by Brad Bricknell 

Rod Dahlberg.
The man behind the brand. Dahlberg Surfboards. /Caryn Bricknell.

Rod Dahlberg has been there and done that.

But he’s done it in the kind of way that makes you want to sit down with a glass of red around an open fire, and just listen to his stories. He was the shaper behind Occy’s dominant years and world Title, he is a mad fan of the WSL, and he also gives us his take on wavepools.

What brought you over to Australia from New Zealand?

As a young teenager, I saw a lot of the older surfers head over to Oz for the winter. Usually to Queensland where it was warmer, as the NZ winters are pretty chilly and wetsuit technology was nowhere near where it is today.

Naturally, I wanted to do the same. My first trip was as a 19-year old in 1972 with my best mate Nev Hill. We started off in Noosa and worked our way down to Angourie, where we parked up from June to September. I surfed more great waves in that time than the combined total of all my previous surfing experiences!

I flew back to NZ for the summer with a head full of design ideas and a much better surfer.

A young Rod Dahlberg cuts back
A young Rod Dahlberg cuts back at his beloved home break in northern NSW.
What gives you the most satisfaction out of the shaping process?

The shaping process itself, especially hand shaping is quite laborious, noisy, dusty etc. With three or four crucial stages starting off with the outline/plan shape, rocker/foil, rails and finishing.

The whole process can’t succeed without all the ingredients coming together smoothly and accurately.  Then add the custom aspect of having to be accurate to the 1/16” (1/5mm) in length, width, thickness, tail shape and fin positioning – It makes the entire process immensely satisfying.  So, all of it I guess!

Dahlberg with a new handshape
Straight off the sanding rack, another shape goes to a brand new home. /Caryn Bricknell.
You’ve been quoted, as saying the 1997 skins board you shaped for Occy was the most famous of your boards.

I think the surfing that Occy did at Bells over those two days during the 1997 skins event was by far the best surfing ever done on one of my shapes! The fact that he was actually competing, not free surfing made it even more significant as the pressure of competition can sometimes detract from performance.

What was the board?

It was 6’5 x 18 ¾ x 2 3/8, six-channel roundtail. With glassed on Soar DL fins, no concaves, just a slight V in the back third where the channels ran through the tail. Occy preferred flatter decks bringing the volume out to the rail more, so his 2 3/8 felt more like 2 ½.

Kelly said in an issue of Surfers Journal that Occy’s surfing in the skins event was the best he had ever seen up until that point. That gave the board more credibility.

Occy on the 6'5" magic board
Occy’s magic 6’5″ carpet ride. Possibly the best board Rod has shaped. And with someone like Kelly suggesting it’s the best surfing we’ve ever seen, is this the best board ever shaped?


Occy rode your boards to the world title Did that do anything for your business?

Having Occy as my number-one team rider for all those years was massive for my business, which was, and still is quite a small business. Occy’s numerous incredible performances documented in the Billabong video series, his WCT wins and his World Title, all validated my shapes and designs and put my logo on the world stage. It opened up trade with Japan and created a demand that, in an era of pre-shaping machines, was hard to service.

Many other pros ordered boards from me as well and the workload almost become too much – almost to the point of not enjoying it anymore.  I had also started shaping boards for Joel Parkinson; he had just won the J-Bay WCT event as a wildcard and finished the year as the 1999 World Junior Champion, so I attribute much of my success to Joel as well. I think at one stage I was shaping boards for Occy, Joel, Shaun Cansdell, Lee Winkler and sometimes Trent Munro as well as Ben Dunn and Dan Ross, who were all competing on the world stage!

Occy floats the boat
Occy surfing at his progressive best, was very good for Dahlberg Surfboards and business.
Can the surfer/shaper relationship (and subsequent boards) affect a surfer’s technique?

Tricky question! I guess a shapers designs could have some effect on a surfer’s style or technique; like the way certain boards perform well at a particular break. But personally, I think style or technique comes from within and would be more affected by the type of waves and environment a surfer grows up in, or by the way they look up to and follow other surfers they watch.

Rod delivers a new board to the author
Rod Dahlberg treasures the shaper/ surfer relationship. Here he is with the author. /Caryn Bricknell.
I’d love to hear a little more about this quote: “The board model is a movement that has gone overboard!  It’s a wank!”

Ah, that was my quote from the first “Stab in the dark’ board test!  Because all of the boards I shape are customs, I don’t need to give them silly names or market them in that fashion. It’s a joke how many silly names are out there now.  I can’t keep up with them, but that’s not what matters… It is 100% a marketing exercise for the website trolls who are obsessed the latest “duck’s buggy bastard” and that’s ok too!

How has your business weathered the cyclical nature of the industry over the years? Has there been any personal cost or impact to you?

Surfboard manufacturing has relatively low margins and a high labor content so you have to run a tight ship and keep overheads to a minimum otherwise you won’t last. I would say imported boards from Asia have impacted heavily on some manufacturers, but not so much on my market.

I am fortunate to have a large and loyal clientele, but would also welcome new clients!

Rod Dahlberg, bottom turns
Rod plants his inside rail at sizeable Angourie. Often a shaper’s own surfing is the only advertising he needs.
You just turned 64. What does shaping look like for you in another 10 years?

That would be good to know!  Surfboards are somewhat fashion oriented and designs go in cycles. Like the re-birth of channels and single fins; everyone needs an angle and there are more weird and wonderful shapes out there now, than ever before. Personally, I am pretty conservative in my approach to board design and don’t stay awake trying to dream up the next big break through, because no matter what, it has been done before!  Materials used in construction will continually evolve, designs will evolve and surfing performances will continue to blow minds, just as it has for the last 70 years!

Where do you see surfing in 10 years, and what sort of surfing do you personally like to watch?

I can’t see surfing performances making a quantum leap anytime soon. It will get to a higher level gradually over time and a few talented individuals will always be breaking new ground in some areas of performance. It still revolves around the bottom turn, top turn, cutback and tube ride for 90% of surfers anyway.

I absolutely love watching pro surfing, big waves or small. It is the best, especially when the waves are epic. I play golf and love watching the world’s best play in all the majors, its great. It’s such a mental game, but compared to Kelly and John John trading nines and 10’s in eight to 10ft Teahupo’o! Come on!

Rod sanding his own handshape
Sanding another 6-channel bottom … let’s hope there’s plenty more of this over the next 10-years!
Is the new WSL doing a good job in your view?

The WSL is doing an amazing job getting the entire event live into my lounge room! Getting live vision to my TV from a remote reef a couple of kilometers from the nearest island in the middle of the Pacific is crazy!  I don’t know how they do it, but I’m so grateful they do!

You have history with the Webbers and both them and Mr. Slater are in the game of surfboards and wave pools.  What’s your view?

Wave pools will never take away the ocean experience – dolphins, sharks, birds and sea life. They will however provide waves for people who don’t have them and provide a training platform for pro’s and amateurs alike to perfect certain manoeuvres. Wave pools have been around for over 20 years already, but most have been economically unviable due to the actual cost of making the wave.

The Webber wave pool, when it finally comes to fruition should be able to create the highest amount of quality waves for the lowest cost, making it affordable for most surfers. We will see professional event using wave pools in the future for sure, but it wont be like watching Cloudbreak or Pipe!

Dahlberg cutback.
Dahlberg wraps into a cutback at his homebreak. A wavepool could not surpass the those ocean feels.