There are few points in our human universe where science and art fuse in so obvious a way as in the shaping bay. It’s in these shadowy stalls, carved like mazes through non-descript old warehouses that the principals of hydrodynamics, chemistry, craftsmanship, and sex appeal battle for priority in the mind of the least-appreciated member of the surf industry food chain: the humble shaper.
Perpetually covered in a film of white dust that one can only imagine is about as carcinogenic as asbestos, they talk about “volume,” “displacement,” and “flex characteristics” with the casual air of someone ordering a sandwich. But beneath the comfortable familiarity with the language of Master’s courses in nautical engineering, it’s fairly easy to detect the frustration of a perfectionist unable to get it exactly right. So they spend years, even decades, tinkering with the outline of the big-wave gun or the rail thickness of the ubiquitous white thruster.
Located in low-rent areas just inland from a decent waves, their workplaces often share parking lots with transmission-repair shops, which explains why the asphalt is slick with spilled chemicals and mechanical lubricants from decades long gone. Inside, the barriers between shaping bays are usually little more than wood frames covered by unpainted drywall and obscured only by the occasional or burst of penciled note-taking from conversations that warranted recording. Their tools are rudimentary—20-inch wood-handled saws, surforms, sanding mesh, two-piece wooden calipers connected by a weathered wingnut, and the revered Skil 100 planer—but well cared for, and they’re handled like prized possessions for their ability to remove exact amounts of foam in predictable ways.
There’s a beauty in the routine of the shaper in the stall, walking the length of a blank again and again, laying hands on it to get readings of thickness and curve that no tool could accurately measure, committing to cuts and passes with the planer that would be disastrous if misapplied. In their minds, they’re doing the math and searching for the right aesthetic, balancing the science and the beauty for fifty bucks per board.