He's a man with saline etched in his soul. Carly Gibbs catches up with local shaping legend and swell-slayer Andy Jordan.

It's 11am on a sweltering Mount Maunganui morning that promises to get even hotter.

Wedged in a room no bigger than a van is a man wearing a surf T-shirt and coconut-patterned board shorts on his small frame, smoothly sanding a surfboard.

My knock at the door needs to be louder than the radio before jandal-wearing Andy Jordan, face half-obscured by a dust mask, pops his head around the doorframe.

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Flat spells for Jordan mean work repairing surfboards for the local market and shaping his carefully crafted boards.

While you'll find hundreds of his designs in local waters, he's also exported to Japan, Australia and the United States.

During a lengthy career, he's shaped 7200 boards. More than 5000 of those were hand-shaped, in the days before machines took over.

But when the waves are up, he shuts up shop and hits the beach.

Among the hundreds of local surfers, Jordan is more entrenched than most, one of a small subculture who seem to spend as much of their lives at sea as on land.

He's been known to surf for eight hours at a stretch and sneak in three surfs in one day, while he spends two months a year surfing on Japan's southern coast during typhoon season, as well as occasional trips to Indonesia.

He co-owns a car in Japan with a friend, and can talk enough Japanese to paddle out, say "hello", and ask after the weather conditions.

Come October 1, however, he's always home to prepare for the summer rush.

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Andy Jordan has shaped 7200 boards. More than 5000 of those were hand-shaped, in the days before machines took over. Photo / Andrew Warner
Andy Jordan has shaped 7200 boards. More than 5000 of those were hand-shaped, in the days before machines took over. Photo / Andrew Warner

And the place where the magic happens - a tiny, terracotta-coloured factory deep in the Mount industrial zone - is as modest as the small surfer dude who inhabits it.

At just 1.60m, the "vertically challenged" Jordan has been nicknamed "Grommo" for as long as people can remember.

"Grommets" are typically young surfers.

"They tend to be really excitable and we could use the word 'frothing' out in the water," friend and surfer, Greg Scott says.

"They're all talking in their squeaky voices, and he did epitomise that. He still is a bit of a grommet, but it became 'Grommo' and he is well known by that name."

Scott says Jordan has geared his life around surfing and dominates in big waves.

"I don't know when he's going to stop, but he's still very competent at the age he's at," Scott explains.

"He's now at a stage where's he's grabbing every year because he knows there's limited time with surfing, as there is with life."

Jordan, now 56, was shy and not a "big talker" in his early years, but going into business brought him out of his shell, Scott believes.

He likes waves without the crowds; and while some shapers tend to do extreme ideas, Jordan has kept his boards simple and effective.

"Not too much far-out stuff, just basic design."

The youngest of five kids, Jordan was born in Tauranga, growing up intrigued by surfers that he could see from his backseat window on Sunday drives. As a 12-year-old, he taught himself how to surf in the Mount and Ohope.

As a junior at Otumoetai College, he'd hitch rides with seniors to the beach.

Andy Jordan has been known to surf for eight hours at a stretch and sneak in three surfs in one day. Photo / Andrew Warner
Andy Jordan has been known to surf for eight hours at a stretch and sneak in three surfs in one day. Photo / Andrew Warner

He left school at age 16, went flatting, and shifted to Australia at 17 where he was part of the Bob Hawke Surf Team for three years.

Then he came home, boomeranged back to Australia, and got a job in a surfboard factory in Victoria's Torquay, home of Bells Beach.

When he returned to New Zealand, he learnt how to shape boards from Jim Carney in the Mount.

In the late 1980s, he and friend, Richard Peak (who now works for Jordan as a glassing contractor), bought Carney's factory off him and renamed it Jordan and Peak.

They went their own ways in the 1990s and Jordan worked for High Voltage as a sander, fin-foiler and shaper, before working in a surfboard factory in China, and opening his own Mount-based factory a decade ago.

He's been married and divorced, and has four daughters and four grandchildren.

His concrete-floored, four-room factory, is decorated by posters of a female surfer and a montage of boards for colour ideas.

"I haven't redecorated, no," he laughs, adding that he's happy to leave the TVs and spotlights to surf shops.

A modest desk houses a maroon diary and dust-covered phone.

Andy Jordan has worked in New Zealand, Australia and China during his career. Photo / Andrew Warner
Andy Jordan has worked in New Zealand, Australia and China during his career. Photo / Andrew Warner

Along the walls, rows of "jordan" and "AJ" branded surfboards, priced from $800, stand to attention. The shaping bay walls are graffitied with loving messages from his daughters.

He quickly became hooked on a sport that has twice tried to kill him.

He's come up "seeing stars" in Mexico and Whakatāne after long hold-downs.

"You come up, but there's another (wave) and you're straight back down. Three waves in a row like that is pretty taxing," he says, nonchalantly.

