I know there aren’t alligators in New Jersey. I couldn’t, however, help but feel like one was going to lunge out and snatch me at any moment. His text message read, “meet me at the swamp.” Hesitant and wondering if my wild youth had finally caught up to me, I reluctantly agreed.
I initially met Tony while checking the surf a few weeks prior. After discussing our individual ventures, we decided that my intrigue for the surfboard shaping process aligned with his willingness to showcase and photograph it.
Pulling up to his address, all I could see was an old mailbox protruding into the street, a crooked wooden fence, and a tree line with no discernable path for my truck to navigate. I stopped, called Tony, and prayed that this was going to work out. Luckily, after two rings of the telephone, Tony answered and promptly appeared about 100 meters away with his familiar grin and a big wave. Reassured and feeling the anticipation burgeoning, I followed the path as instructed, parked the truck, and jumped out. This was not at all the setting you might be imagining when you think of a surfboard shaper’s studio. Before me stood a moderate sized A-frame shed with a single sloping front porch and surfboard racks lining the walls. Oh yeah, and I was well and truly in the middle of a swamp.
Tony and I exchanged greetings and he gave me a tour of the shop, complete with wood burning stove, and shaping room. The smell of resin and acetone hung heavily in the air. During the tour, it quickly became apparent that I was lacking–embarrasingly–in shaping knowledge for someone who has been surfing the better part of 15 years (and I’m pretty sure Tony sensed this too). Luckily for me, he is both teacher and artist, and within 30 minutes my crash course was complete.
Relatively new to New Jersey, Tony was formerly running his shaping/repair business in Rincon, Puerto Rico. It was there that he amassed a loyal following for both his custom shaped surfboards as well as his impeccable surfboard repair skills. The day I visited, Tony was in the beginning stages of creating a custom high performance shape for one of his clients. He explained just how the process works, from square piece of foam to ridable surfboard. He described the materials needed (stringer or no stringer, foam, fiberglass, glassing), techniques for measuring and marking the shape, and the tools used in the actual shaping process (hand planer, power planer, sandpaper, rail screen). With a thorough and informative introduction completed, it was time to get down to business. Foam began to fly, UV lights casted important shadows, and a discernable surfboard shape began to emerge.
Feeling enlightened, I walked away from this meeting with a new appreciation for the farm-to-table (so to speak) process of making a surfboard. If you’re like me and have never been a part of the shaping process, I would encourage you to reach out to your local shaper and request a lesson. The experience is something that you will appreciate every time you paddle out.
Find Tony on Instagram @rapid_ding_repair