If surfing had its own dictionary, then only one word would come to mind, and that would be the name “Ole.” Being a beginner to the surfing world, when I first walked into the “Ole” surfing shop I felt a certain presence. As I listened to him talk I became inspired; I felt like I could be the surfer of the world. His demeanor is so innocent and so pure. When talking to the man I realized what surfing was about and what it should be, peaceful, togetherness, being at ease with oneself.
Sometimes we forget what surfing is about. It is friends sharing a common tranquility with Mother Nature. All you have to do is look at the turn out of the “Ole longboard Classic” and you can see that many people feel the same appreciation of the ocean and the harmony that it represents. Shaping and surfing on Maui for the last 25 years has not changed his outlook or attitude, only inspired the true essence of surfing as is was in the beginning. To this day, “Ole” shapes because he loves it and every board that he produces represents that essences of surfing. When surfing makes it as an Olympic sport, there is one man that should represent surfing–that would be Robert “Ole” Olson.
Jen “Hammer” Dortch: Where are you originally from, and how long have you been on Maui?
Bob “Ole” Olson: I am originally from Long Beach, California and have lived on Maui since 1971.
Dortch: How long have you been shaping, and what got you started?
Olson: I have been shaping for 25 years. I began surfing in 1948, we used to go to San Onofre and Trestles a lot. I taught wood shop, and always enjoyed creating things with my hands. As a teacher, I got my summers off and made a few boards here and there. It was during my wood shop class that I came up with the logo.
Dortch: Tell us a little about the balsa boards.
Olson: They’re more unique; a little heavier but when you get them in the water and on the right wave, they’re pretty nice. Always a challenge to make, I usually make about five or six a year.
Dortch: Where do you get the wood?
Olson: Usually Ecuador. The wood comes in bundles and it takes time to glue, match, and shape them accordingly, check the rocker and then glass them.
Dortch: Who does your glassing?
Olson: Timpone. We’re old friends from the Mainland, and he does all my glassing. He does a great job.
Dortch: What would you tell others interested in a career of shaping?
Olson: It’s got to be something that you really enjoy, and can put your soul into. It’s more than just the mechanics of shaping material into a board.You got to kind of go with your gut feeling, and whether or not if something really feels right. Shortcuts don’t always work.
Dortch: Kind of like publishing a magazine.
Dortch: Over the years in Maui, have you seen any negative changes?
Olson: I don’t see things in a negative aspect. I feel that there are enough people looking at the negative, so I try to do the opposite and focus on the positive.
Dortch: What positive changes have you seen?
Olson: Surfing on Maui has become a family function, much like baseball use to be. You see parents taking their children out, teaching them surfing and all the values and respect that goes with the sport. You see mothers, fathers and children all surfing together. Take Launiupoko for example: a lot of quality family time is spent in the water and on the beach.
Dortch: Did the last contest go as well as you expected?
Olson: I was overwhelmed by the turnout. There were over 180 contestants. Many of them were children and women. It was great to see so many people together and having a good time. The tandem event was really great to see again. This year we even had surf for the contest.
Dortch: Did you get a chance to get into the water this last swell?
Olson: Yes, I made it out to the bay the third day, when the crowds died down a little bit. It was a very nice way to end this summer.
Dortch: What break do you usually like?
Olson: Well, I usually make it out to the point, and the cave’s fun. The people out there are pretty nice to me.
Dortch: Where else do you enjoy surfing?
Olson: Oh, all over. Thousand Peaks, Mala, Shark Pit, the bay.
Dortch: What is Maui Time?
Olson: No worries!
Dortch: Is there anything you would like to add?
Olson: I would like to thank all the participants that surfed and cheered those in the contest. Also the people that put in their time and effort to making the contest run smooth.
If you have never had the chance to test ride one of Ole’s longboards, do it. These boards are the Porsches of the surfing world. The top riders from the island, including shapers, go to “the man” because of the quality he represents. If you want the Rolls Royce, there are the Balsa boards that Ole shapes and refers to as his children. Just being able to hold one of these pieces of art against your body will sends goosebumps down your spine. To see one of these marvels of art, check out the Ole shop in Lahaina at 808-661-3459 or one of his distributors.
This story originally ran in MauiTime’s September 30, 1997 issue.
Here’s video of Ole Olson from 2009 (shot by Sean M. Hower, edited by Megan Baker):
Photo courtesy Jen Dortch