Ray Finlay

Ray Finlay Byrning Spears Surfboards is located in Raglan. You can drop in and check out his boards and showroom on Upper Wainui Rd, on the way out to Manu Bay. Turn left near the top of Wainui road, you’ll see his sign – he works out of home which features a shaping bay and showroom..

Ray and Joe Walsh from Witches Rock Surf Camp in Costa Rica

Without question Ray Finlay is one of the most talented and underrated shapers in New Zealand. He’s been operating under the radar for most of his shaping career for various reasons. Meet the guy, and like most who excel at what they do, he’s not one to talk up his own accomplishments and skills. Check out his boards, and they’ll do the talking.

Being under the radar for years is a fact which is expressed on his boards today. He still uses a unique question mark brand on many of his boards. The mark was created during the days when getting exposure for your work was extremely difficult for many surfboard shapers. These days it’s even harder. The New Zealand board market is saturated with boards and brands made in places like China. The quality of shapes and production is often questionable (everyone knows it), and they sell at very low prices making it challenging for Kiwi surfboard makers to compete in the same general market. It’s not the fault of the retail business person, it’s not really anyone’s fault, but it is vitally important that New Zealand surfers support their own surfboard makers.

Anyone who surfs reasonably well, will understand how critical the art of shaping and quality production has on your surfing experience. Surfing a bad board can ruin the sport for a surfer.We’ve all had a bad board at one time or another which can make surfing (which is already very difficult to master) extremely frustrating, taking the fun out of being out there.

Buy a board from an experienced Kiwi shaper as opposed to a cheap import and that extra $100 or two on the purchase price will buy you decades of shaping experience which has been crafted into the board – it’s a no brainer really.

Developing His Skills

Sounds like bit of an unlikely place to start in the surfboard industry, but 20 odd years ago Ray originally trained and worked in the panel beating trade. A trade which would ultimately give him a solid set of skills and knowledge perfect for transitioning into making surfboards. “Better making stuff than fixing it,” says Ray.

Ray Finlay – One of the finest surfboard shapers in NZ. Shaping Guns, Channels, Fish and Mini Mals
Ray never really had any dreams of being in the industry, in-fact he had the preconceived notion regarding all the gnarly dangers associated with chemicals and surfboard production which actually turned him off the idea for a while.

From early on he was keen on surfing. When he was about seven he saw a short surfing segment on TV called Hang Five. It featured some footage of Pipeline in Hawaii. Even at that age he remembers thinking “I’ve gotta have a crack at that”. He started surfing at Waihi Beach during the seventies, and from there he was never far from the water.

His first job was with Ian Thompson helping to build boards for his Country Lines range. Ian needed a hand with some sanding, Ray felt like a change so he just sorta fell into it. That lasted for quite a while before Ian took the business down Christchurch. Ray wasn’t about to follow him down there, so he thought why not have a crack at shaping some himself. “When Ian went down to Christchurch I started shaping and glassing my own boards, it’s pretty funny now, but I realized really quickly that I didn’t really know anything” says Ray.

When asked how the early model went, Ray says “they went F*&^%in good, I thought.” – “But then every green shaper likes their first attempts, probably as much about the accomplishment of building something that will ride a wave more than anything. It’s not until you get over the 50 board mark, and your eyes start to become a little more trained that you see how bad the first ones really are,” Says Ray.

Over the years Ray has spent a lot of time in Australia learning and refining his skills and knowledge. Many of those years he spent working with legendary shaper Alan Byrne..

One of his first jobs in Oz was memorable. He had heard that Wayne Williams of Wilderness Surfboards was looking for a hand. He also had heard that he wouldn’t hire Kiwi’s for the job. Ray went in again and again trying to get the job without success. Finally he just bailed Wayne up and told him that “I know you need someone so fucken hire me ya bastard.” Wayne just smiled at Ray and he was working there the following day. Best job interview I ever had reckons Ray.

Ray also did a stint with Balin Surfboards in Victoria which he says is a great part of Oz. Then he returned to New Zealand to work with Bob Davies at Whangamata. That lasted for quite a while when Bob asked him if he’d like to go and work for Allan Byrne in Australia making Hot Stuff and Byrning Spears.

This move would prove to have a huge impact on Ray’s career as a shaper getting to hang and learn at the factory from the likes of Allan Byrne and Gill Glover both at the forefront of board design during the Rabbit and Kong area on the Gold Coast. He learnt a wide range of skills here both shaping and glassing boards.

Also the caliber of surfer who would wander through was amazing too – they were a big part of the design process too, their feedback on shapes gave direction for the next designs. “Allan is a great guy full of energy. He has a ton of energy for surfing and anything he does, he’s kinda like a grommet as far as energy levels go,” says Ray.

Back to NZ

Things progressed from there until Allan Byrne asked Ray if he would be interested in doing his stuff back in New Zealand. Wayne Lowen was leaving at that point so there was an opportunity there to be taken.

Pumping Raglan, home of Ray Finlay and Byrning Spears and orcas on the prowl
Alan Byrne was back in NZ this last year he recounts a chat he had with some local Raglan surfers (Ray wasn’t around at the time.)

“Recently I was back in New Zealand at Raglan and I had a few guys come up to me and say – hey mate Ray makes the best boards around here he’s doing a real good job for you in the area and you should be real proud of him doing your boards they go real good – for me this is the best feedback you can get coming from the hard core local boys.” says Allan

Allan goes on to say – “For me without a doubt, Ray’s one the finest shapers in New Zealand right now.”

From early on Ray has incorporated channels into many of his designs. In fact his first half a dozen boards had them built in, probably due to Ian Thompson being a channel advocate at the time and shaping Ray some sweet boards..

“Channel come and go in cyclic trends. I’ve got team riders who still ask for them and swear by them. My personal view is that they are unbeatable for speed on a clean wave, if they are done right. They’re not just 6 grooves in the bottom of a board either. They need to be incorporated carefully as part of the mix with the correct bottom curves and concaves for max performance. The curves and concaves are there to direct and feed the channels with water. the water speeds up as it is forced into a tighter space within the channel and is squirted out the end at speed generating increase thrust and propulsion,” Says Ray.

Ray is a real stickler for bottom curves which he believes are one of the most important aspects of design. He also has a tendency towards lower apex rail profiles as opposed to full round rails which most Kiwi shapers adhere too. This influence comes he said from his many years of working on the Gold Coast of Oz.

Other than high-performance short boards, Ray also shapes longboards, guns, extreme fishes, retro fish boards, guns and a few bonza’s…

“To be in this business in NZ you have to be able to change your thinking and produce a range of designs for the wider market. Where as in OZ you can afford to specialise in a niche design as you have the population of surfers to support it if you create good boards.”

Ray has an interesting perspective on Kiwi surfers quivers. “Guns are a pretty specialised board. The interesting thing is that most New Zealand surfers think they don’t need them. When it gets big they’re out their on their shorty things not catching anything and struggling really. In Australia many surfers have guns and a wide ranging quiver – and they don’t get the size we do here on a regular basis. Kiwi surfers really need to look at guns, I think they’d get a lot more out of the big days riding specialised equipment when it gets overhead”. says Ray.

Ray also has a solid little niche with his Bonza’s. “The Japanese surfers we have come through Raglan seem to love the Bonza’s. They’ll pick up a few and take them back, and now I’m sending them over they’re really into them there. Haven’t made a single one for Kiwi surfers yet, but the Japanese are into them.”

If you’re in New Zealand or want to contact Ray about your next board:

Visit: 74 Upper Wainui Rd, Raglan
Phone: 07 825 0538
Email: [email protected]
Instagram: @raglanray