Mention the name Gary McNeill to discerning surfers worldwide and they’ll associate him with two things: extremely high performance left of centre surfboards; and his renowned team rider Dave Rastovich. By a stroke of coincidence, Dave was born in 1979, the same year that Gary began shaping at just sixteen years of age. Currently, as their long shaper/surfer relationship continues to grow in depth, experience and creativity, their collaboration in the design progress is reaching new heights. Put simply, Gary is putting together the finest surfboards of his career and a lot of people are getting excited about them.
Importantly, the feedback from beneath his own feet has had a huge part to play in Gary’s journey as a shaper. McNeill himself has a rich pedigree in Australian surfing and is an accomplished surfer in his own right. Having surfed for over forty years, he holds three Wollongong Boardriders Club Championships, three Kirra Boardriders Club Championships, a Queensland State Title and an Australian Title. With his home on the hill overlooking Kirra, Gary has been able to test and hone his designs upon the premier pointbreaks of Southern Queensland and Northern New South Wales. His solid involvement in the surf community there has also ensured that he has emerged as a world class designer and shaper, having been production manager or ghost shaper for several well known labels including Nev, JS and DHD. More recently, Gary was the head shaper and designer at Formula Energy, before moving on to rebrand as Gary McNeill Concepts.
After working within the mainstream industry for decades, McNeill has taken a different fork in the path. At first glance, you’ll see in Gary the familiar exterior of likeable Aussie ‘blokeness’ forged by a childhood spent in a working class family in one of the most working class of towns. He grew up in the no-nonsense, hard-working coal mining and industrial town of Wollongong on the South Coast of New South Wales. But get to know him a little better and you’ll discover that he is a deep thinker and a spiritual man whose heritage includes Navajo roots. Perhaps it is this legacy that has endowed McNeill with an innate sense for creativity and inspiration. Whatever the reason, it is precisely this propensity for thinking outside the box coupled with a long and healthy relationship with arguably surfing’s most well known experimentalist in Rasta, that results in surfboards that have a very real point of difference.
Gary’s boards set themselves apart from everything else on the market in terms of design, artwork and performance. Though both McNeill and Rastovich share a passion for the inventive and unordinary, they are also never willing to sacrifice performance. The result is a range of designs, best described as high performance hybrids, with the best of wide point forward fish designs blended with the best of modern rails and foils. Some things really distinguish McNeill’s surfboards. First, there is the obvious pursuit of durability and a clear commitment to fine craftsmanship. The surfboards are well-built, strong and stand the test of time. Next, there is the signature use of uniquely cosmic and eye-catching artwork birthed out of the sacred geometrical musings of artist and cosmologist Jonathan Quinton. Then there is a deliberate focus on positive flex, creative bottom contours and often uncommon fin clusters: innovative twin, quad and two plus one configurations. As many of McNeill’s loyal and regular customers will attest to, the surfboards may be difficult to describe, but they are a joy to ride. Indeed, any explanation of how the surfboards actually ‘feel’ include adjectives that must be a delight to any shaper’s ear: words like speed, energy, lift, control, crispness, positivity, liveliness and plain old good fun. Gary prides himself on creating a range of designs that appeal to a range of surfers of all skill levels. In his words, he can custom make craft for “anyone from seven to seventy.”
Unsurprisingly, after quietly building custom surfboards for a discerning clientele for decades, Gary’s boards are increasingly gaining attention for both their functionality and flare. Even to the uninitiated, there is obviously something different about them, but for those who know about such things, it is clear that McNeill is onto something. Gary has built custom craft for surfers from physicist Nassim Haramein to musician Jack Johnson to filmmaker Taylor Steele. A younger generation of open minded shapers, from Ryan Burch to Ellis Ericson, has been inspired by McNeill’s design concepts.
From the outside looking in, it seems like those concepts are blossoming into a new and compelling space. It is fitting really, because when asked what inspiration continues to drive his designs ahead, Gary answers with his own question: “Why do I shape? It’s the same reason as why I surf: to get excited. And I’ll make and ride anything that’s gets me there, to that place of excitement.” Clearly, these surfboards are born out of that place of pure passion. No wonder then that there is an ever growing host of hardcore aficionados of Gary McNeill Concepts to be found throughout the world. I for one am stoked and thankful to be counted among them.