Want a little inside look at how the sausage is made in the surf industry today? The sausage, in this case, being the surfboard (that sausage is flying out of factories at never-before-seen volumes). How and where does your shaper get their blanks, their fins, their leash plugs to finish your board? What do those things cost them? What’s the quickest they can possibly get them? What’s their bandwidth to get every order done under deadline? How much manpower is working inside the walls of that shop? Which processes have to be outsourced to other businesses? How many other people hit them up on Instagram last week about ordering a new board? Hell, who’s even responding to all those messages?
Truthfully, the average surfer has next to no idea what it took to get their custom order — all the tasks outside of just making the board.
“These are all the conversations that each of us, as well as every other shaper we’ve ever known, has daily, if not weekly, with each other,” Ryan Lovelace says.
Lovelace, Ryan Harris of Earth Technologies, and Zamora Surf’s Ian Zamora sat down over the weekend to offer some insight. And here’s a little secret they let us in on: they’d all love to be in a shaping bay spending more quality time with your board. But there are countless things in the production process that would prevent them from making a good product if all they ever do is sit in a small, well-lit room, breathing in fiberglass dust for 14 hours a day. Harris opened up his Instagram Live conversation to talk about “the debate” over hand-shaped versus machine-shaped (CNC) boards. The thesis: CNC shaping isn’t a crime. It doesn’t suck the soul out of surfing. It’s no less core than a board crafted without ever being touched by a machine. In fact, as Lovelace puts it, “You can’t surf in this industry without machines right now.” CNCs are the life support for a booming industry.
In Harris’ case, it became a necessary business tool when he broke his hand and wouldn’t have been able to conduct business at all without their help. Every board is still his design and his shape, his years of working at his craft, only with the help of a lathe that executes the details of shaping that board consistently and far more efficiently than he could do himself. And he’s not alone.
That discussion opened up a whole other can of worms once Zamora and Lovelace joined him to talk about their life’s work, both as craftsmen and businessmen. They’d all go out of business real fast if they didn’t keep up with the changing times (and the growing pile of order forms we’re all throwing at them).
Give the 54-minute long video (below) a watch when you have the time. It’s better than any podcast you’ll listen to today. And it’ll make you want to hug your shaper. I know it made me even more grateful knowing that in the midst of all the madness I never thought of, the orders piling up and the countless other things to manage, every single time I’ve walked into Mark Brog’s shop in Los Angeles for the past 12 years, he’s dropped it all for at least 20 minutes to high-five, to geek out on boards, to show off what he’s working on, and most of all to keep me stoked.
“As much as I love — as much as I want to keep hand shaping — it’s just not physically possible to run a business.” ~Ian Zamora
“There is a pandemic. I feel like surfing sales are at an all-time high right now and we have this baby boom of beginners that started surfing when the pandemic hit. Maybe they were on soft tops a year ago and now they’re converting to real boards, so we’re getting even busier. Whether the industry can sustain that or not, we’re having the gnarliest supply chain issues ever. And we’re (shapers) getting blamed, as the craftsmen and business owners.” ~Ryan Harris
“If this industry is something that we want to see continue, this is something that we all need to address and we all need to figure out because it’s driving us all crazy.” ~Ryan Lovelace
‘Everyone’s said it a million different ways but you’ve got, right now, not only more people that want surfboards than have ever wanted them before — by a factor of three or four — mixed with a manufacturing process that was already in decline even before that demand hit it, plus material shortages on top of that.” ~Ryan Lovelace
“I do feel that because demand is through the roof, maybe we’re starting to get paid what we’re worth. For me, one of the biggest issues is I know how long it’s going to take me to get a board out right now. But do we want to lose that order when we’re being real? Realistically, two to three months. I just say (8) weeks because it sounds better.” ~Ryan Harris
“Things go wrong all the time. No glass shop is perfect. Things mess up. A bad batch of fiberglass. There’s always something happening that will put production back. It’s like a chasing game. You think you’re set and you’re like ‘We’re good this week.’ Man, something’s always gonna come up.” ~Ian Zamora
“It always comes down to the consumer understanding what they’re purchasing. If we’re all going to try to solve it, ease these frustrations, it’s in communicating with the consumers. They’ve gotta know why handmade is different than hand-shaped is different than imported is different than x, y, and z.” ~Ryan Lovelace
“The conversation’s always been ‘Oh, this is better than that, because this is more core than that.’ That’s not the conversation. The conversation is just understanding what somebody’s spending money on.” ~Ryan Lovelace
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