Dec 14

A Ghostly Tale of JD

This story is a cracker, if I don’t mind saying so. As it goes, we recently drew the Smorgasboarder Ghost Racks competition. We were stoked to get so many entries and we read through them all and one in particular stands out to us from a guy called William Furney down in Shellharbour.

The question for the competition was to simply to tell us in one or two sentences what you missed most about Smorgasboarder following our hiatus. So Will sends in his submission: “What I missed most about Smorgasboarder: Sitting back with my feet up, a hot cup of coffee and just reading about people, places and products that ‘I’ can relate to. That could be your neighbours, your local spot or your next favourite accessory. That’s what Smorgasboarder gives me and what I missed.”

Being a mag for grassroots surfers we love it. It’s what we are all about.

We get in touch with William, or “Will” as I will now refer to him, to let him know he has won himself an awesome set of Ghost Racks. He then tells us he has the perfect board to mount on his wall.

“I have one of the last boards Josh Dowling has (firewire) ever made. It’s an absolute wall hanger and now it will finally have a home.”

That piques my interest. How does a guy from Shellharbour have a board from one of the Victorian Surf Coast’s most notable shapers?

To a certain degree, Josh has always flown below the radar. I had the great pleasure of interviewing him back in 2011 and was absolutely blown away by his craftsmanship.

Long story short, Josh was instrumental in the development of Firewire Surfboards. He later left the coop and started shaping boards under his own name. His boards employed the sandwich construction method with a twist that made them so unique. Below is a little snippet from that interview.

“I start out with a flat block of super lightweight EPS foam instead of a blank. And unlike a blank, there is no rocker established in the plug. I actually create rocker by building the board in layers, bending and gluing each one in much the same way as how skateboards are constructed.”

“On the top of bottom of a super lightweight, ‘bouncy’ EPS core there is a 3mm layer of either timber or very hard high-density foam, which is a different chemical structure all together to normal PU and is very durable. This ‘outer shell’ has fiberglass on both sides as opposed to just on the outer as with other composite board construction.  

“The reason I fiberglass both sides of the ‘outer shell’ is because I believe with EPS you need more glass. It is much the same as a zigzag steel truss as opposed to a solid wood rafter. You are removing the material in between and reducing the weight but not the strength. The top and bottom truss is separated by the lightest possible material and this EPS core, which is holding the deck and the bottom apart, has some give in it and flexes as opposed to a more solid construction without sacrificing strength.

“In the lamination process I use epoxy resin as opposed to polyester. It has a different molecular structure and in my opinion is more resistant to fatigue plus the boards stay fresh and crispy longer.

“It is similar to Surftech’s Tufflite technology but as opposed to being a moulded clone of an existing shape, my boards are custom made to suit the individual. Therefore you have an individually tailor made surfboard that is still extremely durable. Further to this, I hand laminate my boards which makes them less rigid than other sandwich construction methods.”

No doubt you now get the drift. Josh is an absolute freak and quite possibly one of the greatest board builders I have ever come across.

Anyhow, Will sends this photo through (above) and it is pretty clear the bloke can surf, and then he tells me he was a guest rider for McCoy.

“I think I get away with it because I am a big bloke that surfs small boards. I’m not now but at the time that photo was taken I was about 118kgs and it just kind of happened. I got some nice photos for McCoy and he wanted me to ride his boards. I think I am still up on his social media page. And I got some nice photos of Josh’s boards and sent them off to him and he said he would like to use them on his social media page. I think I was just lucky to find the right photographer on the right angle.”

“Getting back to Josh, some mates kept saying to me to check out these Josh Dowling boards. I started getting Josh’s boards and loved them and took them overseas. I was really enjoying them. I ordered this particular chop-nosed design and it took months. And I knew it always took months but this one really stretched out.”

To cut a long story short, unbeknownst to Will, Josh was struggling with an allergic reaction to the epoxy resin he used every day in board building. It’s a condition known as Allergic Dermatitis (Sensitization) where the body overreacts to an allergen. The reactions range from irritated skin (much like a reaction to poison ivy and may include swelling, itching and red eyes) to respiratory problems that can be mild or severe, acute or chronic. Josh’s condition was quite serious.

“Anyhow, Josh apologises for the delay and finished up my board. It is the one I am surfing in the photo. It is a spectacular board, almost too good to ride.

“It wasn’t long after that he puts up a post on social media telling people he couldn’t make boards anymore because of his reaction to the epoxy resin. I felt really bad for hurrying him up.”

So, there you go, Will was basically the guy who finished up Josh’s career as a board builder – what a bastard! One of the most talented shapers to have ever graced the earth and Will was the guy who finished him off.

“Yeah, Josh apparently tried the space suit (special protective garment like the covid garb) and even still, he said when he peed it smelt of epoxy resin. So, he stopped shaping.”

“Anyhow it is an incredible board and that is me riding it in the Mentawais. I think it was one of the last boards he made. That’s why I want to hang it up on the wall with the Ghost Racks I won. It is a pretty special board.”

Now I know what readers are thinking, have you confirmed this with Josh whether this is the last board he made and what kind of journalism do you call this? Well, my reply to that is, Will didn’t pull his finger out and get back to me until we were just about to go to print so you will have to wait until next edition for us to chat to Josh. Hey, it builds a bit of suspense. Anyhow, the story continues.

“Earlier on in our relationship, a few mates and I followed him on Facebook because we rode his boards, and he spoke of the first four or five Firewires he ever made. He mentioned he had the first four but sold the first one because he needed the money at the time.”

The board was called RD1 – Research and Development 1 – and one of Will’s mates tracked it down. It is reportedly the very first surfboard to have the Firewire label on it.

“We tracked it down and talked to the guy about selling the board and thankfully we bought it.”

They sent it off to Josh with a note that read something along the lines of, “Here you go mate. Just when things look shit (he was dealing with a bit at the time), here’s something you have been trying to find for years. Hope it brings you a little bit of happiness.”

How friggin’ awesome is that?

As for how the board looks up on Will’s set of Ghost Racks he won, it is apparently still before the Ministry of Works.

“I am still in negotiations as to where I can place the board.

“I dropped a few hints to my wife as to where I can place the JD board whilst on a recent holiday, when her defences were down. Unfortunately the return to children and work has seen a recent resurgence in the re-employment of the death stars deflector shields. May the force be with me.”

We will just have to wait and see if Will’s reverse Jedi mind trick worked and his board gets beautifully mounted on his new set of Ghost Racks. Stay tuned.