From a lost compound in the middle of the Mojave Desert, the world does not exist. Traffic lights, work schedules, cell phone reception, law enforcement… out there these things are nothing more than a memory of a different life. The safety-nets and accoutrements around which we build our lives cease to have any meaning. There’s a reason most humans have forsaken this barren spit of land. But there are some yet still who are drawn to it. Those who leave but always return. Some say that the dust of the desert has a way of finding its way through and settling into their bones, that in this way it draws them back. Perhaps, rather, it is that in this place where there exists only a silent nothingness, one can simply find the last vestiges of true freedom.
In the first month of 2018, Huntington Beach shaper Forrest Minchinton absconded to his bygone desert compound with Australian-native glasser Madchook to create a run of surfboards unlike any done before them. What they came back with were six unique surfboards wholly inspired by the desertscape that engulfed them and the two-wheeled vehicles they use to traverse those lands.
First things first, how did you two meet and begin to work together?
- Forrest Minchinton: I’m not sure how we initially met exactly but basically we both were into the same things. Building surfboards, motocross and just motorcycles in general. What is that called? 6 degrees of separation? It was just through chance that our paths crossed.
- Madchook: I have been traveling back and forth from the states for some years now soaking up everything Southern California has to offer me from surf & snow to beers & bikes. I’ve made a lot of friends here so I guess it was almost inevitable our paths would cross at some point, and eventually they did. We both vibe off the same kinda stuff so we clicked pretty easy & probably both realized we would be merging our crafts together somehow at some point.
You guys have a strikingly similar background and upbringings. How has that shaped affected where you’re at now in your careers?
Forrest Minchinton: Yeah it’s pretty crazy how similar our backgrounds are. We both are sons of shapers, our fathers are both well respected for what they do and both Madchook and I are full on moto guys and both build surfboards for a living. I can’t speak for Chook, but for me anyways, I didn’t want anything to do with the surf industry or being a pro surfer as a young kid, my dad took me to the desert and got me a dirt bike because that was something that he also enjoyed doing and I was just hooked on that. It was all I ever wanted to do. I always surfed too but Moto was just my passion. I got really into surfing as I got older and into high-school. Motorcycles are expensive and we lived at the beach so I surfed more than I rode and I spent my entire life at a surfboard factory. It was my daycare. My dad was basically a single father, so that’s where I rode my bicycle to after school and would hang out and just watch or try to shape little mini surfboards out of scraps of foam laying around.
Eventually I needed to make money to pay for dirt bikes, so my dad taught me how to do ding repair and Eventually That turned into shaping. It was just a snowball effect. I never intended to be a shaper it just happened naturally I guess. I made surfboards so I could ride motorcycles and I surfed when I couldn’t ride motorcycles which was most days.
- Madchook: Yeah it’s pretty crazy we both pretty much grew up in surfboard factories with our dads being renowned shapers so growing up. I’m sure it was the same for Forrest that surfboards and surfing where a part of everyday life. Going to hang at the factory was just like hanging at home or a mates place. If I was bored I’d head to see Dad at work and he would just let me mess around with all the stuff and imitate him shaping. But it was never something I saw as being a job.
For me I grew up in a relatively small town and it was pretty normal as a kid to just jump on my pedal bike and disappear unsupervised all day so I was kinda into causing trouble and doing dumb shit that I thought was cool like building sketchy ramps and trying to send my huffy over gaps. But my love for motocross come from hiring the same mx VHS every weekend and watching it as many times a day as I could. Eventually crusty demons come out and it had everything I was into; dumb shit and jumping bikes, as well as introducing me to free-riding through the desert of California.
But growing up in a house that revolved a lot around competition sports as my dad was shaping for some of Australia’s top competing surfers I got more into the competitive racing side of mx. Surfing was just a part of my everyday life but motocross was something I wanted to do it was my first true passion. I jumped back and forth between being obsessed with mx, surfing, skating but always eventually landed back at mx.
After leaving school I needed money and the only job I had ever known was making surfboards even though the only boards I had ever made where my own for fun. I went to Darren Handley (DHD) told him I think I know how to glass a board he said alright let’s see what you got, and I scored my first job. Darren actually came to me my first day and said “Is your dad Neil Cormack? I used to get boards off him.” That was kinda the first time I realized my dad was a well-respected shaper in the industry in Australia. My older brother and sister are amazing artists and I still pick up the pen and pad on occasion which is also probably part of what fuels my passion for the resin tint art side of surfboards over the shaping side it’s something I genuinely enjoy doing. Surfing and motocross are entwined together for me, that feel and flow of cutting lines in dirt or through the water, Open ocean or open desert it all goes hand in hand for me. And that’s pretty much my story.
What was the inspiration/appeal of building boards out in the middle of the seemingly inhospitable Mojave Desert?
