Mr Luke Stedman
He may have missed out on inheriting millions, but the former pro surfer has designs on making his own fortune in menswear
“How long do you boil an egg for?”
“Was it in the fridge?”
“Is the water boiling?”
The simple things get done to exacting standards at the beach bungalow that Australian professional surfer-turned-menswear designer Mr Luke Stedman shares with his 31-year-old girlfriend, Ms Kym Ellery, herself an established Australian womenswear designer.
At 38, the former world No.10 surfer has retired from the pro tour and now lives at Whale Beach, an hour’s drive north of Sydney, where he has turned his hand to developing his Insted We Smile line of apparel (a play on his nickname). Founded in 2012, it’s a fun collection of printed T-shirts and shorts alongside more soberly styled relaxed tailoring and outerwear.
The switch from shred business to thread business has been a natural one. Mr Stedman worked alongside his apparel sponsors throughout his career, learning the craft. But design know-how runs in the Stedman bloodline. Luke’s father, Shane, now 73, is a surf legend round these parts and has been shaping surfboards all his life. He also happens to be the inventor of the Ugg, the sheepskin boot worn by people around the world. Today, the Ugg is a multimillion-dollar business. Alas, not for Shane or Luke.
“Know why they’re called Ugg boots?” laughs the man who might have inherited a fortune. “Because the first reaction most people had to them was ‘Ugh! They’re so ugly!’ The fact they’re now an empire worth millions just makes us giggle. Anyway, the way Dad sees it, the 20 grand [Australian dollars] he sold it for put us kids through five years of school. Dad’s one of those guys who’s always happy. He is content with what he has, and he loves every day.”
The same laid-back style informs the younger Mr Stedman’s own life and design philosophy. “The ocean is a big ball of energy and a place of endless inspiration for me,” he says. “No two waves are the same and that keeps the mind and body fresh. Each time I come back from a surf I’m charged with ideas. I’ve always been competitive but only within myself. I’m striving for perfection in everything I do and, when it comes to design, I think I have a good formula that I’m excited to evolve in the next few years.”
It’s late October when we meet. The spring breeze is heavy with eucalyptus vapour and salt spray. Mr Stedman’s shaggy head is topped with a wide-brim black hat; his nut-brown tattooed limbs unfold from a teal shirt dotted with white spots. At 6’3”, he’s tall for a surfer, and his handshake has nothing to prove.
Leading us up to a balcony off the bedroom, he explains he’s just back from a business trip to Paris and London for meetings with distributors. Orders are steadily rolling in – but taking care of business has meant six weeks without a surf. “Luckily a friend called beforehand to say there was a big swell coming and he was organising a mission to Bali,” Mr Stedman says. “So I booked that day and flew two nights later. My mate picked me up and drove us out to the ferry at Lombok, then we grabbed another boat to Sumbawa. We arrived in the morning and surfed for three straight days, dawn to dusk. Then we got back in the car, ferried out, flew into Sydney. I got home, repacked, then jetted out to Paris the next day.”
Setting his heels on a hunk of driftwood, Mr Stedman takes in the curve of Whale Beach down below. “I don’t miss the tour because I achieved everything I wanted to,” he says. “I never dreamed of getting to No.10 in the world, but I did because I worked hard and gave it my all. So when it was time to move on, I left fulfilled.”
These days, when Mr Stedman isn’t hobnobbing in fashion circles, he’s in the nearby Mona Vale workshop where he spent his childhood. Father and son work together, waxing lyrical while shaping 500 surfboards a year. “Well, he shapes ’em,” says Luke. “I test ’em!”
Mr Stedman’s five favourite surf spots
“My first surf haunt. I’d run down from home every day and only come back when Dad signalled with a towel in the window. This break is where I dedicated my life to being a surfer.”
“I’ve had wipeout moments here where I thought it was all over. You’re basically surfing a volcano – it’s a raw and heavy place. But this is where I learnt what was important. It’s a life-changing place.”
“Some of my purest, most enjoyable surfs have been here, with friends, on boats, amid perfect waves and setting suns and stunning conditions.”
“From a creative point of view the south of France has inspired me above all other places. Not only are the beaches beautiful, but so is the architecture and the language.”
“The first 15 summers of my life were spent holidaying here. It’s where my Dad was born and raised, and he’d take us to the back beaches he surfed as a boy. It’s almost unchanged to this day.”