“Crazy perfectionist,” is how Heath describes his father. “Everything’s got to be spot-on… but nothing ever is. I remember when we were kids and he was making us boards and we’d come home from school every day just frothing to surf the boards, but every day there was something else that had to be done.”
While they might have differences of opinion on delivery dates, the Joske men – Paul, Sage and Heath – all agree on the value of craftsmanship, whether that be building boards, boats, or backyard sheds. It’s been that way ever since Paul started shaping surfboards around the North Coast town of Valla in the late sixties.
“We found a farmhouse that was three bucks a week,” he recalls. “They were all over the place, empty. Nobody wanted them. We got this one, 10 minutes from our favourite waves of Valla Beach. We set up a couple of rooms to build boards, a kitchen and a bedroom. We couldn't think of a name so we said, ‘Let's call it Valla Surfboards’ and the name stuck. I didn't come up with anything else.” This was 1970.
By the time the kids showed up, Paul and Jenny Joske were living on five acres in the hinterland behind Valla. “Mum and Dad were hippies,” recalls Sage. “They were living in a classic pole house. Pretty basic... the place had a skillion roof, an outside toilet and Mum didn't even have a kitchen, she cooked outside.”
Valla Surfboards took up most of the house. “We lived in one quarter of the house,” recalls Heath. “There was a sliding door you opened and walked through and that was where Dad made boards. That was the other three-quarters of the house. There were wafts of resin coming through that sliding door every time it opened and that was a part of our lives ever since we can remember. And actually the catamaran was there too. That’s how long it’s been around.”
Both Joske sons became good surfers but weren’t quick to follow Paul into the shaping bay. “When I was younger I deliberately tried to avoid learning the craft,” recalls Sage. “I was aware that it was dirty and smelly and involved lots of chemicals, but in the end I just wanted to make boards that I want to ride. That's what piqued my interest; riding different boards. Getting different feelings on the waves. I was also really interested in exploring the history of surfing through surfboard design. That really intrigued me and Dad was an avenue to do that, because he had templates dating back to ancient Hawaiian boards. He had all these templates and rail curves and rocker curves that he’d collected since he started shaping and that was incredibly interesting to me.”
For Paul, Valla Surfboards was always a cottage industry. It was more an outlet for his hands and his curiosity about surfboards than it was a business. “Really, what it did was allow me to experiment and go surfing,” says Paul, “and then allow us to travel with our kids and surf. It never really built the houses or put the food on the table. I’m just really blessed to have a great wife. She had to rough it a lot during those years. When the trade started getting a little bit harsh, she went out and had a real job.”
In 2005, Sage had a plan to take Valla Surfboards into the modern era, building a state-of-the-art factory in Nambucca. At the time small shapers like Paul were being squeezed out by production shapers and a wave of imported pop-outs. Sage felt it was sink or swim. “I guess I was pretty ambitious,” he recalls. “I wanted to do it properly and make a go of it. We built this massive factory, you could probably pump 200 boards out of there a week. In the end we didn’t get anywhere near that, and the overheads were crippling.” They lasted eight years before the business went under. “I think Dad was pretty devastated when it was all gone.” Sage took a job in the mines, paid off the debt, and then studied radiology which is the field he works in today.