HANDS ON: Shaper Profiles – Wade and Kerry Tokoro
Wade and Kerry Tokoro aren’t easy fellows to find. With their shaping and glassing rooms nestled deep against the Pali mountain range and tucked away from the nearby town of Kaneohe on Oahu’s east side, you’re not likely to stumble upon them if you weren’t already looking for them…and that’s just the way Wade and Kerry like it. It was here, deep in the secluded Hawaiian brush that through countless hours of R & D, a lot of trial and error, and whole mess of magic boards that Wade (who shapes under the Tokoro label) and Kerry (who shapes under the Vesso label) have forged themselves into some of the most respected and sought-after shapers today.
Upon first inspection of their shaping HQ, it’s hard to believe that you’re in the right place. Wild spotted chickens and old cars line the driveway flanked on both sides by the verdant and overgrown tropical brush. When walking into the shaping area, there was a striking fact that was not lost on me: the place smelled nothing like the workplace of a shaper. There were no resin fumes waging war on your olfactory bulbs, no foam dust lingering in the air and invading your lungs—there was none of that. Tokoro HQ looked, felt, and smelt more like an organic farm than a shaping bay.
“We’ve been in this location since we started, back in ’85,” says Wade, “and it’s just the way we like it. We’re away from the North Shore, we’re away from Town, we’re pretty much on our own out here and we do our own thing. Being away from everything is good for us…we can focus on doing our own stuff without worrying what everyone else is doing.” Whatever they’re doing—and wherever they’re doing it—something is definitely working for the Brothers Tokoro.
Come November and the Hawaiian winter swells, a quick glance at what many of today’s top pros are riding will serve as a validation to the trust the elite surfers put in Wade and Kerry. “I’ve been riding Wade’s boards since I was 15,” says North Shore standout Evan Valiere. “They’re both just so humble, polite, and talented. They’re just the best…I’m really glad I know them as people, not just shapers.” If Valiere’s sentiments aren’t enough, you could always ask Andy Irons, Mick Fanning, Joel Parkinson, or Kekoa Cazimero if their boards work as all of the aforementioned surfers have been frequent patrons and supporters of the Tokoro Brothers.
Taking to shaping in their mid- to late-teenage years after watching a few of their own boards get cut, both Wade and Kerry have climbed the ranks and are now regarded as some of the most experienced and finely tuned shapers around. “I started surfing at 13 in Kahaluu, and I got into shaping when I started watching all of these guys making my boards on the North Shore,” recalls Wade. “I was about 17 and Kerry had started a few years before me when he was about 15, so we’ve pretty much been doing it ever since.”
Making it in today’s hyper-competitive surf world as a shaper isn’t easy. The gritty reality of building boards isn’t all lunchtime sessions and “bro-downs” with stoked clients. It takes a lot of work to make a legitimate name for yourself in this business. “There’s definitely a lot of work involved and it’s a tough business no doubt, but it’s also a fun business,” says Wade. “If you like to work with your hands and you have a passion for surfing, then I’d say go for it.”
When asked what the best part of being a shaper today is, Kerry took a moment to think over the question and replied simply, “Just being creative and being able to make new designs…I’m always thinking about new designs. Riding a new board or a new design out in the water and thinking it through, and coming up with a good board, that’s the best part of being a shaper for sure.”
With orders already piling up for the upcoming winter season, Wade and Kerry are both putting in long hours to accommodate the ever-growing list of board orders. Wade’s up every morning at 4 a.m. to “get some quite time and focus on design.” But the long hours and elbow grease don’t seem to bother the brothers. They cut through the hundreds of blanks on order with a genuine smile and their trademark humble attitude. After all, for the Brothers Tokoro, it’s a labor of love.
For more information on Wade Tokoro, go to Tokorosurfboards.com. For info on Kerry Tokoro, go to Vessosurf.com.