More than just a shaper ; Interview with Donald Brink from Brink Surfboard

Brinksurf, surfboard, Donald Brink, California


In a modern era where technologies is taking the control, surfboard shapers and future one need to make a decision: to use the technology as a friend, or to continue as an individual and keep shaping with hands, no matter the time it takes. Such a dilemma!

Brink Surfboard is a California based company, where Donald Brink transfers his passion into wooden planks for the world to surf on. This is more than just a board, this is a piece of art. Shaped by hands, Donald is known for his asymmetrical surfboards – yes, the ones that are coming back in style (or they never really left).

I had a talk with him two weeks ago, or a bit more, about his company and the surfboards he’s shaping. The process is a bit more complicated than what we think, but while I listened to him, I understood why his company is popular. It isn’t just about the boards and the way they are made. It’s about the man itself, driven by a passion for the sea.

You are wrong if you think that buying a surfboard is only about the board. The process is longer and you need someone that share the same passion as you for the ocean.

This is not the kind of passion you know because you are a surfer, neither because you are deeply in love with something. This is more than that. He has a passion for life, the sea, but most importantly, his family. He wants to show the world how many possibilities you can have in the surf industry and how this creative process can become your job, or, your joy. His honest answers made me realize that at the end, we are all the same. Dreaming of something bigger, trying to strike for our goals. The path isn’t the same for everyone, but the love we feel for the sea is. As he told me, ‘’for me, surfing isn’t so much about an extended activity. I often just jump in the sea just to stay connected.’’


Tell us about yourself. Who is behind Brink Surfboard and how did you get into shaping?  

When I started surfing, I tried different kinds of boards and started riding a couple of equipment. I was fascinate by how things work in general, so when it came to surfboards, it wasn’t any difference and I notice I wanted to react at how I could change things. It was intriguing to me so I started hanging around the right people that were working boards or fixing them. It was back in Cape Town in South Africa, and that was my introduction: trying to find out what makes a board good or works in a certain way for the right person. I think I just always knew I wanted to shape.






We can call you a Californian by now, but technically you are from Cape Town. How did you found your way to California?

I was actually travelling with a Christian rock band and we were touring. We were in America playing in the East Coast and we came across to California to a friends wedding, and I met my wife there. It is kind of a long story, but yea, we based there for a while and it was quite a long time, get to know a lot of people. Of course, it’s a board building capitals in the world so it was a great place to look/learn/listen and get involve with a different approach of people to build boards. I finally married my wife, she is from San Clemente, and it has been home ever since.

If you had to choose: California or South Africa?

California is the epicentre of the industry in the world, I would say, but it’s got to do with the exposure too. Quality waves, year round. I think the proximity of being so close to Hawaii, Maui, it’s a spot to be. The biggest difference for me was the waves, they are pretty small. Coming from Cape Town in South Africa, we get the big waves and you’re definitely growing in this. But California is where it’s at.

Where are you from and when did you first start catching some waves?

I started on really small-windy waves, it was just where I was living. In Cape Town, you need a car and the equipment’s too. I was just on a little beach where I grew up at, I enjoy it regardless the waves. Then I grow up and started going in bigger waves. It wasn’t when I started but definitely start graduated in. Then I left. It’s kind of a memory of a life compass. But it’s a beautiful landscape, these waves have a lot of power.

How long does it take you to finish a board?

You listen to a customer needs and you executed it. How long you spend making a board doesn’t mean it will be any better. I pace myself and I spent enough time on the board to get the look and the feel and how it rides. It’s no race, but it’s also not a numbers game for me.

CREDIT John John Anderson

What aspect of shaping do you like the best? 

I think seeing something change in front of your eyes while you’re working with tools, this is probably my favorite part. I get excited for every board I start shaping and whether it’s a wooden board or foam board, just starting with something big and ending with something small that you’ve imagined – that never gets old.


What’s your shaping philosophy?

My boards may look a little complicated, but I strive for simplicity and the concept in the shape. Good design and a simple flow, I feel this is what I design. They may look a little tricky, but when you are breaking down, it’s all the elements that work together.

What is unique about your boards?

