It was a warm day in February by New Jersey standards. Temperatures were hitting the upper 50’s with no swell on tap, so I spent the day with my local shaper, Owner of Rozbern Surf, John Oppito. We had been trying to meet up for a few months to discuss shaping, surfers and the direction his company is heading. So this was a perfect time to tag along with the guy who was making my surfboard.
I knew a little bit of John’s story, but no much about how his career had all come together. He explained that he and Phil Browne, Owner of Glide Surf Co., had been looking to set up a glass shop together in 2014. John needed some more space to help Rozbern expand, and Phil was interested in bringing shapers into make boards for his store, making it a perfect match. From social media posts, I know that some of the best shapers in the world have come to shape at The Heavens; guys like Ryan Lovelace and Mick Mackie, who John said have really helped him progress. “I’m grateful for all the advice, critique and feedback I’ve received from them. I’ve also been fortunate to shape for some of the best surfers in the northeast, and their feedback helps my shapes to continue to improve.”
During this conversation, John mentioned another brand of surfboards he’s going to be shaping for, TrimCraft. A brand of shapes specifically designed by Gerry Lopez, Ryan Lovelace, and Rich Pavel, building even more on the foundation knowledge he brings to the game. Then we talked about the experience he’s gained making boards for a guy like Balaram Stack.
Soon after, we entered the garage with the welcoming aroma of resin. John gave me a tour of the shaping room, a glassing area, and a finishing room, throwing in some tidbits about the business side of being a shaper. And then he grabbed a blank and started crafting a fresh order. The order sheet was for a fish, which he carefully reviewed before making some measurements and firing up the planer. After removing some foam, John used a hand saw to cut the shape and suddenly the board came to life. To see him using his hands, now covered in foam, was like watching any artist paint a masterpiece.
I really learned a lot this afternoon simply by watching this man in his element. It made me think of all the boards I’ve bought and even the ones I’ve frothed over in surf shops for years. We’ve all gone through the routine: You take a board off the rack, you feel the rails, and examine it from every angle. No matter your age or how long you have been surfing it’s a ceremony that never gets old.
Knowing now how much passion and care goes into a handcrafted board made me so stoked knowing I have a board made specifically for me, by John himself. I remembered taking a few different shapes and ideas of my own to John, entrusting him to create something that would come to life as I’d imagined it. He and I talked about old boards and shapes of mine, what had worked, what hadn’t worked, and even what this new board would look like. We got down to the nitty-gritty details, dialing in the tail, the rails, the board’s volume, the height, the width and even what I wanted the nose to look like. The end result was exactly what I wanted. The beauty of it all is, when you find the right shaper, that’s exactly what you get wth custom boards.