When I was 12 years old I went on a family vacation to Kauai. I visited during the summer, so the North Shore was dead flat, but one day I went on a tour of all the local spots I knew Bruce and Andy Irons frequented, hoping that just maybe I’d run into one of them.
But while I was sitting on the beach at Pine Trees with my Dad, daydreaming about what it would break like during the winter, a guy who looked identical to the character Turtle from North Shore approached us. He asked where we were from. Asked if I surfed. Told us he made surfboards. We engaged in a friendly conversation about building boards, pro surfing and the Irons brothers. He told us he knew them well. That, in fact, he’d just finished making Andy a board for a trip to Indonesia the night before and that Andy had only just left Kauai that morning. I was thrilled to meet someone that actually knew Andy and Bruce. My heroes. As my dad and I were leaving Pine Trees, Turtle said to me, “Good luck with the surfing, kid. But it’s a tough world to make it in. Just remember: You can always be a shaper.”
I don’t have vivid memories of much else from that age but for some reason I can still clearly recall that encounter. And so, when it came time to make our annual surfboard issue this year, I decided it was finally time to test Turtle’s theory. Can I be a shaper? How hard is it, really?
I called up Ricky Whitlock, a longtime friend of mine, who recently shifted focus from professional surfer to business owner, to see if I could get in his shaping bay to give it a shot. Ricky’s business, Avasin surfboards, was founded in 2012 by Scott Sherwood (along with partner Seth Stuckert). Sadly, Scott passed away in January 2015, at which point Ricky left sponsor Fox to take the reins at Avasin and help steer the business. He’s now a pro surfer and shaper, building, testing and refining Scott’s designs.
I meet Ricky and his dad, Rusty, in Oceanside at the Whitlock family business, RW Surfboards. Rusty has been building boards for over 50 years and agreed to help me shape one from scratch, since Ricky’s expertise is in the finishing steps. As Ricky pulls out a fresh blank and Rusty plugs in his planer, I get super nervous and my palms begin to sweat. I have so much running through my head. Because, despite being a surfer for 26 years, I know next to nothing about shaping surfboards, which is baffling considering the hundreds of boards I’ve owned over the years have brought me more happiness than anything else I’ve ever touched. Those hundreds of shapes have literally shaped my life.
After 45 minutes drawing an outline I finally work up enough courage to place saw to foam and fire it up. A loud zing fills the room and foam bits fly though the air, blasting me in the face and landing in every orifice. I try to keep a calm hand and cut a straight line. I try to remember the wealth of information about outline, volume, rocker, concave, flex and foil bestowed upon me by six of the best shapers in the world [Speaking Surfboard, Pg. 40]. But mainly, I try not to absolutely f–king butcher Ricky’s blank.
Four hours later I hold my finished shape. 5’5” x 19 1/8” x 2 1/4”. I bounce it under my arm. Rub my hand over its mystery concave. (Single? Double? No idea.) Examine the uneven nose and the 2-inch chunk I took out of the tail.
It ain’t perfect. Far from it. As Ricky whisks my creation away to get glassed, I thank Rusty for all of his expertise. I walk out, thinking: my board is 100 percent gonna work. Maybe Turtle was right. Maybe shaping isn’t so hard after all…
…Aaaaaaand then I went surfing on it.
Nope, I definitely couldn’t be a shaper. —Zander Morton