The Long Version of How I Got into Shaping...

I started getting into surfboard design as a 10 year old kid helping out at my local surf shop. It was called Russell Surfboards in Newport Beach. I'd strip the wax off used boards and then rub them up with car wax so that the polished gloss coats would shine again despite all the deck bumps and foot wells. For the next four years I improved at surfing and started to get strong ideas about what I liked in a surfboard as far as performance and aesthetic. Some of the older guys around me encouraged me and facilitated me getting in the shaping room for the first time at 14. The planer with its two razor sharp blades rotating 16,000 times a minute was a very scary tool for an undersized kid who had barely scrapped together enough money for the blank. In fact, maybe someone bought the blank for me since I don't ever remember having spending money as a kid. I do remember that board #1 was a long and laborious affair and that my older friend Craig (he had shaped a dozen + boards at the time) did a lot of correcting on that board, meaning i'd do a really bad pass with the planer and he'd stop me and be like "try and even out that bit from here to there" or something to that effect. I think for most beginners its hard to really "SEE" what you are doing it in the moment and takes a lot of practice to see your cuts objectively. It was important to have someone better there to sort of coach me along on that first board so that it had a better chance to actually work in the water. I still remember the first session on it and then shortly after riding it in the Katin surf contest--I didn't make it out of my heat but I was super proud of what I'd made. 

 

In the following years of high school I shaped three other boards and then got too busy with competitive surfing to make my own boards. In order to win I needed to have the best shapes I could find so I rode for different shapers in my late teens and early twenties providing them with feedback and design ideas. Often, it was really hard to put into words how a board felt under your feet and/or how you'd like it to feel. Once I started getting boards from Cole Simler I didn't have to say much. He would go surf with me and then make me a board and just about every time the board would feel magic. He and I became good friends and I would watch him shape my boards without ever thinking I would be doing the same thing soon. My shaping career actually started from a beer drinking afternoon with Cole at his shop when I was asking when he was going to make my new board. He replied half jokingly, something like, "Never, why don't you do it yourself?" 

"I will. I could be better at shaping than you if I want."

"You'd suck at shaping," he said...and  thats when the competitive nature of our friendship clicked on. I think it was right then that we went in there to his shaping room and I started on board number five. Though I'd say Cole was slightly encouraging, he was certainly laughing at me a lot too and not exactly helping me make it a nice board. The fire had been lit though and after I painted, glassed, and sanded it I finally got to ride it. Again, I had that thrill of riding my own craft and surfed as hard and efficiently as I could really hoping to squeeze all the performance I could out of this primitive shape. By the end of my first session I was already thinking about what I could've done differently to the board to get it to feel a bit better. It was a calling... I had to pursue this idea of making a better surfboard. 

For the next two years I earned a degree in English Literature at Cal Poly and started shaping boards for myself and friends with any extra cash I could generate digging ditches and working for my contractor friend, Ryk. It was actually during this phase of "learn what you don't want to do" that I imagined myself making a living as a shaper. The physical labor involved in construction is pretty intense and dirty and not always fun. I remember noticing that people seemed to get a lot of joy out of my shapes whereas when I dug a nice ditch or demolished someones old fireplace....no joy was created anywhere or at least no one said anything like "Wow, that's a wonderful looking trench, great job!" So I started to think that if I applied myself with the same focus as i had at college and on the work site, I could work for myself and get something off the ground. Ryk was kind enough to listen and build me a shaping room of my own in his barn. I got to work in earnest on Stoneman Surfboards in early 2000. I didn't need much to survive back then which was lucky because it took a while to convince potential customers to take a chance on a brand new shaper (my shiny new business card wasn't always enough). I really fell in love with the focus required for shaping. It had a similar zen to surfing. All other thoughts have to be out of your mind so that your body can make the minute adjustments for the desired outcome. Its become a meditation for me. 

29 years after my first shape...and after 16 years of working alone in the shaping room, i've certainly learned a lot about technique, fluid dynamics, interpersonal communication with customers, etc. I love learning and seeing results but, like any pursuit that becomes a job, there are bad days too...when the foam and wood chips seem like they are magnetized to the whites of my eyes or when the cash flow hits a little bumpy spot. Yet, I still enjoy going to work, putting on some music, and shaping someone's new magic board. There's really nothing like seeing a friend get a really good ride on a surfboard you've created. 

