A couple of reviews of Mike Davis’s writing skill.
SURFER’S PATH BOOK REVIEW: THE SHAPER by Mike Davis
This is the first surf fiction book to stop me in my tracks in a long time. I started reading it as a casual scan. We get a lot of stuff sent into the mag an only some of it is brilliant, so my instinct is to take a look at it first, maybe poke it with a stick and see if it moves, but not commit to hours of total emersion until I know they’ll be worth it.
Mike Davis writing was instantly rewarding. In fact, when poked, the thing just jumped and never stopped entertaining me until I realised half the day had gone by. And by that time, I’d forgotten it was fiction. It felt like one of those great long-form pieces in the Surfer’s Journal by the best surf writers like Drew Kampion and Bruce Jenkins. Rich, resonant reality spanning eras you know about but want to know more.
There are fights on the North Shore in the ‘50’s; vivid surfing on a sailing trip across the Pacific, a grumpy genius shaper named Medford Haley, a half-Sioux and all surfer, young pros, some cons and a whole ton of great waves in Haley’s adopted Australian homeland. Much of this is biographical. Davis’s real life is more than mirrored by the book, but it’s not just that. As he says in our interview (on page 30) Davis just throws in how own and other people’s lives, stews them in a pot of intrigue and imagination and lets the story fly.
Davis is unusual in that he really is a lifelong shaper whose formative influences included the likes of Dale Velzy, Rennie Yater, George Greenough et al. But he’s also a writer who studied under the likes of Tom Woolfe and Ken Kesey. So, give him a blank, or a blank sheet of paper and it’s almost guaranteed you’ll end up with a magical ride.
The Shaper is the first in a series, so look out, you may get hooked.
All Mike Davis’ novels can be found at Amazon.com
The Surfer’s Path ‘SURF CULTURE’ Interview: Mike Davis
‘SHAPING THE SHAPER’
Mike Davis on his new fiction book, The Shaper; about a suspiciously life-like board builder named Medford Haley.
TSP: Who is Medford Haley and how did he appear on Earth?
Mike Davis: Medford Haley is a bit of every great shaper I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and the man or woman we should all aspire to be. He’s my hero.
I was the youngest writer chosen for a fellowship program in 1967 whose brief was to produce the author of the next Great American Novel, studying under writers like Ken Kesey, Tom Woolfe and many others. I managed to dodge that bullet because my real heroes designed, built and most importantly, rode surfboards really well. I immigrated to Australia in 1970 and built surfboards for 25 years until a superbug I’d contracted in Bali mutated, finally curtailing my full-time shaping career in 1998. My gorgeous wife, Jo sat me down and said, “Maybe it’s time you wrote your books.” I write about what I know, hence a very human Medford Haley and more importantly, his very human buddies in very human situations. There’s a certain calming authority that comes with experience, so maybe my training will finally come to some kind of fruition.
TSP: The surfing descriptions, the 1960’s Hawaiian detail, the shaping – It all suggests real experience. How much of your own life is in The Shaper?
Mike Davis: My life certainly influences my writing. Most of the unbelievable events I write about actually did happen and the things you’ll believe absolutely are fabricated. Fiction is always a bit biographical and as a shaper who learned at the elbows of men like Norman Grant, John Eichert, Renny Yater, Dale Velzy and George Greenough, as well as my being part Sioux Indian – Medford is most certainly a combination of my own experiences. Hopefully the material is not so esoteric as to repel non-surfers.
TSP: The book is about an older, gifted surfer/shaper with very strong views on most things – The classic grumpy old shaper. In these computer-shaped times what role should these old masters play?
Mike Davis: The book illustrates the importance of mentorship and more importantly how much responsibility accompanies ‘Broad-shoulder’ or ‘Water Buffalo’ status. Shaping isn’t glamorous but I’ve always loved it. Having been there for a lot of modern surfing’s major design evolution makes me very, very fortunate indeed. The ability to develop and test good prototypes should provide true innovators a place in any problem and solution design situation; so if a good surfer walks in with a good idea, The Naval Architecture of Planing Hulls by Lindsay Lord under his arm and a DVD of himself ripping – Listen. Just don’t expect a cheap board.
TSP: Surf fiction is a pretty slim genre overall, would you agree? Who/what books do you rate?
Mike Davis: Almost non-existent. I’ve read Kem Nunn with his interesting settings and characters, but I tend to shy away from the darker, more sinister surf characters as protagonists in my own work. Tim Winton, Australia’s most gifted young author, decided to write BREATH after a couple of beers with me here at Noosa. He’d come to a dead end on his latest project. It wasn’t a huge leap for him because he surfs well (a screwfoot, too) and his locations were always surf flavoured. I was ecstatic when Kevin Naughton’s whimsical young fiction piece, Trout Rising finally burst onto the scene. I haven’t read Tom Hickenbottom’s stuff but look forward to finding it somewhere soon. I’m pretty isolated here at Noosa and detest doing research for journalistic or documentary pieces. I read and write for pleasure and fiction is fun. Fiction suits me. There’re really no way of getting it wrong and every piece I produce says something that probably needs to be said or acknowledged. Ken Kesey, author of One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest, told me once: “Just toss two or more colourful or interesting characters into a bizarre situation and watch the fur fly.” How many colorful characters do we all know”
TSP: And storytelling is a huge part of surf culture. So, what role does fiction serve?
Mike Davis: Surfing can be difficult to master for some, physically testing and sometimes terrifying, which subsequently produces a lot of tenacious, intelligent individuals. Doers. We’re bombarded by the exploits of the surf stars but tend to overlook the pioneers in so many other fields who are excellent surfers on another career path – The doctors, lawyers and Indian chiefs who make up the rest of surfing. I’ve spent most of my life surfing, shaping and travelling and know some incredible surfers with unbelievable accomplishments. These stories are of them and for them, their humble beginnings and achievements.