How cool is it when stumble across the most incredible talent in the most unexpected places.
I'm riding along a deserted highway in Bali after a surf, and I spot this little 'ding repair' sign on the road. Needing a quick fix, I pull over and have a chat, only to discover the guy is also this amazing board shaper?! There he is, in his roadside workshop, cows grazing on one side, and a chalk quarry on the other.
And he's a nice guy too. Letting me interview him for all you people to discover his talent...
Introducing Komang Sudarma, AKA 'KMS - Surfboard design'
Me: So Komang, how did you get into shaping?
Komang: I started out as a Sander working for Rip Curl in Bali
At Rip Curl, he learnt his craft working with people like the famous Aussie Shaper, Richard Evans. At this point in the conversation, Komang brings out a Rip Curl booklet and shows me a page quoting Richard himself - I'm paraphrasing here, but it basically said:
Komang's team here in Bali were producing some of the best shaping work I've seen worldwide.
Richard Evans, Rip Curl (paraphrased)
If that's not high enough praise, then his clients speak for the rest.
Me: How long have you been shaping for?
Komang: About 7 years in total. 4 years as a Sander at Rip Curl, then my last year there, I started to do more shaping work, and now 2 years being my own boss, and experimenting with my own bespoke designs.
So when a surfer comes to you for a custom board, but they're not sure what they want, how do you advise them on shape, size, e.t.c?
Komang: I ask them what kind of waves they want to surf. Like, for Padang Padang - you want a board made for barrels, for Uluwatu you might want more of a gun shape for big waves. I ask them about their surf ability and we go from there.
Me: What kind of board do you recommend for barrel riding?
Komang: Like, a semi-gun, something to get in fast with and still have speed down the line.
OK, I don't really know much when it comes to tail shape. What do you think a fish tail helps with riding?
Komang: A fish tail is better for turning fast, and to cut with speed.
(He says I should speak to one of his clients, Harald Steinmann about this. Komang is the first to admit that he's not a great surfer himself. But considering he shapes for some pro's, and a lot of world travelling-barrel-riding dudes, he might just be being humble... But regardless, it doesn't really matter how good a surfer Komang is, with his client roster of talented riders to test-ride all his new models.)
So a fish would be a good tail to have on a board if I want to do a quick bottom turn and get into a barrel?
Last time I was getting a ding fixed at his shop, he showed me this board he was working on (pictured right). It's based on Kelly Slater's "Sci-Fi Tomo" model.
I loved the style straight away. Something about it just connected with me, like love at first sight.
The tail is the most unique thing about it. The kind of jagged look to it, like it's gonna slice that water for a razor sharp turn, but still hold your position, so you wont slide too much, keeping you in control (I'm getting excited now.).
He says this has become a very popular style. As you can see, the actual tail is more pin shaped with the jagged bit cutting into the rail.
Komang has adjusted this Kelly Slater model to cater for more intermediate surfers. For example, he has thinned the tail a little, given it less rocker and a lower rail, increasing its stability. On this photo you can see he added channels to his as well.
My next question...
Why did you put less rocker on this model?
Komang: Because it makes it more stable. The more rocker, the better a surfer you need to be
I keep on the subject of rockers here, as I've noticed with my own boards how much I loved a bit more rocker. Although I could never pin-point why, I just felt like my surfing was better.
So what are the advantages to more rocker on your board?
Komang: More rocker gets you more speed. It's good for barrels, better turning and doing cutbacks.
That makes sense. Actually, when I think of it, having less surface area is obviously faster. The more I talk to Komang, watching him demonstrate his point, talking more with his hands than with words, the topic of board shapes becomes a lot clearer to me than it ever has before.
If he's not impressed by my (perhaps stupid and obvious) questions, he's not showing it. In fact, he's very patient with me, and it's a pleasure to learn so much from him. Let's face it, I'm like a kid in a candy store right now!
I'm already thinking in the back of my mind what shape I want to commission from him when I finally get the cash, and I have to keep pulling myself back from day-dreaming and onto the next question in my notepad.
Intrigued by this low rail/more stability thing he mentioned earlier, I probe a little further about the rails.
Me: It's become quite fashionable to have carbon rails, why is this?
(I'm thinking about price here, and how many ding repairs I have to pay for to repair cracks on my rails, so probably that carbon strengthens the rails so they don't ding so easily)
Komang: It gives them more flex.
Again, he's gesturing with his hands to describe what he means by 'flex'; - fingers entwined, bouncing up and down a little.
A lot of our conversation goes like this. In fact, I should say right now I've been para-phrasing Komang and myself. My Indonesian language is zero, and his English is basic, so I have to dance around a little with words to find the easiest route to the subject matter. But we get there slowly. I can tell by his answers if he's understood me, or I have to try a different route.
Me: So, where do you get your materials from?
Komang: I get the blanks from Australia because they are the best quality. 'Super white' is the brand.
It's quite amazing to see this giant block of white foam (pictured) and think, that's going to turn into a beautiful board. Kind of makes me imagine a scene from Edward Scissorhands, starting out with a giant bush and then hacking into it at manic speed with shears, ending up with a delicate masterpiece.
Me: How long does it take you on average to make a bespoke board?
Komang: Around 4-7 days, depending on if I really focus or not (laughing). I could do it in 2 days if I'm just working on one board. Next year I'm hoping to get this machine from Australia that will do the first 60% of the shaping. Then we can do about 10 boards a day, but still keeping the highest quality control.
That's quite a big difference! Of course he has a couple of keen friends working in his studio and learning the ropes, (sanding, ding repairs, etc.), so he has a great team to incorporate into what looks like a great lucrative business in the future!
