To us, Axis is the phoenix of board companies. While everyone else was mourning the untimely death of Underground, Adrian Roper grabbed some top notch talent and rose from the ashes of his previous company. We were fortunate enough to have the opportunity to pick his brain on some of his shaping philosophies.
First off, can you give us a brief introduction, Adrian? People know you now as a shaper and founder of Axis, but I believe your contribution to Kiteboarding over the years is much greater than that.
I guess start at the beginning. Around 34 years ago I wanted a windsurfer and my parents would not buy me one, but offered to help me build one. The plans were in a French windsurf magazine which I translated and built my first board aged 16 with an EPS core and Plywood skin. I also made the mast, boom universal and sail.
I enjoyed the building process so much that I carried on from there. After school I studied Engineering and got a fair way thru but was just fixated on windsurfing and left to work in the industry, building windsurfers.
I moved to Maui around 19 years old and worked for Jimmy Lewis at Sailboards Maui. I watched him shaping and I guess learned a lot there. I returned to NZ for the summers and started Underground when I built boards in NZ. Name came from Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground.
All up I spent around 8 years between Maui and NZ building windsurfers working for Angulo, Hi Tech and Peter Thommen. We designed and built high performance race, slalom and wave boards. I competed in speed sailing and was NZ record holder.
Building boards was great fun and looking back I think my strong point was testing and refining gear to feel balanced and easy to use. When I moved back to NZ I set up a retail store and board building factory. We watched kiteboarding in the early days in Maui and I was trying to work out how to learn to kiteboard when I saw Kane Hartill in front of the shop kiteboarding. He got us started and we built boards for him that he took around the globe to compete on. The first ones were in 1999 and were directional boards. Kane came back from the early tour with ideas to build twintips and it all took off from there.
So then when did Axis come about? Why the split from Underground?
I started Underground to build windsurfers in NZ when I was young. Underground originally built windsurfers and surfboards for many years in New Zealand.
Underground built its first kiteboards in 1998 and our first production run was for Peter Lynn Kites in Holland. We also built boards for a few other companies around the world. We built boards for Martin Vari and other pro riders badged with their sponsors logos. We built the Underground name with quality kiteboards made in New Zealand. We learned a lot about building boards and I guess built some of the first Press style construction boards. We were the first to use the now std Paulownia core for kiteboards.
I had a Chinese company offer to buy Underground and take the manufacturing to China. At the time the NZ$ had risen so much that manufacturing in New Zealand to export was no longer possible.
It seems like a good idea. The company that bought Underground bought it to build the Underground brand but also for our technology on board building to set up to produce for others.
The company grew quickly, too quickly. I was employed to work with the factory and consult. I was not happy with the attention to details. The factory went bankrupt after around 5 years and I was out of contract and free to start again.
I saw it as a great chance to take the good things about Underground from times past and start again. I had learned a lot about working with factories in China and see this as a strength with Axis, as I still spend a lot of time in Asia.
Without close work with the factories building the boards you cannot get the right product built.
Quality comes first!
That’s quite the history. What mistakes would you like to avoid this second time around? What do you feel like you did right with Underground that you’d like to continue with Axis?
To me one of the main points where it all went wrong was the lack of attention to detail, especially quality. Once I had sold Underground I really had no control over what happened in the factory. With Axis I want to make sure that quality comes first.
I think what customers liked about the original Underground is that we came up with new ideas, built boards with enthusiasm it is fun working with guys like Billy Parker and Alex Lewis Hughes that have clear ideas about what they want to ride. This makes it easier to build solid boards that work well.
Speaking of Billy Parker and Alex Hughes (Tweak), why did you choose them to work with? What’s the shaping process like with one of their boards?
I have been working with Billy for a longtime. He actually rode Underground in the early days, way before we worked with him. I like his style and his attitude to people and life. Always one of the first guys to run down a lost kite.
A few years back we started working on a board that Billy could use for Kite and Cable. The idea was to build one board for both. It was not possible, as the rocker required for each discipline is so different. What we ended up with is a board for each that rides similar so once Billy gets a board dialled in and swaps to the other it at least feels the same for load and pop, edging etc.
ALH is outspoken on the forums and sometimes riles others but he knows what he is talking about. He is really quick and accurate with feedback. I like this straight feedback as this makes it so easy to build what he wants. We have plenty of other project boards that we are working on. It is always fun to try out new ideas, it is what you work in this industry for.
So now that Axis has had time to spin up, how do you feel like the landscape for a boardmaker like yourself has changed since you were with Underground?
Feedback from riders and stores selling Axis has been fantastic. I really think riders appreciate the effort we all put into to build the best boards out there.
I am not sure it is any different from when Underground was going well, the last years with Underground were not so positive
It feels like there is a strong market to grow into and we have lots of new ideas to try.
What do you feel like has been the biggest jump in terms of board tech in the past 5 years or so?
It has been a long time that I have been building boards. In 1984 I was building windsurfers and surfboards, all were hand shaped using half templates. This is where the shaping evolved from as this was standard in the surf industry at the time. As everything was hand shaped we would custom build for each customer.
We started using Mac Plus computers using Macsurf to design the rockers and outlines and printed them out on dot matrix printers. Later we used 2D CNC cutters to cut them in custom wood and used routers with bearing guides to cut the rocker and outlines. As soon as we started doing this we realised how it was impossible no matter how talented a shaper you are to get a perfect shape without computer cutting. All our boards are computer designed and cut now.
