Jon Pyzel was hard at work on a muggy day on the Gold Coast. He’d just ironed out the final details of his expanding Australian distribution strategy, and was now performing some emergency ding repair in a rented shaping bay. The object of his attention, a candy apple red 5’11”, looked as if someone had taken a hammer to it. Pressure dings from nose to tail with craters from knees and elbows and shins and heads. It looked like it’d fallen out of the plane somewhere between Hawaii and Australia.
In actuality, the board was six days old. The blame for its condition falls squarely on John Florence. “The way he surfs, we can’t make his boards super light or they’ll be destroyed immediately,” said Pyzel. “They won’t even last one session. The boards I make him are sturdier than most. He’s not going through board after board after board. He likes to keep it simple. He finds that single, go-to board, and once he has one he likes, he rides it to death.” Florence doesn’t travel with as many boards as most his peers on Tour do—many of whom will lug more than two dozen to each Tour stop. Instead, he’ll usually carry between 8 to 10, leaving room for his expensive cameras, his younger brothers, and his shaper, who comes in handy on the road.
Pyzel has known the Florences and shaped exclusively for John since he was five. He made him his first custom board, and hundreds, if not thousands, since. He describes their design dialogue as a healthy back-and-forth; ideas flow both ways until they find something that works. It’s obvious that both have benefitted from the relationship. John is shattering performance barriers every time he paddles out and Pyzel loves having such a dynamic product tester. When you’re shaping for a surfer whose talent knows no ceilings, you encounter a unique set of demands. “His quiver goes up to 6’10” and then skips all the way to 9’6″. There’s nothing in between—real different to a lot of pros that have the full gamut of every size. He says he can ride anything on the North Shore that’s breaking on the inside reef on a 6’10” or under, and then once you go beyond that, he goes to a whole different level. It’s crazy.”
When he’s home in Oahu, Pyzel works in the Waialua Sugar Mill, just outside of Haleiwa, an industrial zone dense with shapers, glassers, distributors, and the sort. But since Florence made the Tour in 2011, Pyzel’s international itinerary and profile has blown up. Evidently, when you shape sleds for one of the world’s best, customers notice and business booms. Pyzel’s surfboards can now be found around the world. “Every year I go to Japan, Indo, and Bali, and then Portugal twice. I go to Uruguay, and also Chile and Peru. I’m setting up a business in Brazil, and I’ve just lined up some work in the U.K.” In the last few months, California’s three major shops have placed bulk orders with Pyzel, each telling him that surfers keep coming in asking to ride what John John rides. And when it comes to what John John is riding, there’s nobody who knows more than Pyzel.
“I’ve always known he’s a special surfer. Even when he was young, I had faith that he was going to be where he is right now,” said Pyzel. “I’ve never seen it going any other way. There never seemed to be any other possible outcome. To be committed to this whole thing has been incredible for me, I’m lucky to be involved. It’s helped me out, and I know he knows that, and that I really appreciate it. I think he’s stoked to see me doing well too.”
Pyzel sees his handiwork in action on Tour, in films, in web clips and magazines, and identifies his shapes in an instant. He mentioned Florence’s December cover of SURFER, not the wave or the shot, but how he opened his mailbox and the first thing he noticed was the 6’6″ John was riding in Puerto Escondido. There aren’t many ways for a shaper to find his logo on the cover of a magazine, but putting your boards under the feet of the eldest Florence is as good a strategy as any. Despite his growing notoriety, Pyzel reiterates that their relationship and success is a two-way street: “He makes the boards look good, that’s for sure.”