Turning negatives into positives is Australian surfboard shaper Maurice Cole’s philosophy for life, and he has employed that approach to solidify a place among the pantheon of shaping dignitaries who craft boards not just for surfers… but for the world’s greatest surfers. Tom Curren, Mark Occhilupo, Taj Burrow and Kelly Slater make up just a small sample of the champions who have sought the creative vision of the burly, regular foot Aussie; but it was his collaboration with then 2-time world champ Tom Curren that would change the course of modern high performance surfboard shapes as design steered into the new millennium. Since then, Cole has rebounded from near financial ruin, fought life-threatening disease, and crusaded to protect the beach where his surf life began. If actions speak louder than words, Maurice Cole has proven himself deafening through collaboration, innovation, and integrity in the ever-homogenized modern surfboard industry.
Maurice Cole was born 1954 in Terang, Victoria, Australia but soon moved with his adopted family to Warnambool where he began surfing at the age of 12. His future was bright, five years later with a win at the 1972 Victoria State Titles. Surfing had become his passion and he began shaping in 1974. Not happy with the equipment he was riding; Cole spent time at Rip Curl watching Donny Allcroft and Jim Pollock shape boards and was confident (describing himself as a “arrogant egotistical surf addict”) he could do it too. The first board he shaped sold the same week, and one of surfing’s great shaping careers was born. In two short years, Cole progressed from green grom to one of Australia’s highest paid shapers after he moved from Rip Curl to steadier and more profitable work with Victorian surf retailer, Speaky’s, where he was paid some $25 a shape.
In 1978, Cole became a part owner of Watercooled Surfboards and continued headlong into amateur competition. In 1979, he won the Victoria State title once again and backed it up, by placing 5th, 3rd, and 5th in the nationals three years in a row from 1979-81. To top it off, Cole surfed to a 5th place finish at the World Surfing Championships in France 1980.
By 1981, he had sold his interest in Watercooled Surfboards and moved to Hossegor, France. The move would prove fortunate (beyond the epic surf and Euro atmosphere) when a meeting in a parking lot after a surf session with two-time world champion and world-renowned stylist Tom Curren led to a partnership that would cause a major shift in the status quo of surfboard design. Cole shaped boards for Curren in 1990 on which the Californian rocketed back from retirement to a convincing 3rd world title, from the trials. Curren was surfing better than ever.
The following year, the collaboration produced new fruit in the form of the so-called “Reverse Vee Revolution.” Characterized by a flat between the fins and a vee under the mid-section, the reverse vee (EEV) afforded more rail curve in the back third of the board. This increased the board’s high speed carving which was made plainly evident in Curren’s big win at gnarly, shifty Haleiwa and in one perfect photo that forever captured his iconic roundhouse cutback at throttling Backdoor. The world knew Cole and Curren were on to something.
This was a quantum leap in surfing performance, thru not having Vee between the fins which made the boards faster and carvier a la curren!
In 1983, Kelly Slater rode a Maurice Cole shape to his first world title. It was official, his boards were elite level. Drawing on inspirations as diverse as Reno Abellira, Wayne Lynch, and Donny Allcroft, and staying relentlessly focused on innovation; Maurice Cole had become one of the go-to shapers for surfing’s elite, and almost every pro was riding the EEV design, but as Cole would often admit in interviews, his shaping skills were much sharper than his business skills, and soon, that deficit would prove a liability.
After moving back to Australia in 2003, Cole helped launch BASE Surfboards as sort of a shaping collective with industry icons Simon Anderson, Nev Hyman, Darren Handley, and Murray Bourton. The following year, Cole was embroiled in problems with both the administrative team and other shapers as he tried to investigate hemorrhaging cash and mismanagement. The result, as Cole tells the story, was his leaving the company, forfeiting his stake in the business, and wrangling in bureaucratic red tape that left him in major financial debt. As he struggled to get back on track, he was faced with yet another “negative” as he was diagnosed with Cancer in 2009.
But instead of retreating to the shadows of the surf world populated with the culture’s forgotten flotsam and jetsam, Cole continued his journey with Ross Clark-Jones in experimenting with new shapes in the tow realm. Using the extreme speeds of big-wave surfing, he and Clark-Jones have found a laboratory for testing ultra-concaves and high speed designs that will work from 2 to 30 feet. He went vegan and cleansed his shaping quarters of all toxins (no small feat in the surfboard business), converting to non-toxic epoxy and thus ridding polyesters from his immediate environment. In fact, protecting the environment has proven a recurring concern for Cole.
Before leaving France, he and Curren sparked the formation of Surfrider Europe. “We decided to try and educate the Spanish and French to accept the ocean was not a garbage dump,” he said in an interview and held true to the sentiment with his beloved home break of Bells Beach in organizing locals and business leaders to fight development of the Bells surfing reserve where he works and surfs.
And now with well over 20,000 shapes to his credit, Maurice Cole is back at work in his “Chateau El Chooko” factory near Bells Beach, churning out cutting edge surfboards and surfing with his mates. Surfing and shaping. For Maurice Cole, there are two sides of the same coin and two inseparable elements that together bring happiness even when life gets tough. He says of it simply, “If I didn’t surf I wouldn’t shape, and if I didn’t shape I wouldn’t surf, the 2 are inseparable for me!”
Biography courtesy of: A Virtual Surf Museum © 2013 World Champions of Surfing. IDW Publishing