I remember that expression Paul often used in his sarcastic, dead pan way back in the day after a long Thursday night finishing boards to be picked up on Friday by a substantial line of frothing customers at Larmont Surf Shop. Neville was his nick name to a few chosen friends.
For hard facts we rely on research, Google especially, to connect the dots. When it comes to researching Paul Naude, a man of many great achievements, you need to dig deep. With this prologue on one of surfing’s biggest influencers, I decided to dive right in without pressing the big G key.
You see we grew up with Paul, one of the primo goofy footers who called the Bay of Plenty home. When the tide rolled in on grey afternoons and everyone was surfed out from riding fine right hand barrels out the back beyond the piers, the attention would turn to the lefts that wedged up in a little arena between the Rock Pile and the solid rock pier. Paul, along with Espo, Kevin Todd and Wayne Shaw owned it. The groms back then, Mike Burness and his bother John. Dino Sakelliou, Glenn Milne, Clyde Martin picked up the scraps. The pecking order was well defined and non adherence could lead to a flattie.
Imagine Paul on a yellow Bolt, blue or black shorty, piles of white zink on his bottom lip, carousing the line-up, making jokes, hustling for the inside. Always with a lot to say, always laced with his special kind of humor. Always on the best ones. John Pauling recalls ‘He would paddle out with most of his chest out, like a bantam rooster, hair dry until maybe his third wave, unless he slotted into a little barrel. Full of bristle and totally in charge of the session.” Thats how it rolled in the 70’s with Paul.
Others write about Paul. His is a big story, but none will have seen that side of a guy who has, without an errant thought about fame, and almost incidentally, has a big influence on where surfing is globally in 2019.
Barry Wolins, on a recent trip to Cali, caught up with Paul at his Laguna home overlooking the Pacific Ocean on a picture perfect Saturday last summer. There he found the Vissla owner hard at work in his shaping bay/workshop creating some magical new designs.
You see above all of Paul’s many attributes and passions is his love of making surfboards. He understands the deep seated relationship between board and surfer.
Perhaps the most iconic photo of Supers ever belongs to Paul Naude.
Collecting boards is his second great passion. He has over 1500. Randy Rarick recently confirmed in Surfer’s Journal that Paul’s is in top five collections globally.
During an hour long Skype call recently he spoke of the first board he made with Chris Knutsen and Bruce Jackson, a down railer, ‘a blade’ Paul recalls, without any rocker. He laughed. It didn’t go at all so he made some deep horizontal cuts in the nose of the bottom deck and cranked it up then poured resin into the grooves to put in more rocker. Learning the hard way. The only way for Paul.
Boards and the craft that goes with making them, are central to the core of Paul’s brand Vissla. Their long-suit is ‘Creators and innovators’ and it runs in the brand’s DNA. It’s real, uncomplicated and central to the theme. Just like Paul would have it.
Another of Paul’s great passions is photography. Since the early days, he’s been an ace photographer, magazine founder and media pioneer. Although his partner Mike Larmont may have come up with the concept, Zigzag Magazine was started by Paul. He’s also had work published in Surfer and Surfing magazines. He knows his way around a water housing and telephoto lens. His son Jason, has taken up the reins and shoots pictures as well.
Besides the walls of J-Bay, where he’s been exercising his backhand for decades, the other big association with the area is a big five wildlife reserve that he owns and where he and Jason can be found behind their cameras, fully immersed in getting that epic shot.
His new favourite place to photograph animals is Botswana.
His time in the surf wear industry started in the 80’s with Mike Tomson’s iconic brand Gotcha. In the early nineties he move to Californian to head up the brand’s massive presence in the US. Later he joined Billabong’s US licence holder as head honcho and stayed past the crash in 2008 just after international surf brands were listed on Wall Street. Moving into that precarious financial territory was something with which he never felt comfortable.
Now, at 62, with all that experience and flair, he’s come a full circle, shed the padding around older, more ‘corporate’ brands and settled back into providing surfers only with relevant and authentic surf stuff. Core is such an abused and almost dirty word, so I wont use it here.
His boytjie roots are still firmly in place. He’s never lost his passion for rugby. He watches almost every match the Boks and the Sharks play. Usually they take place when it’s dark in California. So he sits up alone screaming at the TV.