The quickest way to miss a good wave is to go on a bad one

When I see a really good wave come in, it is pretty obvious. Yet, lots of times I let impatience get the better of me and I don't get the best waves in a session. I'll kick out of a junk wave only to see the really good one I wanted was right behind it. Doh! So again, the quickest way to miss a good wave is to go on a bad one.

So you have to guard against feeling over-optimistic when you see a wave come in. Is it really a good one or are you tricking yourselfself into thinking it is? This doesn't matter too much if you are free surfing and just looking to get some exercise and fun... but if you are competing it is everything. You have to be objective and honest with yourself about the waves' scoring potential... or fun potential for that matter.

As a board maker, there a lot of ideas I consider to help someone improve and have more fun in the surf but its ultimately up to the surfer to pick and catch those winning waves that will allow the surfboard under their feet to really do its thing and feel magic. Better wave selection leads to better surfing, quicker improvement, and more fun!

 

quad fins… size, flow, and bite….

Like a lot of board makers, I make a lot of quad and five fin boards for folks. Yet I still have a few customers that never got the hang of riding quads. They just seem to have it in their heads that quads won't feel right for them no matter who shaped it. This always drives me crazy and makes me want to shape them one right away, hand them two sets of quad fins to try, and a ticket to the Mentawai Islands. If I was rich enough to do that they would definitely find some quad love… I am sure of it.

All I'm trying to say is that its fin size and the amount of bite you feel from the applied surface area that makes everything feel either "right" or "wrong" on any board. Since the days of glass on fins are far gone and past, everyone should by now have at least two or tree good sets of fins to use on their quiver--and don't for a second read the "if you weigh 'x' then ride 'y' fins"….B.S. If anything, I say go extreme. Get a huge set of fins and a small set of fins.

For instance…I weigh 163 and have been having fun with a Big green Jordy Futures fins in the front mixed with small 3.4" plastic fins in the back--this set works really well on quad step ups and short boards when the waves are good and you need to turn at high speed. Or I've been doing the exact opposite if its smaller and crappier surf--F4's (smallish) in the front with Ea quad rears(biggish)--more drive and speed creation for short board and fish.

Don't ever assume that your board is stiff and can't be changed with a new set of fins…or conversely to loose and not drivey enough. Buy a new set of fins…take charge, make a note of what works for you, and go shred. Just my 2 cents on fins and quads…. more opinions and random thoughts later.

The Skater

Shane’s new “skater” design. This shot is of a 5’5″ x 18 7/8 x 2 1/2. Lots of width in the template, flat rocker, and curvy bottom contours give the skater incredible zing in small surf. The double concave deck with rail channels give you the instant magic board feel without waiting a month for footwells to develop. Another cool feature of this deck design is the strange discovery that you can actually steer a bit with your pecs while paddling at top speed. This thing is too fun for you not to try… Click the video to see shane riding this particular design in some fun central american point surf…

Brian’s 6’7″ quad pin

Here’s Brian Espy absolutely pitted on his 6’7″ quad pintail.  Brian works his ass off at his business, Doghouse Promotions, and then drops everything to chase swell when he sees an opportunity for drainers like this. He wanted something with volume for paddling but still have that magic sensitivity for mini adjustments in the tube. I’m honored to be part of the mission…even if I am just the board maker.

Humble Customers

I am so thankful for all my customers. I have met some really cool humans…Once and I while I meet a customer and am blown away how cool and humble they are. This is Berti Denervaud on his Christie Carter inspired 5’10″ Stonefeesh at the Wavepark surf camp. I only just found out the other day from someone else that Berti was a world champion (multiple times) snowboarder and olympian. Wow, I am honored to be making his surfboards.

Ryk

This is a photo I took of my friend Ryk. He is a real inspiration. Ryk is a carpenter by trade but has a seemingly endless supply of energy…so at the end of the day he builds these amazing Tom Blake replicas at his shop in Cayucos. I think this one is a 12 or 14 footer but he has about a dozen of these he’s made in different lengths…some hot curls, some Blake style. They take him a whole bunch of hours to finish. I keep saying that I am going to take photos of the whole process one day for him…but I haven’t yet. These are some gorgeous wall hangers…or , in theory, I guess you could have one glassed and take it out for an old school glide.