DWANE Jefferson returned to Newcastle from leading a surf tour to Sumatra and was frantically making and repairing boards at Surfest, of which he is official concierge, when COVID-19 hit.
To his surprise, Jefferson, 54, who learnt to shape a board under the tutelage of local surf figure Peter McCabe, says the virus heightened demand for his skills.
"No one was playing touch or tennis but they were pulling their board out from under the house and getting them repaired, or ordering them," he said.
Raised in inner Newcastle, a younger Jefferson worked at Forgacs loading dock. After a surf stint in Hawaii, he worked for McCabe at his Carrington factory. He later worked as a Newcastle Beach lifesaver, continuing to glass boards under the business name Real Surf Glassing, which changed to Real Surf Equipment when he began making his own boards.
Business grew organically, first from a rental factory in Lambton. He bought his own profiling machine and a house in Islington, where he built a work shed.
This year Jefferson fulfilled a dream in buying a factory in Mayfield West, where he makes his "big wave" Gun Smith brand of boards with his dog RL nearby. "I make high performance stuff. Guns are for bigger waves. I know my boards work because I ride them," he says.
Jefferson also runs workshops on how to hand-make and shape a board.
"I have travelled the world surfing. Newcastle is growing; people move here and take up surfing and don't know much about boards," he says. "Hand-shaping boards is becoming a thing of the past with the computer shapes being mass produced. I like to show people how it's done from start to finish: I get the foam, profile it, cut it out using templates I have made, then shape it."
Jefferson has other workshops planned, including a basic free diving session run by a professional free diver. He'll resume his surf tours to Indonesia as soon as he can.
"Surfing has actually given me a lot. It has kept me out of jail, off drugs, on track ... You just keep surfing, it's a way of life," he says. "If you said to me, 'Where do you want to be?', well, I am there."