Forty years ago a rugby match was organized between paddle skiers and surfers at Glenwood Old Boys in Durban North. Paul played flyhallf, where else? It was a no holds barred affair cheered on by a substantial crowd. The surfers won. My lasting image was of Paul selling first centre and mate, Bruce Jackson a ‘so sad’ hospital pass and trying afterwards, offhandedly, wearing that patented Nod smirk, to justify the pass by blaming Bruce for being in the wrong position.
Back in Laguna, Paul tells Barry all about one of his latest creations, the ‘Assym’ as he calls them. The boards are made specifically for front side surfing with an offset tail design that gives you projection on the toe side and a tighter arc on the more curved heel rail. The three fins are offset and there’s a concave running nose to tail. “These boards absolutely fly. The thing about riding an asymmetrical is you have to think about it. You don’t have that muscle memory of a regular board, every turn on your toe edge, you’re going super fast and the speed going into your heel rail takes some getting into. Once you get it wired, it’s phenomenal, the arcs you can do on these things are unbelievable.”
Jason Ribbink is a recipient of one of Pauls wonder boards. He’s had it for a while now and hasn’t ridden anything since it arrived from California. The New Pier in Durban had a few spirts in early autumn and the board’s abilities was there for all to see. Solid projection off the bottom and oh so tight off the top. He’s a believer. “It took getting used to but it’s so responsive”, he said after getting another few deep barrels where it all looked matter-of-fact with great timing and easy exits. His carves off the top looked tighter, with easily as much displacement as any of the younger hotshots out on the day. More in fact. Almost an unfair advantage.
Paul only builds boards for himself and friends and never charges. Don’t ask when it’s going to be ready though. You just wait patiently and smile when it arrives or you pick it up. Dooma Fahrenfort has just go his hands on his six one Assym. Ant Brodowitz has one of Pauls other creations, a flex tail fish. They froth.
Nod, as his friends call him, has always preferred swallow tails. He rides them when there’s lefts and rights. Some of the model names bear resemblance to home. The ‘Skelm’, named after some way back chick (sic) and the ‘Tokolosh’. His favorite swallow tail is around 6’2” with the next one on the rack, two inches longer. “My Tahiti board.”
He does everything. Shape, glass, sand and polish all on the veranda outside the workshop with a drop dead view of the Pacific. He’s so in touch it seems that his job gets in the way of his passion.
And, just when you thought that the guy would be settling into some kind of kick down, Barry was taken around the back of his sumptuous hacienda in the hills, and there’s a grape vine right there. Yeah you guessed it, Paul also makes wine.
You ask yourself what the guy does between midnight and three in the morning?
Then I ask who, in his opinion is the most progressive shaper in the world right now.
He lists Glen Pang, Darren Hanley, Daniel Thompson and primarily Ryan Birch.
He also notes that in his view, without rancour, that the slavish adherence to Kelly Slater’s three fin needle nose has inadvertently held back design evolution. Its much better now though. Nothing, no specific design is off the table “Creators and Innovators’ rings loud.
Another innovation attributable to Paul happened at the recently completed Vissla six star WSL event in Sydney, where a full-on shaping bay was constructed on the beach. Bringing the art of board making onto the front line.
For years his low profile, business as usual, practical, no big deal approach to all things surfing has been somehow an anchor of reality to everything he touches. He’s been living in California for almost three decades but you’d have to listen very carefully to find even a resemblance of a twang. Thats his way. “Keep it tidy’ his understated mantra. The ability to focus is his biggest gift. While understanding the advantages of ‘tech’ he steers clear. ‘It takes control of your life’.
In the Larmont era, Paul, like so many others owned a clapped out 175 Yahama D1 scrambler, Barry reminded me. He would use it to dash to the beach from the factory to check the surf. Recently, unbeknown to his wife Debbie, he bought the exact same bike, vintage and all. It’s hidden at the Vissla wharehouse.
That’s Paul. The most successful surf industry player to come out of this country. A career and legacy built on surfing and surfboards. A guy who surfs everyday no matter what size or shape. Owner of an incredibly well developed value system that reverberates into so many great moments and initiatives. And the story continues.
St. Francis Bay is Paul’s happy place, He named his daughter Francis. Paul was one of the first Durban surfers to have a house there and continued to visit regularly, the whole time he has been living in USA.
In St Francis Bay where your wealth or status was usually determined by the size of your boat and motor, The Naude’s were always understated and never flash. The break here is Paul’s secrets spot.