He cracked a rib during the first day of a typhoon swell in Japan, but was back on his board the next day, buoyed by painkillers.

He's had orcas swim underneath his board, eyeballing him one less than a metre away. He's seen sharks leap out of the water and none of it worries him.

Once competitive, he now sponsors surfers, including Mount Maunganui's Raiha Ensor, but he'll keep on surfing for as long as he's lucky, and able.

"Until the body gives up," he grins. "I read an article where this guy in Florida was still riding a shortboard and he was in his 80s… but it does get harder."

That's one reason that he prefers to surf in warmer climes. It's kinder on ageing joints, and he relishes ditching a wetsuit for board shorts.

"When you go to warm water, you feel 10 years younger," he says.

Older he may be, but he still has the boyish enthusiasm that dedicated surfers have.

Once competitive, Andy Jordan now sponsors surfers, including Mount Maunganui's Raiha Ensor. Photo / Andrew Warner
Once competitive, Andy Jordan now sponsors surfers, including Mount Maunganui's Raiha Ensor. Photo / Andrew Warner

The day we came calling, he'd hit the water at 6.30am, making the most of an east swell.

Derek Winter, who used to own Mount Maunganui's, Island Style Surf Shop, sponsored Jordan on Rod Dahlberg boards when he was a teenager.

He says Jordan is the "littlest person with the biggest heart".

"People don't come more true than him," Winter says. "He's as honest as the day is long. Those blue eyes just go real deep."

The 66-year-old Winter explains that shaping a board in the days before machinery took the skill of a true craftsman.

"He's grabbed it by the teeth and shaken it until he's done over 6000. To take a surfboard and shape one, takes two to three hours of work. When you've done (that many), that's a lifetime.

"He's done his apprenticeship in a hard area to do well in, because it's so publicised," he says.

"There is so much available, but Andy stayed close to the bone, made good surfboards and then went out and tried them himself. That speaks volumes.

Andy Jordan, pictured here in Indonesia, has become a local Mount legend. Photo / supplied
Andy Jordan, pictured here in Indonesia, has become a local Mount legend. Photo / supplied

"That's the difference between these people that make surfboards by the thousands, and pump them off to all the countries in the world, including Mount Maunganui, New Zealand. They're just pop-outs in comparison. There's no heart in them. No experience in getting out on the local wave and riding it."

Nowadays, people name their kids after Andy Jordan, he reckons.

"There's a few Jordans out there now."

The "hold back" for his friend is that he's never overly marketed himself.

He's "addicted" to surfing, and became a shaper for the love of the sport, not the money.

Jordan lives in a "minimalistic" two bedroom, 1980s Arataki beach-house, with his Japanese surfer-wife, Keiko, and his beloved vegetable gardens.

When not surfing off his jetski at Matakana Island, he and Keiko are catching planes.

He can squeeze five boards into his bag, while Keiko can pack four, although he wryly notes: "She's usually got one, maybe two, and I've got the rest."

Once on foreign soil, he and the nearest beach are like magnets: "Heck, I can tell you a lot of countries I've been to and I haven't done any sightseeing," he says.

To be a good shaper, you have to be a surfer.

"You feel from your surfboards," he explains. "Most of my designs, I make for myself first. I ride it, and then if I like it, I'll give it to one of (our local) team riders because they're way better, and if they say: 'Yeah, this feels good', we can start working in that direction."

He's built boards for famous surfers, including Daniel Kereopa, and master shaper, Rod Dahlberg.

My spies tell me he's probably the best tube-rider at Matakana Island, but he politely declines that title, saying that younger surfers have surpassed him: "Not anymore".

Andy Jordan in Indonesia. Photo /supplied
Andy Jordan in Indonesia. Photo /supplied

He's been New Zealand's over-30s surfing champion, and made the New Zealand surfing team in 2000.

To Mountie surfers, he's a local legend, but Jordan dismisses he's anything special.

He still gets a "buzz" seeing a "little grommie" on one of his boards.

While he used to handshape boards from scratch, for the best part of eight years, design has been done on his laptop.

There are three or four crucial stages, starting off with the outline/plan and shape, rocker/foil and rails. The boards are all cut out on a machine and he then spends about 45 minutes finishing them off by hand, where accuracy is key.

"The best way to describe a surfboard is a 3D sculpture that scientifically works," he says.

"It's gotta have foil, its gotta have form, curves and concaves in the right spots, to physically look good."

He has around 15 surfboards of his own - some are old favourites that he can't bear to part with.

The quiet, humble Jordan only really comes alive when asked about surfing.

Like his on-water persona, he quickly becomes eloquent, smooth and unhesitant.

"I find it really cleansing; it's really soothing. I like the exercise, I like the thrill of the wave, and the speed and power you get. And then, if there are pumping waves and your mate gets a good one too, well, it's quite enjoyable."