chasing big surf - because it’s a bit of a head fuck. I guess growing up on the north coast (of Dunedin) where it’s often flat, when a big swell comes it’s like “ho-ly! We’ve gotta capitalise on this!”. There’s always gonna be more small days then big, so early on you adopt a mind frame of getting the biggest and best of it. You get so involved in the process of looking for a bigger swell that you kinda end up surfing way beyond what you wanted to. My dad (Rod Rust) was a big wave pioneer here and I was shit scared of it, I didn’t want to deal with it, but it somehow just happened.
I know you don’t like tooting your own horn, but what’s the biggest you’ve surfed? Was it Jaws?
Paddle surfing, commonly regarded in the 30-ft realm, around 5-6 times overhead. Pi’ahi (Jaws) was about 25 foot. They (World Surf League) were gonna run the big wave comp that day and they didn’t because of the wind, but turned out it was sweet.
And you’re the first Kiwi to paddle surf it?
Yeah, that’s a funny one… I was, but that’s such a strange thing to have that as a badge. It wasn’t a factor leading up to it. It was just the next stage from domestic big wave surfing to international big wave surfing, that’s the premier spot so I went there. I just didn’t really give a fuck about tow surfing unless it was a slab. It was always about paddling the biggest thing that you could.
You must experience some sort of anxiety?
It’s a chemical roller coaster with highs and lows. About four or five days out you might start going up and down with anxiety and fear and excitement - but always on the day, that fades away. You start operating as opposed to thinking, in a sense. Working on controlling all the variables you can. Checking your equipment, making sure everything is all good. You become so analytical at that stage the emotional goes out the window.
But when you’re in the water, sitting in the lineup and a 30-foot wave is coming. You just start thinking about paddling?
Oh yeah, nah you’re definitely fucking scared at times. You don’t always remain in control of your emotions. But when you can really cap them, that’s the best sessions and your best performance - you’re just so in the zone. You’ve got to override the fear, you just have to. There’s a lot more moments in surfing where you’re closer to danger when you’re not quite in it that can really surge the fear. You get over the lip on one that almost breaks and look down into it and you just think “ho-ly!". That can really rattle you.
How do you deal with that?
I use my watch to time sets and intervals, to refer back to and keep my head focused. Breathing techniques to remain calm when you feel that surge of emotions coming on. You’ve got to use your tools to get on top of your head.
Luke tells me that you have ordered the most varying designs of all of his customers. Most people aren’t so particular about what they’re riding. Why is this important for you?
I’m a bit fanatical about having the right board for the day. I got to that point from trying lots of equipment, which, growing up, I could do with dad’s boards lying around. I remember being painfully confronted about how hard it was to ride a longboard properly when I was a grommet. Y’know, I was competing with a shortboard and doing well - you start thinking, “I’m pretty good”. But then you try another board and realise, “actually, I’m fucking shit”, cos that other person is out here ripping on their longboard. The easiest way to keep progressing is to evolve your understanding of waves and equipment, and by doing that you have these little breakthroughs.
Are all of your Hughes boards customs? You’ve got such an in-depth knowledge, have you ever just grabbed one off the shelf?
I’ve had a couple of second hand Hughes boards that I picked up years ago before I went travelling, just because I know they work good. Other than that, all of my boards have been customised. It’s a combination of factors; knowing what I like, what I want to experiment with, and also being bigger than your average bear. Good surfers are usually around 5’8” and 65 kilos, maybe 70. I’m closer to 90 and 6’1”. So I generally need to change the mould a bit anyway.
What do you believe is important to discuss when you’re getting a custom?
We have a conversation – that’s one of the reasons I came to Luke in the beginning. He’s a surfer that’s exceptionally good, has a really diverse understanding of design, and a huge depth of knowledge that’s developed from his own experience and passed on through other surfers and obviously Craig (Hughes). And he’s well travelled. Being able to have a conversation about your experience with someone who can understand and comprehend and make the changes with that depth of knowledge - that’s so exciting.
I’m guessing Craig shaped your first Hughes board?
My first shortboard was a Hughes. I was a real young kid at the Nationals in Raglan and my surfing had been getting better. I got this “real” board off the second-hand rack. It was a Town and Country, Lee Hawker’s ex-board. Many years later I was in Raglan hanging with the Hughes’. I was doing a lot of travelling and I had a great sponsor that was in Australia. I’m a really loyal person but when Craig offered to make boards for me, it was sort of such a big honour that I couldn’t really turn it down. No way. Craig was at the top echelon of surfboard production in New Zealand, he was highly regarded all around the world so that was a big deal.
But he wouldn’t make you a fish?
He knew what was best. There were a few times I ordered boards and got something quite different - but ultimately performed better…
Him and my dad were the same in so many ways. I’ve heard them both almost word for word say “if God wanted us to ride single fins or twin fins he wouldn’t have invented the thruster”.
Luke has told me of a very fond memory of his, your Dad sitting on the rocks at the 2000 Nationals in Raglan playing his flute to the waves. Is Rod the Pied Piper of the surf?
Most people with a sort of poetic mind would ask the same question, because he seems to be pretty impeccable with timing. He definitely Pied the Piper at the Raglan Nationals in his division, with lightning and a pod of orcas coming into the bay in the finals… It was pretty dramatic.
I think it really just comes down to a connection with the ocean, he definitely has a powerful one.
It all started camping in their backyard during the 2000 Nationals with my dad. I was nine, that’s when I had a breakthrough in many ways, connecting with the Hughes’, going to Raglan, that’s the mecca. Tip-toeing to the end of the backyard to look at Indi’s - which at that time was way off-limits for a grommet and most non-locals. Ten years later, I reoccupied the backyard on-and-off for about three years in a row during the Raglan summers. Those times in the garden with Liz and Craig are some of my most fond memories with the Hughes’. I can definitely say I accidentally missed a few evening glass-offs cos I got stuck in the garden. I really enjoyed that slower pace and personalised experience in Raglan at their house in the bay. You know - that’s a place of surf royalty.
A few extra words Leroy shared on Luke...
In the surfboard manufacturing industry, there are apprenticeships for different roles - you might train as a sander or a glasser and then bridge down the line into other roles. Very few take on a full shaping apprenticeship in which they are taught the full depth of it all. Luke is one of the few people who actually have a shaping apprenticeship behind him. He’s not been shaping as long as most - and I give those guys full credit - but for me coming into it as well as our history with the Hughes’, he was a young guy with an open mind, he wouldn’t be restricted by preconceived concepts or baggage. There’s so much more to it than just figuring out the process. Luke took a hard journey to try and absorb forty years of shaping knowledge that Craig passed on, from an early age too. There’s a picture of Luke in nappies on a board holding a sander. It started that early. He’s in a really cool place going forward. He’s a really respectful guy too, and will be the first to give others full credit – the guys in the industry that helped him out as well like Spoony (Camenzind) and Peter Anderson. He’s young and has amazing insight and has these legends involved in the shaping and he’s so passionate about it. It's really undervalued. Back in the day, all the world champions made their own boards. You get peak performance from peak experimentation. Just look at the nationals with Billy Stairmand who had his 4th or 5th title by that stage. Billy won on a Hughesy that Luke made him and Luke got second. What does that tell you? If you’re talking to a shaper who isn’t a great surfer, it’ll be hard for them to help you do things on a surfboard which they can’t relate to. Luke’s so talented and knowledgeable, trusting that helps me look for limitations in myself before I see it in my equipment.