It’s the day after New Year’s at the Clearwater Surfboard factory in Currumbin, Queensland. Teena Mcilveen, 38, is just getting back to glassing after the holiday break, so she turns on her dance playlist, featuring the likes of Calvin Harris, Foals and a Dr. Dre remix, to raise the energy of her little white workshop. “Whenever I put dance music on, I get so much more done,” the freckle-faced Mcilveen says, flashing a dimpled smile.
Nicknamed ‘The Lady of Many Colours’ by an old friend of Clearwater’s owner and shaper Steve Del Rosso, Mcilveen soon gets into her groove, pouring fluorescent pink resin into coils on the underside of a short board before adding generous puddles of mauve, which she uses to pick up the pink highlights and connect them with a nearby patch of aqua. With a palm-sized blue squeegee, she swirls the paint into position and pushes the excess off the rail, creating a psychedelic waterfall. Drips of paint bounce off the floor onto her Asics, already coated in months of droplets and dust.
You’d probably recognise The Lady of Many Colours even if you don’t know her face or her name. Mcilveen’s marbling, free-form stripes and hand-mixed hues grace the boards of such Gold Coast shapers as DMS, Black Apache and Phantom. Lately, she’s been collaborating behind the scenes with Steve at Clearwater and on the retro rides of Beau Young.
Unassuming as she may be, Mcilveen is a veteran in the Australian surf industry, starting 18 years ago as the 21-year-old apprentice of Dave Verrall at Diverse Surfboards. Dave was looking for a woman to mentor, and Mcilveen was up for the challenge. Not only was she stepping into a male-dominated industry prone to strong personalities, working for a small factory meant learning all sides of the trade. As a creative person without a clear path, the young Mcilveen thrived on the variety. “I get really bored,” she says. “It was great that within the same job I could learn lots of different things.”
After about 10 years with Diverse, she got the itch to try something different. She enrolled at the Academy of Design in Broadbeach to study multimedia and graphic art. But she couldn’t stay away from the surf industry long. Within a few months, she landed a part-time job working for Dan MacDonald at DMS Surfboards, where she rediscovered her love for glassing, especially when it involved bright splashes of paint. While Dan, who she considers a perfectionist, helped take her glassing to the next level, design college changed her perspective on art. “It taught me not just to see but to look through the things I see.”
Any idea or combination of colours must fit into resin, she explains, which is different from painting a picture. “Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. But each challenge triggers how to do it the next time. I’m always waiting for the time I can make the most of my opportunities,” she says. “It’s always experimental because my materials cost so much money.”
The economics of the surfboard industry get Mcilveen fired up. She says she’s frustrated by the consumer culture that demands cheap and fast without appreciating costs, time or talent. “People don’t understand the amount of work that goes into making a surfboard,” she says. “They think they just pop out of a factory like magic.”
The fact that she might be the only female glasser in the world seems to bother her less. Sure, she’s fought egos and felt extra pressure to prove herself, but she also plays touch footie and AFL and has always gotten on well with guys. “Everything I’ve learned I’ve learned from guys, so there must be something alright about them,” she laughs.
More than gender, it’s about hard work and balance, she says, whether she’s mixing resins, overcoming personal obstacles or coming up with a beautiful new deck display. “I find that I’m most creative when there’s not too much of any one thing in the back of my mind,” she says. “If I’m really balanced, everything just flows.”
(Published in the January 2018 issue of Surfing World)