The twintips are built in presses that use around 6 ton/square foot and they are heated to 80 degrees so that the cycle time is quicker, but also to allow use of high heat cure resins which are stronger.
Building Surfboards that flex like a poly board but handle the thrashing a kitesurf surfboard gets is a challenge.
There is not really a jump in technology, more a steady refinement of designs and material use.
There are always new materials to experiment with and for me the fun part is to try all that is available to get a better board. Billy and Alex have ideas for boards, my job is to turn them into reality.
Alright, let’s talk a little bit about a particular style of board. Particularly the ones going out to wakestyle riders.
A lot of the time with dedicated wakestyle boards, tend to have an overly draggy feel. There are often complaints about upwind ability.
How do you as a designer approach problems like this? What special properties do you like to look for in your wakestyle boards?
Even with a category like wake style boards the range is massive. Most PKRA riders ride boots but need to ride a comp zone and ride fast into their tricks. rockers tend to be around 40-45mm and board need to be light and very strong. Then there are the park style riders that ride with boots and kites, rockers tend to be in the 55-65mm range. Boards for cable or boat need to have around 75mm of rocker.
While kiting you are pretty much edging the whole time compared to wake where you load and pop. The style of riding and the way you load is quite different. I remember watching Billy Parker in the Cable Points Champs. He was one of the only riders that kites as well. It was amazing to see his air tricks as he seems to get up to near cable height. I put this down to the way he has learnt to load with edging on a kite.
Every board design is different, I also remember building an early board for Alex with 65mm rocker which I assumed would not go upwind well. I was really surprises how well it rode upwind. It has quite a wide powerful outline that creates plenty of lift.
The base of the board needs to be able to handle slider abuse so channels need to have flats that can provide a wear surface. I remember one of the first ones that I did for Billy had sharp channels and lasted only one day.
Channels provide tracking as you have no fins a lot of the time. If the channels are too deep thru the tip this can result in a draggy feeling board. You just need to get the balance right to get a good feel.
I take most of my guidance on what works from Billy and Alex and I do not ride at that level. They know pretty quickly what they like and don’t like.
We have added double inserts on all the wake style boards to allow what ever angle you want to ride but also to allow attaching the bindings with two screws on each side to help with heel lift and hold the bindings down better.
That’s really neat about the double inserts.
With the Parker Pro and the Tranq you guys only offer one size. Is there a reason for this? Do you plan on developing those boards for smaller/lighter riders in the future?
We have a 138 bootleg at 138 x 41.5, the 140 Parker Pro at 140 x 42.5 and the 141 Tranq at 142 x 43
This covers most rider styles.
We are currently finalising the cable version of all of these boards, sizes and flex etc will be the same but outline and rocker is different.
They are pretty much larger and smaller versions of the same board. I was working with both Billy and Alex (both quite different rider size and style) with outlines and flex and they separately ended up in the same direction. We are currently working with some junior US wake only riders to build some specific boards for them.
Who knows what we will end up with?
Alright, so let’s change direction a bit and talk about your surfy twin tip. Can you talk a little bit about this Twin Wave and about what makes this special?
This is a very different twintip. There is really nothing like it. We built one similar in the last year at Underground. It has a full tucked edge in the middle that tapers out and returns to a std twintip edge at the back.
The size is 148 x 43 which sounds big but due to the rails and the curvier outline it rides more like a 137 twintip.
The rail at the centre of the board is almost vertical with the ABS rail shaped around. It rides like no other twintip, normally when you carve a twintip it gets skatey at the end of the turn, this board drives all the way. We supply it with 1 x 80mm surf, 2 x 70mm surf and 2 x 50mm standard fins for the ‘nose’. The board is symmetrical but with the fin setup and the bindings set back and set up for goofy or regular it is somewhere between and twin and a mutant!? If you ride it with 50mm all round it is the smoothest riding twin in very rough water. Would be a great coast run board. It definitely does not have much pop as the rail take this away. As an example if you run a hose across the base of most twintips the water releases on the rail edge. With this board it wraps a little, just like a surfboard, and the rail transitions back out just like a surfboard, only mini. This means the board rides more in the water rather than skipping across the surface.
A very fun different board for sure.
Why would a end user choose this twintip over a pure surfboard? What inspired you to look at a “surfy twin tip” such as this?
We built a version of the Twin Wave with Underground and found a strong following for this style of board. The Twin Wave is really suited to riders that are happy on a twintip and not really interested in learning to surf on a surfboard, but want to ride waves or do coast runs. We also have the New Wave which is not really a surfboard so have a range of boards that are not twintip and not pure surfboard. The sport of kiteboarding is still so young it seems a shame to limit to just the boards that we currently ride.
What sort of performance sacrifices do you have to make when you’re going from a freestyle Twintip to a “Surfy twintip”? Is there less pop? How about upwind ability?
A freestyle twin is designed for maximum load and pop. The rails are square and outline straighter to help with this. The Twin Wave has a curvier longer outline with very tucked rails. Holds an amazing edge when carving but for sure loses pop.
The Twinwave at 148 x 43 is big enough that upwind is not really sacrificed.
Alright.. I think that about wraps it up. Any last thoughts?
Thanks for the chance to do the interview.