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What it Takes to Become a Surfboard Shaper

By Edited Oct 18, 2016 0 0

I recently heard about and spoken to a couple of surfboard designers. If you want something specialized for a certain type of wave then this may not be for you, but there are a lot of people out there who are finding that surfboard making is acutally a lot more economoical. If you think about it, if you want a board for waves which are mushy and flat and another one for the bigger stuff then you soon you will find that your collection will start to build up, leaving you a little broke.

A good board can be over $1000 just on EBay so go figure. So maybe you want to go bigger than that and start your own company. It is always good to have a vision and hey, if you love what you do and you can wake up every morning and say to yourself that you are amped to be making a new design or project, then thats something a lot of this world can not do and that is the dream.

Grain Surfboards have done it right from their home. You don't have to go and get a formal business and marketing plan with a massive loan from the bank. Although, a couple of pennies will always help.

Who are Grain Surfboards?

Grain Surfboards began in Maine, started by Mike LaVecchia and Brad Anderson joined up with him a little later. This company started from nothing and now they are teaching people how to build a surfboard of their own. There are loads of surfboard shapers out there, shapers that have made a big name for themselves so to stand out from the pack you definitely have to come up with something special.

For Grain, it all comes down to the surfboard material. The wood that is used makes the board that much more durable and on top of that, the material promotes a cleaner, greener envionment. They have achieved somtething which has got them to the top. That is using local woods and modernizing the board at the same time, so that you are getting the best ride possible. The final touch of art work is splashed onto the board, which you don't find anywhere.

So to build a whole surfboard from scratch is not an easy task if you don't know how where to begin. One option is to head off to Maine and enrol in one their courses. Take a week off and see what Grain Surfboards have to say. In a week you would have built your own board. 

Why would you want to build your own surfboard

People may tell you, building your own board is a waste of time and this is something you have to think about before you go ahead and buy all of the tools. You are going to find this hard work. You may find it frustrating and it is not as easy as it sounds, but on the flip side, it can be incredibly rewarding, espeically when it comes down to designing your own logo.

How to become a professioanl surfboard shaper

So you have decided to quit the day job and start a surfboard factory or you don't have a dime so you think you will find a room in your home. Hey, loads of people have done this. There are surfboard shapers that are coining it and others that are just getting by, but there are not many shapers who want to opt out because they don't enjoy the rat race.

This is not something that is easy to get into. You have to put your share of effort into it. First of all, you need to hang out at your local surf shop and look out for the shapers in the area. This way you will be able to find someone who can take you on as an surfboard shaping apprentice. Don't expect to be paid. You would probably have to volunteer and this will show the company how keen you are. They will start to pay you.

surfboard shaping

credit: flickr.com/photos/ltobrooklyn/2412036596

Once you have learned the ropes, and can shape a board like it just comes naturally, you may be ready to move on and start your own business, but don't rush into anything. Here, you have to have a good business plan and you have to know your market. A good idea is to start shaping for friends whilst you are working at the factory so you have a nice client base already.      

Becoming a Surfboard Shaper - an Interview with Tom Whitaker

So tell us: how long you’ve been shaping and how you started:

I started shaping in 1968 when I was 16 years old. I found a foam blank at the dump while taking a load of trash for my father. I had always wanted to learn to surf and surfboards had always been things that I thought were so beautiful to look at. Might as well kill two birds with one stone and learn to surf on a board I shaped. There weren’t many shapers back then so I was self taught. I used a cheese grater from my mom’s kitchen and a block with sandpaper and just went for it. The board was all wrong and almost impossible to surf on but it taught me many lessons. One of my friends liked the way it looked and bought it for $50, so I took the money and made another one. That one was much better than the first and that one sold also. I was now a “shaper.”

Tom Whitaker

Tom Whitaker


What do you feel are the prerequisites to becoming a shaper?

I think the main thing is to be passionate about surfboards. They’re like anything else; you have to be passionate to be any good. Many people think you have to be a professional caliber surfer to be a good shaper. This just isn’t true. 90% of the best shapers are good, but not great surfers. The next thing you need to have is a basic understanding of how different design characteristics on a surfboard affect their performance. The basis of design is that one thing that makes a board do one thing well will affect something else in a negative way, so you learn to balance everything out.

What do you feel is the best way to get started as a shaper?

The first thing is to ride as many boards of different designs as possible and mentally formulate what works and what doesn’t in different conditions. Once you have an understanding of what the different designs feel like underfoot it’s time to get serious. The optimum scenario is to know a shaper and have him teach you the tricks and techniques. This isn’t possible for most people so the next best thing is to scour the internet for “how to shape” videos.

Once you get started what’s the best way to start shaping for other surfers?

You’re generally going to start shaping for friends and they usually are close to you in ability and surf the places you surf. Once you progress in your abilities they’ll start telling their other friends about you. At this point you’ll start to branch out and start shaping for people outside of your local surf spots. This is when you begin to learn how different areas dictate different design parameters.

How many boards have you shaped?

Over 1,000.

What would someone need in order to begin shaping surfboards?

The optimum situation would be an enclosed space approximately 12 feet long and 9 feet wide. A good side lighting system is a must to see the shadows properly. A properly set up room can cost as little as $200. The basic tool requirement is an electric planer which can be purchased for around $400. Once the space is set up and the tools are in place, the last necessity is a good set of templates to draw the outlines with.

What about surfboard shaping with a computer?

Computer shaping has really taken off, especially with the kids as they’re so computer-oriented these days. All they need is a laptop and a shaping program. All that needs to be done is to send the file to a company that has a computerized shaping machine and then just sand off the ridges on the board that the cutting heads on the machine leaves. This eliminates 90 percent of the shaping process. However, without the knowledge base that hand shaping brings, these shapers have a tendency to lose sight of what the surfboard will feel like during the shaping process. This leads to the perceived board on the computer screen not really being the board they imagined while typing it into the keyboard. Once a shaper has a substantial knowledge base then it would be the time to explore computer shaping.

Is surfboard shaping a lucrative career?


Then why do it?

Making something for someone else that brings them happiness is very rewarding.



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