- Madchook: We had talked about doing boards together and I really like Forrest’s shapes. They’re hand shapes which is kinda rare these days for a young shaper, and they all have a real modern classic style about them which I guess comes from learning from his dad Mike, a true classic hand shaper. I’m an old school guy myself I just seem to gravitate towards that kind of stuff more with boards, bikes, cars. Sometimes I feel I should have been born in the 50’s.
So when Forrest said ‘ey you wanna do some boards out at the mojave compound I almost didn’t wait for him to finish the sentence before butting in “hell yeah”.. its kinda funny because if you asked any other surfboard dude they probably would have said why would we go out there! But like I said cutting lines through open water or in open desert they go hand in hand.
- Forrest Minchinton: The Mojave project really was something that my dad and I had talked about forever. Back in 2002 my Dad and his two best friends bought this abandoned weed farm in the middle of the Mojave Desert, an area we always went to and camped out and rode dirt bikes at. They bought it and we slowly over time rebuilt this place and it is just this hodge-podge of stuff lost and found and really just whatever we had. Full Baja Mexico-style construction.
Anyways, that was and is our desert oasis and we go out there and dry the gills and get away from the hustle and bustle of southern California and just enjoy the freedom and ride. Being that we make surfboards for a living, we always talked about how cool it would be to have a shaping bay there and never have to leave haha. It’s kinda ironic, building surfboards hundreds of miles from the nearest ocean or wave, but it made perfect sense to us. There are no cops out there, no regulations, no fire marshal, it’s just raw. It really is a magical place that is hard to put into words.
How was your shape room at the compound built, and how does it compare to your normal shape room?
- Forrest Minchinton: We had built these carports where we would store some of the old desert mobiles that we leave out there…the booze
cruisers we call them. When we finally decided we were going to build a shaping room, my dad and I were just sitting out there enjoying a beer and we realized the carport was nearly perfect shaping room size. We scavenged around the compound and found a bunch of random plywood and 2x4s and whatever we could scrounge up and started getting after building the room. It was the middle of summer and so we ended up buying a AC unit as well, haha, it gets hot as hell out there in the summer…
I think in the end we spent like $500 of building the room with the AC and lights and all. The room actually worked out awesome. The ceiling is a lil low compared to the factory at home, but other than that it’s super legit. I really enjoy shaping in there. I carve out a couple boards and I just open the door to the wide open desert. It’s gotta be the only shaping room of its kind.
What is the glassing setup like?
- Madchook: The glassing bay was as basic as it could be, but that was kinda how we wanted it. Nothing fancy, just raw hand-made Mojave boards. We turned up, moved the desert car out of an open carport, and started banging stuff together with bits and pieces from around the compound. It was a “that could be a shelf… if we nail this to that it could hold a roll of cloth” kind of deal, haha. We had bare essentials to build it, whatever we could find around the compound which was almost everything we needed & what we didn’t have we found a way to make it.
One would think that some of the hallmark features of a desert environment (such as extreme temperatures, wind, and dust) would pose an unusual challenge for making a surfboard. Did you guys’ encounter any of these problems? If so, is there really any kind of permanent solution or do these conditions just become a part of the process out there?
- Forrest Minchinton: We were out there in early February, which is our winter in California. Most people don’t associate the desert with cold, but it gets bitterly cold. We were lucky that it wasn’t too extremely cold, but it still posed a challenge. Mainly just for glassing. The shaping bay is pretty well insulated and I have my tools and setup out there really dialed in and so I wasn’t really affected shaping in there.
After the sun went down though the resin would get too thick and make it really hard to work with. Also when catalyzed it didn’t want to kick off just because of the air temperature being so cold. So it took Chook a couple days to figure it out and we ultimately had to call it quits by the time the temps started dropping at night and stick to working in the warmer parts of the day. We usually turned to drinking shots of tequila and beer and bullshitting by the campfire at that point haha.
- Madchook: I knew the elements were gonna be the biggest challenge for me, especially because glassing relies so much on temperature, mixing ratios and timing. The glassing bay, being open to the elements of the Mojave in middle of winter, did dramatically slow the cure times despite our attempts to crudely board up the side walls, haha.
I did have a small window each day that was warm enough to glass relatively normally but that was only from about 10am-2pm which definitely slowed the whole process more then we probably both expected. We had no real plans on what the boards would be or look like we kinda just let the ideas roll as we went along, I guess that was true to the feel of the whole project.
What sort of materials were you guys working with out there?
Forrest Minchinton: When this project finally came together I reached out to Joey and Brad at Foam E-Z and they were a huge part of getting all the materials together. They really are a one-stop for board-building and they also happen to be our neighbors at the factory Aloha Glassing where my Dad and I work out of. They helped organize the supplies and I basically just gave them a list of what I needed. I ordered all the blanks through them with US Blanks and got all custom glue ups and stringers.
