Opinion: Shaping your way to a World Title.

Words by Will Forster



I recently read a 2016 Surfer Magazine article featuring Matt Warshaw who created the Encyclopedia of Surfing. The article said that it’s been 36 years since a world championship was won on a self shaped board. That was in 1982 by Mark Richards. Now this was interesting to me, and as I thought about it, it turns out it wasn’t that surprising.

In shortboarding Matt Warshaw doesn’t think that will ever happen again, and I agree with him. In the past making your own surfboards was the thing because there was no such thing as ‘the shaper’, it was you and your boards, not you and your shaper. You wanted a board, you figured it out.

As surfing progressed into an industry, so did a commercial market for surfboards – and ‘the shaper’ role in surfing was born. Not necessarily the progressive commercial shaper we see now (Tomo, DHD, Matt Biolas etc etc), but at least a maker/supplier of surfboards.

“In the 1970s, you really had a shot at making a great board—not because you’re a design genius, but because shit boards were the standard.” Matt Warshaw

But now, when shit boards are not the standard, at least compared to then, why bother?

The problem is that hyper technical boards, suitable to the pros needs are so accessible. In fact they are as equally accessible to us as to John John. We can just go and buy the Pyzel 6’1″ x 18.65″ x 2.31” Bastard model pretty much off the rack. So why bother trying to build a formula 1 car in your garage when you can literally buy the most advanced formula 1 car (or surfboard in this case) for relatively affordable prices.

I’s a shame in some way, having the best equipment so accessible, which I realise sounds ridiculous but bear with me. I believe its important for a surfer to understand the role of certain surfboard characteristics, the ‘WHY’ as much as the ‘HOW’.

There are two reasons the ‘HOW’ matters;

1. To choose the right board for your level, local wave type and typical condition type.

2. So you can interpret the data and give feedback on those characteristics to aide future surfboard choices – this is perhaps more relevant to the professionals but it’s something I do with every board to some degree. Although I can’t help romanticise over the hours an individual like Mark Richards might have spent in the bay committing mind and body interpreting and exploring that feedback for the sole purpose of being the next world champion, but WE can also dial in what works for us, even without world title prospects.

We might only buy a few new boards each year, rather than the hundred plus a world tour surfer might go through each season ( an unconfirmed rumour puts John John at 150 boards per year).

How can a professional shape all those boards and surf on tour? Impossible. Matt goes on in the article to say that ‘shaping is a full time job, being a pro surfer is a full time job.’ End of discussion.

So I guess outsourcing is the solution.

But, as we progress in our own surfing, or dive into other surfboard styles from the past, there’s potentially a lot of data we could exploit to improve, just by having a pencil in one hand and a planer in the other.

The last time a world tour contest was won on a self shaped board (according to Warshaw) was Bells in ’92 by Richie Collins, and he was the only top-rated surfer of the period to make his own surfboards.

When I see Ryan Burch or Rob Machado riding a self shaped board, and talking so in-depth about the design aspects I always feel inspired to be more involved in the process myself, and I’m proud of that side of the industry where an individual takes control of such an important part.

 

Maybe its just me but that ‘create and crusade’ attitude of hot rods and street racing from the 50’s that still exists as a counter culture in motorsport today is seen in the surfing world as “rebel” or “hipster”, and not taken perhaps as seriously as it deserves.

I realise Mason Ho has an ‘interesting’ ability to articulate what he feels under his feet (see here), but the closest we can get to Richie Collins or Mark Richards is perhaps Noa Deane or Jordy Smith who grew up with fathers as shapers. Jordy claims having experienced the shaping bay from a young age has given him a comprehensive understanding of the micro-adjustments regularly made on his boards, and the effects they have. Jordy said he himself shaped his first board at 8, and rode it for almost 2 years after that. Though he did say “it was bad but the fact that I shaped it made it the best thing ever!.”

 

Perhaps the last time a contest was surfed on a self shaped board was Dane Reynolds in a 2012 France heat. It was apparently in response to having his boards stolen before the Quiksilver Pro, and the 5’11” x 19″ x 2′ 3/8″ with a hand drawn Channel Islands logo on it was more of a last resort than anything, and Dane didn’t win the contest on it, so sadly not quite as inspiring as Richie Collins.

I guess another person to mention would be Kelly Slater who in 2016 debuted his Slater Designs models, made in the FireWire tech of which he has shares. But having your name above the door doesn’t mean self shaped, as his SciFi, Omni and Banana boards are collaborations with Daniel Thomson and Greg Webber respectively.

 

In this relatively revolutionary world of semi retired, still freaks of nature pros like Rob Machado, Dane Reynolds, and Ryan Burch who are reinventing themselves as shapers, whilst riding their own boards in specialty events like the Ripcurl Cup Padang Padang or the Four Seasons Maldives contest, we can hope they may one day inspire a generation to shape a board to a World Title, or at least a contest win.

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