The Joske men build from the ground up. Paul and Heath Joske at Heath’s property on the Eyre Peninsula. Photo Mick Waters


When Heath Joske answers the phone, he’s stopped on the side of the road at Gilgandra. He’s driving, halfway between his childhood home in Valla, and his new home in Streaky Bay, down in the Great Australian Bight.


“When you speak to Dad, ask him when the boat is going to be ready. I’ll be interested to hear what he says.”


We call Paul Joske back in Valla and ask him about the boat he’s been building in his spare time. “I thought I'd have it pretty close by the end of January. But I still think it's a few months away at the moment. A few little small things. They always seem to take a lot longer than I think. It’s a bit like fitting out a house at this stage; the windows have to go in, you’ve got put rigging in, everything's got to be waterproofed. I'm also not a boat builder, so I have to learn as I go. It should be finished within a few months, anyway.”


Paul Joske started work on the 28-foot catamaran on May 15, 1983. To the Joske kids – Sage, Violet and Heath – the boat feels like a sibling. They’re used however to the way their old boy works. “I'm quite slow and very particular with what I do,” says Paul, “which frustrates everyone in our family. They always want me to do things quicker.”

Paul Joske has shaped surfboards for 50 years under his Valla Surfboards label. Photo Mick Waters

“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.

In recent years, Heath has turned his hand to shaping boards for the outer reefs around his new home. Photo SA Rips

Meanwhile, Heath finished up with the pro tour and bought 300 acres outside of Streaky Bay with wife, Eliza. In many ways, doing what his folks had done at Valla 50 years earlier. With the help of his dad, Heath built a bush-stone house and put up a shaping shed on the property. While Sage continued to shape a kaleidoscopic array of classic fishes, twins, twin keels, logs and finless boards, Heath started work on something more practical for the outer reefs down near home and came up with his Widowmaker big-wave design. “Yeah, Sage is one of those guys who can pretty much shape anything, he loves that creative challenge and he loves those classic boards, while I'm in a bit of a different headspace with my guns and the twins I’ve been playing around with as well. Between us there’s all sorts of different designs floating around for sure.”

With Valla Surfboards turning 50 recently, Sage felt the time was right to give his Dad’s label another life, this time a little more modestly. He’s taking Valla Surfboards full circle, shaping them out of a shed he’s built out the back of his place in Valla, the same way Paul Joske did for decades. “I just don’t want that pressure,” says Sage, “working in an industry where there's incredibly low margins. For me this is about creating something beautiful and boards that have meaning. For me, my job as a radiographer is very analytical. There's no creativity, so for me it’s an outlet. I'm looking forward to getting back in there getting back in the bay. I love making surfboards. I love riding them.”

Paul Joske comes from a practical generation and is too busy working on new projects – and some old ones – to waste time with matters of legacy. They’ll take care of themselves. “He's not overly emotional about it,” says Heath of the rebirth of Valla Surfboards. “He just does his thing but I think he'd be pretty happy that it's carrying on and it's back where it should be. It's a grassroots label and I’m looking forward to what we can do with it.”

“Yeah, I guess I am,” says Paul when asked if he’s proud to see his sons take on the family business. “I'm proud of my boys and my daughter and all my family. I mean, that's what it comes down to. What’s the saying, ‘But for the grace of God I go’? I have to say I'm very fortunate.”

Watch episode 6 of Farm Boys here.

The Joske men build from the ground up. Paul and Heath Joske at Heath’s property on the Eyre Peninsula. Photo Mick Waters


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