Apart from marketing, which he admits he's terrible at, (as am I - I have a partner for that!), he gets all of his clients by word of mouth, personal recommendations from happy clients.
It's obvious to me from the quality of his work, and the pictures of his clients I've seen ripping and riding his boards, it's not going to be a problem for him to prove his worth in the industry when new clients come along.
At this point, kicking back on the road-side as Komang smokes a cigarette, I'm starting to feel like a groupie for a band that hasn't quite been discovered yet, but will no-doubt be hitting the big time soon.
Getting back to my impressive journalistic questions, I hit him with another tough one.
Me: What new styles have you seen popping up in the last few years?
Komang: The Hypto Crypto
He gets out an example. Now I know what he's talking about because I've seen it in the waves. It's the short, fat nose, thicker style. My friend Andy refers to his one as 'the potato', which I think sums it up brilliantly.
Komang: I've shaped many this style in the last 2 years.
It's not a style I like the look of, or even like surfing as my own preference. But for bigger waves, to get in early, with more volume for buoyancy, and still able to duck dive, I can see the appeal. For my small frame with all that extra width, I found it harder to turn than the more gun style I'm used to.
On the subject of size...
Me: Do you still shape a lot of old school guns here in Bali?
Komang: Yes, I made this 8,8 ft gun for this guy. (pictured)
Me: Did you do the spray job as well? (his sign also advertises board art and spray jobs)
Komang: No, I didn't do the artwork for this one, this is Batik
Me: And what's the best shape for doing aeriels?
Komang: Well I'm not sure because I'm not that good at surfing, but my friends tell me they need less rocker, squash tail, and maybe channels as well for speed.
Again, Komang's modest to a fault. He must know what he's doing, as one of his 'friends' is Pro Indonesian surfer and team rider Eka Botel (here he is below ripping on one of Komang's bespoke boards). At this point, Komang brings this exact board out from his workshop, as he's working on some repairs for Eka.
It seems like Komang has all the right ingredients: talent, experience, and friends on the pro circuit to try out all his new inventions, and of course quality material.
When I took my Tokoro 6,3 to him for a ding repair, he tells me he knows the guy who made it, and he's worked with him, (Tokoro that is). He gets up close to the measurements and says - 'yup, it's an original, I still remember his handwriting'.
Haha, it hadn't even occurred to me that I may have bought a copy! Goes to show how much I need to learn. But also, as customers buying boards, that we are as clueless as the next person. How do we know if we are getting the real deal?
That's another thing I appreciate about Komang, he's giving me so much time and digging out names of not just his local Indonesian riders, but also giving me names of his western clients so I can look them up on Facebook and ask them for input, (maybe he's not so bad at marketing after all..!).
It's not just to prove his shaping ability and craftsmanship, he knows his English isn't great, and he's so keen to give me a good interview, he wants me to ask other more fluent English speakers for information about his work.
I contact Victor Pirozzi, and ask if he wouldn't mind giving me a testimonial for this interview. Here's what he had to say:
"So I've been riding a lot of different boards. When surfing big and more powerful waves, I was done with my boards breaking. So a friend sent me to Komang, and after seeing his boards and how talented he is at shaping, I decided to order a different kind of board made for speed and barrels.
He is pioneer in Bali, with his full-carbon boards, and hybrids of carbon and kevlar mix, what makes them lighter and way stronger compared to a normal PU board.
When I first tried my KMS board from Komang in the Mentawai Islands, I realised how good and fast they were, especially riding foam-balls . From then on, I take my KMS board to every swell, big or small whenever there are barrels, and I'm super satisfied."
Here's Victor on his 'Blue Steel' by Komang:
Here's what Harald Steinmann, another client had to say about Komang and his work:
"I've been working with him (Komang) for a while now and he has a lot of experience, with amazing teachers in the past. He is dedicated to each board he shapes and has that eye for detail to achieve perfect shape.
Komang has now shaped about 10 boards for me and my friends.
I try to put focus onto a straight rail line, with lots of tail rocker and attention on the rail cure.
The boards go amazing and are virtually unbreakable, with Komang's use of carbon kevlar. They are also super light."
Both Harald and Victor mention the carbon Kevlar rails. I'm looking forward to doing more research for myself about these, and strength and lightness seem like a winning combo for anything board related. Also having a bit of flex on the rail makes sense for more curve on your turns.
Clearly I have a lot more to learn, and that's part of the reason I love surfing as a sport. You never stop learning and growing, both in and out of the water.
Spend 5 minutes with Komang and you can see his pride in his work. And when he talks about experimenting with different shapes, how much of his craft makes him a true artist.
It's good to catch a Shaper before they hit the big time, when they are still looking at each piece like it's his baby, his work of art. And as a customer, you know that your new toy has been made with love, precision and passion!
You can find Komang at KMS Surboard Design, about half way along the road between Green Bowl and Pandawa Beach, just past the Wood Shack restaurant on the beach side of the road, in the Bukit Peninsula, Bali.
At this current time he isn't taking any overseas orders, as shipping costs are just too expensive for a small business. But, if you're visiting Bali or live here, then what are you waiting for??!
Thanks again to Komang for giving his time to this interview, and to Victor and Harald for your input also, and the rad photos!
I found it really interesting and came away with a lot of board envy. I'll see you soon no doubt for my next ding repair, Komang. But I know what I'll be asking Santa Claus for at the end of the year! (You never know?!)
Facebook: Komang Sudarma KMS
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Tel/WhatsApp : +62 856 3836 925