Is Shaping Consistency Overrated?

I recently visited with a few master hand shapers in my neighborhood. These guys have each shaped thousands of boards, all since the 60s (it’s weird thinking I have a good shot of still being alive in 2060; I’ll have to specifically say “1960s”; not only “the 60s”), and all are struggling to make ends meet.

Few shapers are able to scratch out a living solely based on taking orders for their own labels; they have to contract out to large production labels such as Channel Islands and/or local surfboard shops.

Large production companies have been using computer software which scans a blank, stores the dimensions for future copying and robotically makes cuts the foam blanks.

People who run surfboard making businesses strive for pure consistency so every board will ride the same.

But do computer-shaped boards ride the same? You could take a 6’2″ Al Merrick design and buy 5 versions of the same exact board but how do you know the ride would be the same. Shouldn’t a board have a soul?

A couple shapers I talked to, in attempts to better understand all these mind-blogging design theories, mentioned that they don’t think the machines take out human error any way.

So with small businesses struggling to stay afloat, should we dive deeper into our depleted pockets and help fund the livelihoods of our neighborhood hand shaper.

If we can avoid buying used boards on Craigslist then by all means let’s go for it. Compromise. Buy one custom board every 2-3 years and be on the lookout for garage sales often to supplement your quiver.

And large volume board churning businesses would be helping shapers by hiring more of them and not being so anal about replication, and, in certain instances, by not importing boards cheaply-made in China and Thailand.

Of course, some shapers are too proud to beg and won’t work for anybody else. But, if judging by the chats I’ve had with a few local masters of their craft, many shapers are open to at least doing contract work. Some are even supplementing by designing intricate fin art with colored resins.

Some surfers say it’s only a small matter of time before the next generation of shapers takes over. Hopefully they’ll master the art of using the hand planer before learning how to shape with the computer.

Your average surfer wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between a hand crafted model and a computer version, but it would be a big shame if a few decades from now, hand shaping would be a lost art. It probably won’t be but for some longtime shapers, it does appear to be a dying art.

Visit the following shapers:; Mike Slingerland (U.S. number: 1.760.436.7477) and Steve Clark of Rainbow Surfboards.


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