I mean to push the limit of asymmetrical designs, and to be honest, it was nothing I was really familiar with when I started shaping. I grow up with a fascination for retro boards and all the twin fins and fishes that work pretty well on these waves, which make sense because of the way they were designed. I then embrace this part of the design. But the frustration of trying to ride something like that were very obvious. That’s why I assume the asymmetrical changes. In my mind it was always to make that flavours of a board to sit a well progressive wave. That’s what I’ve been committed to: trying to make the right board for the right person to fit with their surfing. The way you feel on a surfboard is a really important part to design for you. The way you feel is more important than the way you’re going to ride it, it’s about the elements. Making a board flow is about different parts, what you can put in and out of a board. The way you stand will define the level, if it’s hard to ride a board or not.

Are you conscious about the environment while shaping your boards?

Yes, I am. I don’t make that many boards for big companies so I am a little less concerned about the impact I have on the industry right now though. What I am excited about is available changes that they’re going to be providing. I design the most progressive and functional boards that I can, using whatever materials are available, but I am and have been working for long on boards that I can design within available specifications , environment referred materials or more sustainable option. I am just launching a line right now that is a sustainable line and there is only one way you can order them and there is only one way they will come – they are supposed to reduce footprint on the environment and I’m proud of that, but it didn’t come by trying to do an environmentally friendly board. I try to make the best boards, so if I can cooperate on something that is more beneficial to the environment I am 100% behind that and I do feel it’s the way the industry is going. I feel it’s one small part we consider work towards and it ends up with what surfing is at the end of the day: appreciating the environment and the way we approach that and what we choose to ride and how we ride it. It’s a lot more about the attitude than just building a board. If more than anything you can design and produce more accurate and do some workflows to corporate these changes it could be inspirational for other peoples.

Can you tell me more about your new line you referred to earlier?

The companies are doing their homework and, you know, MARKO FOAM created recycled planks so instead of buying a polyester base or epoxy, you could take a bunch of post consumed polyester and then reconstitute it. It’s something that they made available, and I made a couple of boards, but I wasn’t super happy about the way the winds went and the flex and all these kinds of things, but I’ve been working on it and now I’m really really happy, the boards are feeling good. You know, it’s just choosing the products that make a bigger impact on the environment and that’s something you’re happy with.

We tend to believe that when it’s good for the Earth, it’s automatically more expensive? Is it true?

Mine no. One of the reason I am creating a sustainable board, it’s because I think it’s going to last at least three to four times longer than a normal board. Which, to be quite honest, in my opinion, more sustainable and if you just built something with a different product it wouldn’t last any longer. So, if you can minimize your customer resale value – they save you to work more often. You are creating less products, which is a way to benefit the industry rather than creating better products more often. That’s quite difficult when it comes to surfboard because, well, they’re so fragile. I tried to design boards that when you get older and bigger it will still be able to work. It’s called the Fancy Free, it’s on my website. The look and the construction of the board they only come one way, and that’s how they come. You make a bigger impact when you do fewer things I think.

You recently did an exhibit of your work, how did it goes? Do you think it’s important to share your passion for the sea with people around?

I had an exhibit at the Surfing Museum. It was an honour to be part of an expo like this. The concept of the show was out of the box design, it was called ‘’the box’’. But it was embracing more culture design and philosophies in term of boards building and design. The conversation was great! The reality is that we are just blessed to be able to play in the ocean and all the other things we get to enjoy, and that we need to remember it more often. Sometimes it’s less about the boards than people might think, but that passion leads to really good boards and sustainable flow.

It seems like you always have a few projects at the same time. A short film with you have been released one month ago, taking scrap wood to shape a beautiful surfboard. What do you like the most about this work?