I have shaped all over the world and in my experience US blanks still reigns supreme with quality and blank selection, and I am not getting paid to say this for the record, haha. Revchem and Douglas Surf supplied the resin and acetone and all the chemicals and hats off to those guys for coming through and really hooking us up. Steve at Aloha Glassing also helped fill in the blanks on any other material and goodies I needed. It really was a group effort to pull this off.
- Madchook: Forrest really organized everything! For me flying in from overseas I had nothing, but Joey from Foam E-Z let me drop in and pick out whatever tools I needed. We just kept it simple black & white pigments, a squeegee a brush which was a massive help. They also supplied a lot of the materials we used they had everything I needed to make a board.
When people see the pictures and boards that came from this project, there are three things that obviously stand out above everything else. Would you mind telling us in short what each of these three things mean to
you as a board builder, and in your life in general?
- Surfing: FM: Surfing to me is tradition, it’s like cleansing the mind and soul.
- Desert: FM: The Desert is simply freedom.
- Motorcycles: FM: Motorcycles to me are passion.
- Madchook: All three to me are a freedom. They just clear my mind and when you can combine them all into my life I just forget about everything else going on because you can’t help but enjoy what you’re doing. That’s just freedom to me.
Now that project is done and dusted, so to speak, what’s next for these boards/ where are they headed? Are they available for purchase?
- Forrest Minchinton: Some of the boards the boards are headed to Deus Ex Machina surfboard rack in Venice Beach, Ca and will be for sale there. This whole project was really just an experiment and I think the start of what’s to come between Chook and I. We are already scheming up the next run of boards… stay tuned.
- Madchook: 4 of the twinnys have come back to Australia with me and went on display with some photos of the project with Deus Ex Machina, at the Byron Bay Surf Festival. They’re now available at the Deus store in Byron Bay. The rest have gone to the Deus store in Venice Beach, CA.
For reference, how far from the nearest surf break is your compound?
- Forrest Minchinton: I know from my house in Huntington Beach to the compound is about 140 miles…. Peace!
~ A word from Forrest’s Father, Mike Minchinton ~
When did you start building the compound?
We acquired the property in 2002… We bought it in February, so this month is 16 years we’ve had that property. We started working on it right away. It was just a little bit here and a little bit there. Pretty much every other weekend we were out there building, cleaning, fixing things, and putting things together. It was a lot of work dude (laughs), that place was pretty trashed. It was 10 acres and had a fence around it, but no gate. Had the main cinder-block house… all the windows were busted out, it had no roof, no doors, no nada. The people before just trashed it and so we just started fixing things.
It was always an idea [to make boards out there]. Forrest and I had always talked about it, and then one day we decided to just do it. We built some extra structures and decided to make a shaping room. He did the Painted In Dust film with Deus and they did some filming out there a few months back. It turned out pretty well, so then we decided we wanted to do the whole thing. Shaping, glassing…just do everything out there. That way you can go out and have some fun- make a few boards and a couple of dollars too.
The shaping room has been there for a little under a year. I’ve shaped in some pretty crappy places before and we wanted to build it so it was close to what we have here [their shaping rooms in Huntington Beach]…make it like home. We’ve got AC out there but still need a heater for the winter because it’s cold as fuck out there right now (laughs). It’s pretty seasonal though, we can glass out there in the summer but it gets so hot you have to be really careful. You have to really button it up in the summertime too, especially if you’re working at night, because of the bugs. You turn the lights on and just get a million bugs flying around and they’ll end up in your glass job if you don’t keep them out.
What’s was your roll when you went out there with Forrest & Madchook for this project?
To make sure the refrigerator was always full of beer (laughs). No, I’m usually doing other things around the place. Every time I go out there I’m always trying to accomplish something, ya know? There’s always something to do to keep making it better. In the beginning when I was doing all these things Forrest would be like “C’mon man, we’re going around the place for a ride,” and I’d just be like “Nah, I’m just going to stay around here and work.” Now everybody is able to enjoy all the things I’ve built. The gate, for instance, that you go through to get there are solid redwood surfboards that I shaped. They’re eighteen feet tall. A friend of mine from Santa Cruz had a tree that fell on his property. He had it milled up and brought them out there to us, so I shaped them up and made the gate out of them back in 2011.
What’s next for the compound?
Right now we’re working on the pool. We’ve got a 40′ x 5′ area that used to be a reservoir or whatever, and we’re going to make it into a pool so that when we go out there in the summer we can just go float around and have a beer in the water when it’s 115 degrees outside. We’ve always wanted to do that, since day one, and we’re just now getting it going. We’re going to have a pre-pool pool party. We’re going to get some friends to come out, and if they want to enjoy the pool later then they’ll help us work on it now and get it going. If they’ve got anything to contribute one-way-or-another, labor or whatever, then it’ll be easy.
*Follow Forrest (@forrestminchinton), Madchook (@madchook_), and Mike (@minchintonsurfboards) to keep up with their ongoing projects. *
***Special thanks to RevChem, Douglass Surf, US Blanks, Nine Lights Surfboards for their help and contributions to this project!