A dusty gravel driveway leads through the scrub. Halfway up the drive sit two tin humpies, and behind them, acres of bushland sprawl to the horizon. This is Pete Dwyer’s surfboard shaping enterprise. Pete emerges from one of the humpies; smiling, barefoot, and in a white protective suit, and his father, Paul, momentarily puts down a sander and joins Pete in greeting me.
Pete grew up in the coastal Perth suburb of City Beach. He and older brother, Will, joined the local surf club at a young age and the boys spent all their free time surfing; until Pete discovered the art of surfboard shaping midway through high school.
“We had this little shed out the back of our house, and Dad was always out there fixing up the surf club boards,” Pete says.
“Surfboards aren’t cheap, and eventually, Dad got us to make our own so he didn’t have to keep buying them all the time. Dad started off, Will made one, and then I made one and I just fell in love with it. I couldn’t get enough.”
The Dwyer family relocated to this Injidup bush block two years ago, and naturally, Pete’s love for the ocean has transpired into a dedicated craft.
Pete was in Year 10 when he shaped his first surfboard. He would arrive at the local beach on his pushbike; alternative, handcrafted surfboards under arm, and word spread quickly amongst his classmates. Pete was bombarded with a flurry of orders.
“I was lucky I had all those school mates I could shape for in the beginning though,” Pete says.
“I could cover the cost of materials, and more importantly it gave me a lot of room for trial and error. The first 10 boards I shaped all came back to me – the fin plugs were falling out of the board after one or two waves. If I was making those boards for people I didn’t know, there would’ve been a lot of unhappy customers.”
While Pete shaped his first few boards under the watchful eye of his old man, Paul admits he didn’t pretend to be any expert.
“I remember that first board we made,” he says.
“We got the resin and catalyst mix wrong, and the resin was going hard before you could just about get the brush into it. It took a while for us to get the hang of it, that’s for sure.”
Displaying an obvious passion for the craft, Pete began to experiment by emulating alternative surfboards typical of a retrograde era of surfing. It’s a move Pete says was a natural step in his progression of surfboard shaping.
“I started making a lot of alternative boards because originally, they were the easiest to make,” he says.
“I liked riding them, and luckily lots of other people did too. I’ve reached the stage now where I feel comfortable making a standard short-board, but it’s still a constant process of trial and error. Shaping boards is just like surfing; it’s a lifelong learning process.”
Six years have passed, and Pete’s shaped over 200 boards; many of which have made their way into shops such as Three Stories in Fremantle, and the hands of happy customers.
The Dwyer family’s decision to relocate down south has been instrumental in honing Pete’s craft; owing to the fact he’s now blessed with an abundance of great waves in his backyard.
“I never usually have to surf more than 10 minutes from home,” Pete says.
“There’s such a variety of waves here too. It’s the perfect testing ground. It’s so good being able to shape a board and just drive down the road and test it out.”
It was by no fortunate accident that the Dwyer family ended up down here. Pete’s mother, Lisa, says the decision to move was a vital lifestyle change that’s allowed Pete’s craft, and their family to flourish.
“Before we moved down, Paul owned an electrical engineering business and it was a very high pressure job. He was always working and always stressed,” she says.
“One day, we decided we needed to make a family intervention. We all sat down together and decided, ‘right, we’ve got to do something about this. We can’t go on like this’.”
Paul sold his business and the family home, and he and Lisa moved into their bush block. Paul landed a job as a local tour guide, and Pete and Will moved down shortly after finishing their studies.
Once Paul realised the family’s future lay down here, one of the first things he did was to build Pete a shaping bay.
“When we first came down we weren’t too sure what was going on, so anything we built needed to be temporary in case we had to pull it down,” he says.
“The sheds didn’t cost us anything. We used old pallets for the foundations, bits of tin from the salvage yard and a heap of carpet from the skip bin.
“Keeping us dry ey Pete!” he yells over the whirr of the sander.
But the operation is quickly outgrowing its original headquarters, and with a steady supply of board orders flowing in, Paul says they may need to upgrade to a larger shipping container in order to keep up.
Surfboard design is as much an engineering feat as it is a love for wave riding. Discussion on the topic often reignites the age old ‘art vs science’ debate, and while Pete’s been reading up on naval architecture, he admits he is more inclined towards the former.
“You can study up on it as much as you want,” he says.
“But at the end of the day, I reckon it all comes down to how the board feels when you’re riding it. Everyone has their own nuances, everyone likes riding different things. There’s no right or wrong way to shape or surf a board.
“That’s the beauty of surfing.”