I really enjoy building wooden boards, I think they are special and unique. Riding a piece of wood got an amazing sound and the feeling of riding on a wave on a piece of wood, unless you did it, would be quite difficult to explain. I really enjoy it, but it doesn’t make sense to buy woods to build a board. I’ve been working with VISSLA and the relationship is really good. They brought me a board, right in the beginning, and I could just see the birth of this brand, it was unfolding. I asked them for the pallets left for the first project of board and they were kind of intrigue of why I needed the wood and I was just like ‘’give me the woods, give me the woods’’, I wanted to create something that carries the foundation of a brand. It was a board made of wooden pallets, which, to me, was a good story, but the biggest and most underlined story was there was a story in the wood. It was the birth of the brand. To must create a memory of how it started, using that woods for something that was more beautiful and inspirational was what I wanted to do.



You are updating your blog quite often, would you say that being close to your present/future customers is important?

I’m putting together little blog posts about how making a wooden surfboard. It’s not so much about ‘’this is how you do it’’, but I think it’s impressing when you can inspire people to do something that they’re going to like. Surfing is an amazing thing, but I feel it can translate to life and design and inspirations and creativity to people beyond just surfers.  Surfing is a very creative and special odd and lifestyle and I find it very important to realize that this whole conversation can go beyond than just riding waves or building boards. We often forget that social media is about being social, it’s not just media. I am not trying to make fans or create interested or cooler working boards, this is definitely not my goals. My goal is to make the best boards for the right people, and so, what I learned is, using media and blog and all these stuff is more to have an opportunity to explain the reason behind the thought. Once you do that, you can actually empower what they want to do and what they need. I think that if we all work together we will be better all around. If you give something of value, you will give them a memory and create a difference at the same time. Those customers may never buy anything from you, but they are customers of your thoughts and your inspirations. You can’t put a value on that sometimes.

Your surfboards are known because they are awesome, but also because they are made by hands. What’s the difference between hand shaping and machines?

The industry is now making a lot of boards with the help of machines, but I am not so sure that all the machines can make the change I learned to put into a board, and I choose to do everything by hands because I have the control. Obviously, I learned a lot and I’m still learning. Success takes a long time to learn and to put it into a board – also, the machines can’t make it, at least, from what I’ve seen. It definitely creates a unique opportunity, but I think that the biggest reason why you’re not seeing more people doing it, it’s because it’s more difficult to get to.


I saw that you have a quite lovely family: one wife and two kids. Do you want to share that passion of shaping with your kids or you rather focus on the love for the sea first?

I don’t know if my kids will be involved in surfing or shaping, and I don’t care, to be honest. But what I do care about is to be for them who I’m supposed to be. For me, building these surfboards is being true to what I feel right and good design and progression is what I strongly believe in. I wouldn’t be modeling them to what they’re supposed to. What they’re supposed to do, we’ll help them figure that out and we will support them in that. Once you figured out who you are and what you are going to do, and how you’re going to help the world, you start to get comfortable with yourself. More than if you try to figure out how you fit in the society and the world. When we go to the beach, which we often do, it’s not about the surf, it’s more about being together as a family. For me, I stay true to what I do because I feel like my kid will absorb that. I feel like this is more important than just creating a father and son company.

How do you feel when you see what you accomplished and what you are still doing?  

It may sound really negative, but I feel more frustrated about the things that I am not doing. I think it just comes with the frustration of a creative person. There are cool things going on, but to be honest, I am living in California, where it’s an expensive place. Because of that, for years and years, I put everything in this company. Surfboards cost a lot to design and try, and not all the boards work. It’s been an incredible amount of money and boards that failed, and those failures led to things that finally work. The reality of life are real and I’m just trying to pace myself, do the best I can that day and dream about tomorrow. I should probably sit down and celebrate joys more often, but I don’t because these boards are individually made and I gave everything I have in every one of them. It’s such a unique and individual workflow.

What are your future plans and goals? 

I got a lot of things, without giving too much away. I’ve got some projects I’m busy working on, trying to get the right people involved. Like I said, I really enjoy what I get to do, but I’m also realizing that I’m not a pro in the industry and I take that seriously. Sharing what I do is really important to me, not to get an exposure, but to spray the thought. Just to be able to show these things to more people with hope that they are going to inspire them. I’ve got some travel coming up that I look forward too, shaping in different countries. For me, it’s a dream to go at these kinds of places and see what they are shaping with and to see different perspectives. This isn’t a rocket science, you can go and build board anywhere.