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.