March 2016 (Issue #191)

March 9, 2016 • Digital Edition

I’m a collector at heart. OK, maybe hoarder is a better word — although I’ll put my organizational skills up against anyone’s. But there’s one thing I’ve never had the urge to collect: surfboards. I have four that I’ll never part with — a single-fin shaped by St. Augustine’s Ken White, who won the Tribute to the Masters Shape-Off at Surf Expo in January. Two longboards handcrafted by Hap Jacobs before he hung up the planer. And a Hansen paipo from the mid ‘60s. Beyond that, every board I’ve ever owned has been passed around, handed off, dinged on the rocks, stacked carelessly, and ridden hard. Some boards I’ve sold; some I’ve given away. Some — including the only board I ever shaped, a malformed egg with paper-thin rails and a nauseating off-pink paint job — met mysterious ends that I can’t quite recall.

But lately, I’ve been daydreaming about all those castoffs. The 6’1” Ocean Avenue with the sprayed-on deck grip that I struggled to stand up on for weeks. The ragged 9’0” Stewart on which I discovered the beauty of glide. The 7’2” Weber Ski that had a nose reconstructed with slate-gray marine resin. The 5’10” Johnny Lucas fish that taught me how to loosen up. I do have a couple blurry Polaroids of these boards — including one of me and my friends sacrificing the buckled Weber in a New Smyrna Inlet trash can — but that’ll never compare with the tactile touching, holding, and riding of those classics.

And that’s the point of this meandering reminisce: I can remember these boards because they were all so unique. Kind of like the shapers featured in this issue. For 45 years, Pete Dooley has spearheaded one of the most prolific and well-known brands on the planet, giving hundreds of boardbuilders the chance to learn the craft. A few miles down the Space Coast road, George Robinson has been at it just as long — only focusing on the earthy intricacies of balsa. For 30 years, Mike “Zap” Paugh has plied his New Hampshire-specific trade without much fanfare. In David Tiller’s case, he came to the shaping game late — but the story of how he got there will blow your mind. As for Shawn “Vec” Vecchione, well, he wants to share his hard-fought knowledge with everyone — a rarity in the often closeted and close-to-the-vest surfboard world.

Of course, these are only five shapers out of the thousand or so here on the East Coast. If we could tell all of their stories at once, we would. But we can’t, so we picked five that represent a wide variety of points on the boardbuilding spectrum. We’ll be telling more of them online this year — especially after we launch our newly redesigned website. But don’t wait for us. If you think your local shaper is interesting — and honestly, in our experience, all of them are — buy a six-pack and go chat ‘em up. Order a board if you’ve got the means. Give up a wave if you see them in the lineup, then tell them how good it was when they paddle back out. Ask about their favorite design, their craziest story, or their thoughts on the surf industry. Chances are you’ll end up having one hell of a conversation.

In short, there’s one common link between all the old boards I’ll never see again, all the boards that I’ve held and fondled, all the boards that all of you have ever ridden or ogled, and all of our accumulated fond memories: a human being (or team of human beings) used their hands to put in blood, sweat, and tears, with a work ethic that surpasses 99% of the trades (including surf mag editor) that pass for legitimate today, all so that we could have fun. That’s something to celebrate — and in this crazy day and age, we’re thrilled that we get the chance to do so.

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