"The core piece of equipment in the tango with the waves: the surfboard. I was delighted to discover that in the ultra-modern world of the surf all the best boards are still made by hand."
So what has made you so cocky?
I've just been to the hippest place on the planet.
That's quite a claim. Where did you go?
Torquay, near Melbourne, Australia. Surf Coast Plaza, to be precise, just 10 minutes' drive from Bells Beach, home of perfect waves and the oldest professional surf championship in the world.
Ah, surf culture. Now that is hip. How did you get into that?
It started with that fabulous Guinness advertisement. The black and white one with the insistent beat and the surfers riding enormous waves that turn into wild white horses. One middle-aged dude rides his beast right up the shore. He's breathless but triumphant. Just for that moment he has fought off the dying of the light, he has conquered nature, he's immortal.
Poetry in motion but what has this got to do with Grail Trail?
Well, it was after seeing that ad that I knew.
That there was still a chance for me to ride the waves. It wasn't all beach blonde 16-year-olds and there was room for the more mature mid-lifer to take part in the coolest sport known to man.
So you went in search of?
The core piece of equipment in the tango with the waves: the surfboard. I was delighted to discover that in the ultra-modern world of the surf all the best boards are still made by hand.
A special breed of craftsmen called shapers, most of whom are dedicated surfers who got into shaping boards to pay for their passion. They all sign their creations and the best have become cult names respected for their skill and innovations.
Sounds like the art world.
Much more like high-profile Savile Row tailors.
So do you need to have a fitting for a surfboard?
It's more of an interview. They need to know not only your height, weight and inside leg measurement but also your age, your surfing experience and where exactly you'll be catching your waves. Then there are the technical decisions about fin systems and tail shapes to be discussed. There are different models to consider - Pipedream, the Fireball, Noosa 66 and even one called the Tasty Sausage, which was described as "having excellent nose-riding and hot-dogging characteristics". Finally, there is the important decision about exactly where to stick your logo.
What about colour?
Cool, clean minimal white is the fashion at the moment, so that's one decision out of the way. Although there are always exceptions and retro 1960s op art seems to be having a minor revival.
And what are the boards made out of?
The shaper sculpts the custom board from a raw blank of polystyrene foam, then carefully sands it down to create an ultra-smooth symmetrical form. It is then toughened with a coat of light fibreglass, fins are added and the whole thing is glassed to hydrodynamic perfection. Finished in high gloss, the boards are gorgeous - so smooth and shiny you want to lick them.
Lickable art - that sounds expensive . . .
Depends on the board you choose, but expect to pay from £230 to £380 for a racing board called a thruster and £300 to £450 for the classic longboard style.
And what did you go for?
My shaper explained that the short sexy boards are for high-calibre surfers. The less experienced you are the longer and wider your board should be. After careful assessment of my age and surf skills I ended up with a rubber-coated monster about the size of the QE2.
So where should I get my board?
Just head to Surf City Plaza on the western edge of Torquay. The place is a haven of hip, with every kind of surf shop represented in a precinct surrounded by shapers' workshops and factory outlets.
The biggest and best is the flagship store of Rip Curl, which has its international headquarters next door. It stocks the widest range of surfboards on the block and all the latest gear, from sunglasses, rucksacks and watches through to wetsuits. Surfing locally and selling globally has paid off for Rip Curl, which now has an annual turnover of £100 million.
One master is the charismatic Maurice Cole, who has his shop and factory within the fashionable acre, but there are lots of excellent shapers to be found through the shops in the area, so take your pick.
Enough shoptalk. Did you surf?
Let me just tell you about Surfworld on the Plaza. It's the world's largest surf museum, with memorabilia, vintage photos, a wave machine and superb film explaining the history of surfing in Australia. It also has a bay where you can learn all about shaping a board and see the beach craftsmen in action.
But did you actually use your board?
Oh, and don't forget the surfing cafes. The Bird Rock Cafe, with its 18ft table in the shape of a surfboard, is where all the hard-core dudes hang out. For a more upmarket joint, check out Surf Rider Cafe, where the surf moguls entertain. The place has an excellent collection of vintage boards on the walls and a great wine list . . .
You didn't go surfing, did you?
Yes, I did. After all the plaza distractions I took a lesson with a champion, Gally, a living legend who has a sandwich named after him in the local surf cafe.
The accolades don't come higher than that. How did you get on?
Things didn't start well when I put my wetsuit on back to front, but after a lot of paddling, crouching and nose scouring wipe-outs I managed to catch a wave.
And did you stand up?
Hallelujah! Yes. For a few glorious seconds I wobbled ashore with the power of the mighty ocean at my feet. So now I have a groovy surfboard for my wall and I'm ready for the Guinness people when they want to film their sequel.
• If you just want to try out a board, lots of shops will hire you one by the hour or for the day.
• The waves at the mighty Bells Beach can be treacherous, so it is much safer to start at Torquay Beach and take some lessons from a neighbourhood surfer (such as Gally).
• Torquay is at the start of the spectacular Great Ocean Road. Keep travelling west and you'll come across more surfers, shops and mile upon mile of surf beaches to conquer.
Surfing the net:
• Visit Surfworld museum's slick website at www.surfworld.org.au. For local tourist information, visit www.greatoceanrd.org.au. For details of one-to-one coaching with a champ, visit www.gallyssurfcoaching.com.au.
• Johnny Morris travelled as a guest of the Australian Tourist Commission and Singapore Airlines (0870 60 88 886, www.singaporeair.co.uk). To request a copy of the 'Australia Travellers' Guide', please phone 0191 501 4646 or visit www.australia.com.