Editors Note: Welcome to our series of stories about women who are carving out their own spaces in the surf industry. Follow along as we get to know these creative women and the joyful, useful products they build.
When Jalaan Slabb learned to shape surfboards a year ago, she immediately fell in love with it. Each day, she surfs in the morning and does her schoolwork. Then she heads into the shaping bay. Now 16, Slabb is making her own boards -- and recently she shaped a board for two-time World Champion Tyler Wright.
Having grown up in Fingal Head, Slabb is surrounded by good waves. In addition to the breaks near home, she's just across the Tweed River from surfing hotspots Duranbah and Snapper Rocks. Slabb learned to surf at age two, and her whole family surfs, including her sister and two brothers.
"I was kind of just born into it," Slabb says. "I love that you can be whoever you want to be in the surf. You can be yourself, really."
Slabb's Indigenous Australian heritage gives surfing a special place in her life. She's part of the Coodjinburra clan of the Bandjalung nation, whose ancestral lands include Fingal Head. She participates in Bandjalung cultural events, such as dances, and has learned some of the language.
"Surfing is a connection to the land and the water," she says. "Surfing and dancing are a way we can connect spiritually with the land and the ocean."
Through Juraki Surf, Slabb has met other Indigenous Australian kids interested in surfing. The organization is named for Juraki, an aboriginal man who performed the first known surf rescue on the Gold Coast. Juraki Surf hosts a contest and cultural events, and each year, Slabb competes in contests around Australia that are specifically for Indigenous Australian.
"Through Juraki, we've become really good friends, so it's super fun to go to the contests," she says. "Juraki teaches us about our culture and connects us with surfing."
About a year ago, Slabb attended a session with long-time shaper Gary McNeill through Juraki. McNeill, who has designed boards with Dave Rastovich and has Navajo heritage, showed the Juraki crew the step-by-step process of shaping a board. Slabb loved every minute.
Like many shapers these days, Slabb uses a combination of modern technology and traditional hand-shaping techniques. She learned to use AkuShaper, a software program made for surfboard design, after a mentoring session with one of the program's developers. With Aku, she creates her board template.
Then the board is machine-cut to her specifications, and returned to her for hand-shaping. "There's a lot to do," she says of this step. First she sands out the board to remove the marks from the machine cutting. "Then you do the rails, and like, roll them out," she says. Slabb evens out the stringer and fine-tunes the nose and tail. "It's a lot of work," she says.
For her first board, Slabb made a 5'7" singlefin. (Slabb is 5'0".) She gave the board a rounded pin tail, and she calls it "The Flamingo." Slabb was surprised by how well The Flamingo worked and it immediately inspired more ideas for boards that she wants to shape.
"It actually worked really good - I just need to learn to surf a singlefin," she says, laughing. "I have heaps of designs I want to get done!"
Slabb believes it's important to design boards to suit a surfer's style and she likes to watch people surf before making their boards. Her own favorite is a 5'8" shortboard shape that she calls the Blue Butterfly. She describes herself as heavy-footed, so she added some extra volume to the board. "I use more thickness, so I can really drive off the bottom," she says.
So far, Slabb has made about fifteen boards - including one for two-time World Champion Tyler Wright.
"I was super stoked when Tyler dm'ed me on my Instagram and wanted a surfboard," says Slabb. "I was actually screaming!"
With her boundless creative energy, Slabb already has more board designs in mind. She looks to shapers such as Jon Pyzel and Chris Garrett at Phantom Surfboards for inspiration. She says Garrett, in particular, has encouraged her - "He told me, that if you mess it up, you can always fix it." For her, the hardest part of shaping is waiting for her boards to come back from the glasser.
Looking ahead, Slabb imagines a future of traveling, surfing, and shaping. The creative outlet designing boards offers fuels her passion and she is happy to divide her time between the shaping room and the line-up. In a step toward turning her dreams into reality, Slabb recently signed with Roxy.
"Traveling the world, shaping, I think, would be the main goal in life - And surfing!" she says. "I just want to keep living in the moment."