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Dylan hopping around the lineup at Shipsterns. All Photos: Ben Bagley
Dylan hopping around the lineup at Shipsterns. All Photos: Ben Bagley

PROFILE: DYLAN LONGBOTTOM, THE SHAPER MANY OF THE WORLD’S BEST, BIG-WAVE SURFERS PUT THEIR TRUST IN

Dylan Longbottom’s evolution from core-lord Aussie charger to one of the world’s most in-demand shapers.

In the recent, unfathomably big Teahupo’o swell Matahi Drollet famously waited nine hours for the wave of the day. When he finally whipped into the giant chunk of vertical ocean he sure as hell wanted to be confident in the equipment beneath his feet. For the wave that some called the biggest ever successfully ridden at Teahupo’o, Matahi put his faith in a Dylan Longbottom design. Ben Mondy recently profiled the humble, Aussie shaper for Tracks. Check out the feature below the clip.

From Tracks Issue 579: ‘The Crazy Kangaroo’ 

Story by Ben Mondy

Dylan Longbottom’s evolution from core-lord Aussie charger to one of the world’s most in-demand shapers.

“I make boards when the waves are crap, and when there’s a swell I stack the boards in my van and hand-deliver them up and down the coast,” Dylan Longbottom tells Tracks. “In the 1970s my dad packed up his Kombi and delivered G&S boards. Fifty years later I’m doing the same thing.”

Dylan’s father, Ross, was one of the pioneers of the Australian surfboard industry. A ‘Sandshoe Boy’ from Cronulla, who spent more than 30 years in the industry, starting as a glasser for Peter Clarke from the mid-60s, and working for decades at the legendary G&S label from the 70s onwards.

Dylan spent his early years in the Cronulla G&S factory, running barefoot in the foam dust, listening to the hum of the tools and the banter of the shapers. When he was eight, his parents and his elder brother Darren, aka Daz, moved to the South Coast.

Dylan is very content to spend his time out of the water covered in foam dust.

“They wanted a change, but of all places, they moved to Dapto,” laughs Dylan. Dapto is a small town, located on the ‘wrong’ or westerly side of Lake Illawarra. Known more for its Greyhound track and Dapto Canaries Footy Club, its 20-minute train ride to the beach, and the derision that came with the journey meant that it also bred a certain type of surfer.

“Everyone wrote me off so hard as a grommet for being a Daptoid,” says Longbottom, “But the Dapto surfers were so keen and they took me under their wing. They charged so hard, and made me just want to charge harder.”

During his teenage years, under the mentorship of the Dapto boys and his eldest brother Daz, Dylan started to make a name for himself, both in the bouncing wedges off his favourite beach at Mystics, and the heaving south coast slabs.

“When we started competing, I was a bit envious,” Daz told the Sydney Morning Herald, in an interview. “I was always more competitive than Dylan, but he was more talented. I also began to see his fearless streak. Dyl had some success in the local competitions, invariably being defeated by his friendly nemesis Mick Lowe, but wasn’t sponsored by Billabong until he was 18.

“Dyl always had his own style and flair as a junior, which sometimes didn’t conform to putting scores on the board,” Lowe told Tracks. “But he was a guy that when he took off you always wanted to watch what he did on the wave. He also never stopped smiling or moving. He’s always been full of beans.”

With his mix of progressive surfing and big wave chops, Billabong saw his freesurfing potential. His first trip was to Tahiti with Munga Barry and Brendan ‘Margo’ Margieson That was a trip that not only set him along a freesurfing track, one he is still on 30 years later, but also started his love affair with Teahupo’o – probably the wave that has defined his surfing and shaping career more than any other.

“That first trip was before anyone knew about Chopes and we really hit it off,” recalls Margo. “He really feels like a brother to me. But in the water, it was immediately apparent that he had the look in his eye. It’s that look that says they want to take off deeper and just go no matter how heavy the situation is. It’s the look of a natural born charger. And it was never for the cameras. It came from deep within. He was core.”

However, while a freesurfing career back in the late 1990s may have got you plenty of barrels, it didn’t deliver any kind of economic security. To pay the bills Dylan started a bricklayer’s apprenticeship under his mate, and legendary Dapto surfer, Jeff Lee.

Although Lee would give him time off to chase swells with Billabong, a future of laying bricks wasn’t exactly what Longbottom wanted. When his first son, Jay, was born in 1999, he had a decision to make.

