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Support Local Shapers

Five reasons why local handshapes should always have a place in your quiver

| posted on October 22, 2013
San Diego's Mark Slingerland, making quality boards the old fashioned way. Photo: Ellis

San Diego’s Mark Slingerland, making quality boards the old fashioned way. Photo: Ellis

We all know that the era of mass-produced handmade surfboards has come and gone. The biggest board manufacturers in the world rely on design programs and CNC machines more than skilled hands and power planers. But hand shaping hasn’t vanished from the earth—it just changed its address. Instead of residing in big factories, it’s moved into backyards, garages, and tool sheds. And while today’s hand shapers may not be able to churn out the same volume of boards as the biggest brands in the industry, they have more than a few redeeming qualities. Here are five reasons to order your next board from your local backyard shaper.

Local Wave Knowledge
Surf spots are like snowflakes—each one is unique. Your local shaper knows the idiosyncrasies of your local waves because he surfs them too. Take advantage of this. If you share a home break with your shaper, they will probably know exactly what you need from your next surfboard, even if you don’t. “I always add an extra inch and a half of nose rocker to my boards for people surfing locally, because here on Hatteras Island, you need that,” says East Coast shaper Scooter Halladay of Bone Surfboards.

If you’re lucky, your local surf shop might have 50 different boards on the rack to choose from at any given time. But why settle for a board that was made with neither your surf style nor local waves in mind when your local shaper can offer unlimited wave riding options, all tailored to your surfing and your waves? “There’s always a better or different way to approach a design,” says San Diego shaper Mike Slingerland. “The options in surfboard design are infinite, so the progression will always continue.” Armed with little more than a six-pack and a sketchpad, you can show up at your local shaper’s workspace and draw planlines until your heart’s content. Hopefully your shaper will save you from your most ill conceived ideas and meet you in the middle with something both unique and functional.

Perhaps the only thing better than getting a custom hand shape is getting your own hands dirty in the process. “Handshapes do offer more of an experience for the money,” says East Coast shaper Gary Wilson. “Rapping with the shaper, discussing shapes they like and dislike, or even hitting a session with them are experiences that are unique to ordering from local shapers. I’ll even let the customer help shape his own board if he wants to, as long as he agrees not to sue me when he cuts his finger off.” Even if you do end up losing a pinky in the shaping bay, it might be well worth it if you end up getting barreled on a board that you helped create yourself.

Local Economy Stimulation
On the East Coast, for example, many beach towns overflow with deep-pocketed tourists in the summer months, allowing a lot of local businesses to make the majority of their annual income over a short, seasonal stretch. But as summer turns to fall and fall into winter, the river of tourist dollars dries up, and many towns go comatose. But there are still waves to be had, and if you need a new board for hurricane season, why not get something shaped locally and keep your hard-earned money circulating through your community? You’ll be surfing a quality boards designed for chasing hurricane barrels, and your shaper won’t need to take a second job in the offseason. Everyone wins.

The world of surfboard production has changed drastically in the last 20 years. The production handshaper has become a thing of the past, and the number of knowledgeable craftsmen will decrease as it becomes a less viable career path. “Be prepared to sweat and struggle if you want handshape surfboards for a living,” says Steven Divita of Head High custom surfboards. “People want cheap boards, and that’s what the market will provide through new means of production. A lot of people don’t realize the amount of time it takes to build a custom board by hand, but in the end, you get what you pay for.” On top of getting a higher quality board from a local shaper, your business will allow them to continue crafting boards by hand, keeping surfing’s proudest tradition alive and well.

Find plenty of local options for a new stick in the 2013 Surfboard Buyer’s Guide.

  • David Avram Gordon

    As a garage shaper, I agree. It’s fun to help in the process. As a guy who moved from West Coast to East…the local wave knowledge is real. I have really switched around my idea of what works better on the “Right Coast”. East Coast guys love a west coast name though. Which is interesting because the waves are generally very different. I don’t shape for money…but from what I’ve seen out here in the east as far as shapers go. The shapers here are every bit as good as the guys out west. The waves are tricky and local knowledge helps. It may even cost you less to get a custom shape these days. Shipping costs have gone through the roof and shipping a board out to a shop and the markups can make the whole thing even out. Also…they are right about the effort it takes to shape and glass a board. If you actually knew how much time, talent and effort it takes to fabricate a board. You would understand why they cost what they do. I never understood that until I started fabricating boards for myself and friends. It’s hard. It takes longer than you think. And honestly…not everyone has the eye or hand for it. You have to sort of be addicted to the idea of shaping to get it right. The science, the study, the experimentation with shapes and chemistry…

    And if you want…you can be a part of the process. But not if you just grab one off the rack.

    Cheers. Good read.
    Keep it local.

  • Thomas Mahady

    Great article, I’ve been making boards here on the Jersey Shore for the last 10 years. I make my boards from start to finish.

  • KOOK

    I wish people would stop talking about how ordering a board from a local shaper is doing them a favor by giving them business. If they can make a living making surfboards, it should be because they built a profitable business and good for them. If not, welcome to the real world. There will always be underground guys building badass boards for themselves and their buddies, regardless if it is their main profession or not. If they make you a board then they are doing you a favor, not the other way around, regardless of the cost.



  • Glenn Walton Surfboards

    Yep… pretty soon only shapers will know the feeling as customers flock to cheep boards at target…Good boards are rarely cheep and Cheep boards are rarely good.KOOK GOT IT ABSOLUTLY RIGHT….BADASS SHAPERS UNDERGROUND are doing you a favor if you get one…appreciate their knowledge

  • mikensocal

    I have two boards I love above all others in my quiver right now. One was made by a local underground legend that has shaped boards for decades and has light conventional glass. My other favorite board is made by cnc with super light epoxy. The custom shape was about me knowing pretty much what I wanted and trusting the shaper I have worked with for 15 years to really fine tune my vision. The CNC/epoxy made board is about trying something completely different and wanting to get a board shaped by a guy that specializes in a shape I thought might work ( but really have no clue about) wrapped in light epoxy which I never even had tried. That board is letting me ride in new ways. Everything has its place LOL and now I am pushing my old friend the shaping legend to experiment a little more with epoxy

  • dblrnbw

    underground hand shaped boards are special. those unwilling to pay up for one will either pay more by trying to shape one themselves, which can have its rewards if you get lucky, and they will probably wait longer to make one for themselves rather than wait for their shaper to finish one. experience talking. have youre own experience to know for yourself:)

  • José

    These look like pre-shaped blanks to me…

    And I’m not gonna blame him but I’m getting really sick of this “handshaped boards feel better” bullshit. Only retard moron hipsters actually believe that shit.

  • Third Coast

    That’s why I’m getting a Hank Byzak custom!!