The art of hand shaping surfboards is dying
We gather here today to witness a life. A life of something that has shaped industries, provided endless amounts of happiness to countless people, and ultimately made the world a better place.
The art of hand shaped surfboards, that has lived amongst us for generations, is now being threatened by external forces. Although surfboard shapers have gotten better, materials have become more affordable, and the artistry is still revered in circles around the world, there exists a threat that could eliminate this industry altogether.
Who's the culprit?
In most industries you see the same thing happen. Innovators will create something new. As people catch on, artisans will find ways to improve on the design. A sport or industry will be created and for a while, everyone is stoked. Consumers are happy with all the new products that are made by their local producer and local producers are making a living making their chosen art.
Then, big business smells money, like a pig smells slop.
Sometimes this is a death sentence for that industry, sometimes it gives it wings. The deciding factor is whether or not that industry helps or hurts those local artisans and if the core principles of the industry are upheld.
For surfing, local hand shapers have satisfied the needs of surfers everywhere and have built communities around their style, shapes, and artwork. That was until recently, large surfboard manufacturers have sold their businesses to corporations that mass produce cheap substitutions for surfboards.
Surfboards have gone from the shaping rooms of professional artists putting their heart and soul into their work, with their customer in mind; to now where factories in underdeveloped countries are mass producing “surfboards” with only profit in mind. Not to mention all of the economic and environmental costs that come with this.
Companies are pumping out boards of their factories in poor Asian countries where working and safety conditions are not the same as the United States. The usage and disposal of styrofoam may not be regulated as well as it is here, which can lead to adverse health effects and pollution. According to sustainability.wustl.edu, "Styrofoam is a primary source of urban litter... oceans, bays and other waterways." Shipping large amounts products overseas comes with obvious environmental costs.
Long story short, buying local is by far the most economically and environmentally friendly. You know that when you buy from a local shaper, you are getting something that was handmade by a professional and probably never was in a shipping container. You know that your money will go back into the surf community and not into the pockets of shareholders.
The true value of a local shaper
So what right? The boards still float, they catch waves, and they still look cool in the corner of your room, right? Yes, they do all of those things still, but it is the things that they DON’T do that are the problem!
Local Shapers have done more than just shape surfboards.
- They have created communities around surfing and art
- They have given regions, beaches, breaks identity
- They have created new design techniques and styles of surfing
- They have made custom boards for their customers which has given rise to local surfers
- They have made other forms of art that have changed surfing and other industries
- They have joined causes and have given back to their communities
- They have made surf culture, art, and sport a diverse world that captures people's hearts and minds forever.
If you are a true surfer, you know all those things to be true. You have seen the names and logos of local shapers, and may even have a few custom boards yourself. These things are also things that mass manufacturers don’t do.
Now it is a little bit easier to see why local shapers are a valuable part of their community and surfing as a whole.
What kind of surfer are you?
So you know the difference that local shapers make for the industry, but do you know what they can do for you?
If you are looking to improve your surfing, having a relationship with your local shaper can have huge benefits. But you have to decide what kind of surfer you are.
Do you strip and re-wax your boards often or is your wax haggard?
Do you leave your boards out in the sun or do you keep them inside away from the elements?
Are you rockin’ the same holey wetsuit you have had for the last 5 years or do you invest in a good one?
Are your fins the one that came with the board or have you tried high-performance fins?
Hopefully, you are on the right side of all of those, but if not, there’s still time!!! Get in the habit of taking care of your gear. It will improve your surfing and experience as a whole. True Surfers know that it is all about having the right tool for the job.
It is natural to want to optimize your surfing. You can feel the difference in everything you do from upgrading your fins, leash, wetsuit…. But your board is the MOST important tool to optimize.
Jacob Kelly feels that having a relationship with a shaper instead of just getting surfboards pumped out of a factory is more beneficial for your surfing. Maybe if you are not a very experienced surfer it won’t really matter, but to perform at a high level like the surfers on the world tour then he thinks that you need to have that relationship with the shaper. Will this matter to the surfers on Tour?
Having a relationship with your local shaper allows you to build the right tool for the job, every time. Even if you don’t know your favorite dimensions, volume, channel, fin set up; go into your shapers studio and get educated! Bring the boards you have been riding, tell them what you like and dislike, where you have been held back before, what type of waves you typically surf….
They will take a look at you, and take what you say into consideration and build you something you didn’t even know you want!
If you already know what you want, you can customize down to the most granular of levels like what type of fins you want, glass thickness, adding some volume here and taking it out there, adding features like hydro-rails, wings, channels… You can get EXACTLY what you want! Where else can you say you bought exactly what you want?
Tim Bessell urges you to get educated, buy local, and join the community of true surfers
Tim Bessell has be known for contributing the San Diego surf community and the art world as a whole. You can see his boards all over San Diego, Hawaii, and Fiji. You can see his art in galleries in La Jolla, New York, and London. He is still innovating the surfing world and making great art. Although his brand is international, he started as, and remains, a local artist with his customers and community in mind.
Tim loves his community and urges you to come into his shop and get educated on what is the right way to shop for your next board. If you are not local to La Jolla, he urges you to keep the local surfing and art communities alive by finding your local shaper and take your surfing to the next level.
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