“When Jay was tiny Martinique asked me, “What do you want to do with your life?” said Dyl. “I told her I’d always wanted to shape. I was brought up in the factory and those guys were like Gods to me. She just said, ‘Well follow your passion then.’”

That year, after borrowing money for a planer, a few blanks, and the basic tools, he started shaping. It wasn’t easy. With a young family, he had plenty of pressure from friends and relatives to stick with the safety of his trade. “However, shaping boards was in my DNA, and I knew I had to give it a crack. That I started from nothing has driven me ever since.”

That year Dylan shaped his first board. It’s no hyperbole to say that board changed his life. “It remains one of the best boards I’ve ever ridden, it was pure magic,” said Dylan. On the board he placed well in a couple of airshows back-to-back and secured a few magazine covers riding it.

Riding his own shapes on trips with the likes of Occy, Parko and Margo also raised his profile. He was mixing shaping, surfing and bricklaying, until 2002, when Insight asked him to shape for the label in their Brookvale Factory. Also shaping there was a certain Simon Anderson, whose Energy boards his old man Ross had glassed in the 70s.

It was around this time that Tracks invited Dylan on a surfer/shaper boat trip which I was on. Also on that Mentawai trip was Darren Handley, James ‘Chilli’ Cheal, Mark Phipps, plus surfers like Parko and Maz Quinn. It was a sign that he was developing a profile not just as a surfer, but also as a shaper.

Yet, while he charged massive Bawa and Asu on his own craft, it was his surfing on a 1980s twin fin, shaped by his dad for his brother, that I remember the most (well, that and him surfing a frozen 50lb tuna down the front deck after 20 beers). He’d attached straps to the board and paddling back out in perfect Asu, I would see the board’s black artwork of KISS guitarist Ace Freely, rotating once, sometimes twice, high in the Hinako Island’s sky. It was both dizzying and dazzling as Dyl launched futuristic aerial moves on the retro board, a good 15 years before twin fins became a thang.

Not long after, Dylan received an offer to move to the Gold Coast, to shape under Jason Stephenson for the new Billabong surfboards label. It was a no-brainer to work for what Dyl now calls the biggest shaping influence on his life. He spent nine years shaping with Stephenson. With Andy Irons on the books early on, it was Dylan who took Andy, Parko, and a 16-year-old Laurie Towner, for their first taste of Shipsterns.

That was the trip in 2006 where Towner rode a Dylan board on what remains one of the biggest waves ever paddled at Shipsterns. Dylan has shaped Towner’s boards ever since, and their relationship has been a cornerstone of Dylan’s growth as a shaper.

“I would never have been on that trip without Dyl,” said Towner. “He dragged me down there, and 15 years on we’re still chasing waves together. He’s been an incredible friend and have shared some amazing waves together. And I’ve been on his boards the whole time. He’s always positive and it rubs off. And when you are chasing seriously heavy waves, that’s the energy you need. He’s just a really good, solid human.”

Having learnt much, after nine years with Billabong Dylan decided to go it alone, again. He moved back to the Central Coast, where his mum was living, and was about to start from scratch. However, when a friend asked him to come to Bali to shape boards, he had the choice to yet again upsticks with his now three children and Martinque and head to Indonesia.

“It was a big call because my surfing career was taking off again,” said Dyl. “I was surfing every giant swell all over the world. I’d been a part of the Code Red swell, I was a tow partner with Manoa Drollet, and was shaping tow boards and testing them at Shippies and Chopes. It was full-on.”

“I thought normally when you had kids you had to wrap yourself in cotton wool, but when Summa arrived he just went into beast mode and hasn’t stopped,” says Mick Lowe. Somewhat surprisingly, Dylan’s trademark fearlessness wasn’t affected by his brother Daz becoming a quadriplegic after a surfing accident in Indonesia in 2008.

“I would always think, How will this affect his surfing? Would he be more cautious, especially since he has kids? If the roles were reversed, and my brother was a quad, I would start to second-guess myself,” Daz told the SMH. “But he didn’t. During the Code Red swell in 2011 I was watching at home on TV, and he got some of the best waves of the day. I knew then that he wouldn’t change.”

In 2013 Dylan made the move to Bali and set up a shop in Canguu. Now, it wasn’t exactly paddy fields and coconut groves back then, but getting an avocado smoothie and chai latte was still an impossible dream. He opened his store just before it all went crazy and it was a case of being at the right place at the right time.

With Bali being a global hub for surfers, and Dylan’s tow boards and guns increasingly clogging the world’s best big wave spots, he soon gained an international base of customers. From barrel wranglers in Peru, underground Ulu chargers, and Moroccan madmen, he was shipping boards all over the world. He was also getting invites to shape in the four corners of the globe.

“It was so hectic, I was shaping in Bali, Morocco, the Canaries, Brazil. I had three kids, I was still chasing swells. In Portugal, I was getting up at 3am, shaping to 10, then surfing Nazare, then back shaping later. They were like, ‘what are you doing you Crazy Kangaroo?’ That’s now my nickname in Portugal,” he laughs.

Dylan had first travelled to Portugal in 2015 and had teamed with the ORG group of shapers near Lisbon. That first trip, travelling with daughter Summa, he’d arrived on Tuesday, and was surfing 60-foot Nazare by Wednesday. Summa, an aspiring pro who had surfed Chopes, G-Land and massive Outside Corner by the time she was 14, would also get her first taste of the wave on a ‘small’ 20-foot day.

“I didn’t understand Nazare till I rode it, and it was a whole new ball game,” Dylan said. “I had to ride the wave to learn how to make high-performance surfboards for giant waves.”

The fact Dylan is still able to test his boards in those types of conditions gives him a crucial point of difference. No other shaper in the world has the talent, ability, and experience to ride the biggest days at Shippies, Chopes, and Nazare. As a USP, it’s a powerful one.

“His boards are so popular now because he’s had such a diverse range, from grovel boards to funboards to the new flat deck guns,” says Towner. “That’s because he could always do huge airs, and big turns as well as ride the biggest waves you can find.”

I had the misfortune to watch Dylan at close quarters from the Nazare Fort on a tow swell in 2018. A poor wave choice had seen him stranded at the base of the cliff, just as a 50-foot, three-wave set tee-peed and detonated on his head. As usual, he came up smiling.

It’s those types of hellish experiences though that helped him bond with Lucas ‘Chumbo’ Chianca. Once the Brazilian had tried Dyl’s new Nazare models, he joined the team. Other Nazare standouts Justine Dupont, Antonio Silva, Andrew Cotton, and Joao Macedo also all ride his boards. Chopes main man Matahi Drollet, the brother of his old tow partner Manoa, has been on his sleds for years. At Shipsterns, locals like Mikey Brennan and Danny Griffiths often put their life in Dylan’s hands.

“I remember the early days surfing Chopes and you saw guys that definitely had the ability, but you’d see them fall on waves they were capable of making, but they just had the wrong equipment,” said Towner. “Dyl was ahead of the curve on those tow boards, and everyone started to ride them at Chopes. For me, he’s the best tow board shaper in the world. As soon as you step on them you can tell, even just towing out the back, they are the boards you want to be on.”

However, just before COVID hit, with his daughter Malia now aged nine and Summa 16, the family decided to leave Bali and head back to Australia. For Dylan, who never shook off his Sutherland Shire DNA, the location was a no-brainer.

“Me and Daz always said to Rossco, ‘Why did you leave Cronulla for Dapto?’ I had so much history there, that’s where my roots are. So we came back in 2019. Oh, and the fact that we have the Cape, Voodoo, The Reefs, and Shark Island doesn’t hurt either.”

So, 40 years after he left Dylan returned to the Shire. In another Möbius loop, his daughter Summa has now started shaping at Dylan Surfboards, continuing a Longbottom legacy that started way back in 1965. They have just developed a new women’s range of surfboards.

When COVID descended, Dylan hit on the idea of delivering boards, just like Ross had done a half-century before. For the last 18 months, he’s hand-delivered thousands of boards directly to his customers. And for Dylan, whose chat comes easy, warm, and loose, those conversations are a massive part of the attraction.

“We talk about the swell, or Nazare, or their families and it keeps it real and you forge a real connection,” he says. “That means you are making their surfboards personal. You get to know their ages, weight, height, the waves they surf and you can tap into what they really need.”

It’s a different model, I imagine the surf shops don’t like it, but Dylan has always followed his passion and his own path. He has no desire to shape for the CT stars or stock surfboard shops all over the world; the traditional model for the world’s big-time shapers.

“I’ve been called the next big thing, but that’s not me. I wanna keep chasing swells, and I want to be watching my youngest daughter play soccer, be there for my wife, and now I’m teaching Summa to shape and surf the waves I love,” concludes Dylan. “I want that balance. I’m not doing it for the money. I’m doing it cause I love it.”

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