These California Surfboard Shapers Are Revolutionizing Surfing

Courtesy of Todd Hanson

The 5,000,000+ surfers bobbing up and down California’s 840 miles of coastline spend a lot of time in the spotlight, but there is a small group of artisans working in the background to make all those epic YouTube-worthy rides possible: surfboard shapers. Before any waverider straps on a leash, a pair of hands puts in hours in the shaping bay, molding foam, resin, and solid wood into a work of rideable art. To honor these unsung heroes, we’re highlighting 10 California shapers every surfer worth their wax should know:

Danny Hess, San Francisco

Talk about San Francisco’s oceanfront resurgence, which over the last 15 years has transformed the Outer Sunset neighborhood from fog-shrouded afterthought to an epicenter of creative pursuits, and one man comes to mind: Danny Hess. With the wide-open lineups of Ocean Beach at his disposal, Hess worked for years there to perfect his durable, shreddable wooden board.

What he does: The forty-something Ventura native specializes in wooden surfboards -- and not the old-school collectible kind. Hess discovered his love for wood while living in Colorado and working on a sustainable building project as a carpenter. Yes, Hess’ boards will look great hanging on the wall of your modern minimalist studio, but they really shine in the water. They’re environmentally sustainable, and they’re durable enough to last a lifetime.

How he does it: Hess crafts a molded perimeter wood frame, then fills it with recycled foam on the interior and eco-friendly resin on the exterior. The combination of materials far surpasses the strength of a standard foam and fiberglass, which explains the steep price tag for Hess’ creations (think $2,000 and up). Whether his wooden boards are found atop funky old surf mobiles, in the quivers of trendsetting surfers around the world, or in art galleries from coast to coast, the most important thing to remember is that they’ll last.

Courtesy of Annabelle Shumann

Marc Andreini, Santa Cruz

Andreini grew up in San Mateo, where he started shaping in 1970 (one of his first customers was actually the next shaper on this list). He also spent family vacations on the long, drawn-out pointbreaks of Santa Barbara, before he settled down in Santa Cruz. Long story short, he knows the coastline, and his boards are colorful, elegant creations that are the the perfect mix of Southern, Central, and Northern California aesthetics -- which explains why they can be found under the feet of proud nonconformists all up and down the coast.

What he does: Andreini’s specialty is one that even many hardcore surfers don’t understand: the single-fin displacement hull. Developed in the ‘70s, a displacement hull board has a convex bottom contour, as opposed to the standard surfboard’s concave bottom. Unlike traditional boards, these don’t ride high on the water’s surface -- they plow through and part the water to create forward propulsion. That distinction means that the surfer needs to be far more engaged with the wave: carving, turning, and redirecting to stay close to the breaking curl and avoid getting a mouthful of saltwater.

How he does it: Andreini believes that a surfboard should be customized for the wave it’s going to ride. As he describes it, shaping for him is about creating curves that extract the best performance out of the wave itself. Although Andreini always wanted to be a teacher, today he’s happiest making small batches of his hand-shaped boards for displacement hull devotees so that they can derive the same joy from surfing as he does. “You have to have your own vision of surfing,” he told Brooklyn’s Pilgrim Surf and Supply in 2014. “My boards are my vision of how I want to surf. Instead of just making what somebody wants, I’m building boards that capture a certain style of surfing that’s within my vision.”

Jeff Clark, Half Moon Bay

Ever heard of Mavericks, the world-famous big-wave break located off the rugged cliffs of Northern California? You have Jeff Clark to thank. He discovered the heaving coldwater behemoth and surfed it solo for years before he could convince anyone to join him.

What he does: Given all that alone time inventing the art of riding Mavericks’ monstrosities, Clark specializes in the long, sleek “guns” (eight-foot and up surfboards made to paddle into and then slice down the face of big waves) that work best at huge breaks. On top of that, he instituted the first surfer-led big-wave Water Patrol brigade to keep daredevil surfers safe and helped elevate Half Moon Bay to international lore through organizing the on-again, off-again Mavericks surf contest.

How he does it: Clark’s resume is a long one, but one of the key points is the functionality of his surfboards at Mavericks, along with other big-wave magnets around the world. More than most other shapers, his obsession with surfboard design combined with his background as a union carpenter willed a previously unrideable beast into its current existence as one of the crown jewels of international big-wave surfing.

Courtesy of Andreini Surfboards

William “Stretch” Reidel, Santa Cruz

Stretch, so named because of his towering height and slender frame, has a singularly defining feature: he’s always obsessively chomping on a cigar. But he’s also revered in the surfing world for transforming the four-fin surfboard (aka “quad”) from clunky experiment to well-oiled speed machine. He also pioneered the use of EPS epoxy foam and resin to replace traditional polyurethane and polystyrene.

What he does: The four-fin surfboards Stretch Reidel is known for today began as a peculiar anomaly in the 1980s, when single fins gave way to twin-fins and the eventual industry-standard three-fin Thruster. But Reidel stuck with quads, pursuing his experimentation with the new design to the point of perfection. After breaking his neck in 1988 in a windsurfing accident, Stretch doubled down on innovation, giving himself over to a methodical drive instilled by his father to be the absolute best in his field and see how far his ideas could go.

How he does it: Reidel once said that his dad taught him “you can’t make anything clean in filth” so, he cleans his shaping room twice a day himself. He prides himself on touching every board with his name on it at least three times to make sure it’s up to his standards. In 2011, that focus landed him in the Guinness Book of World Records, as big-wave icon Garrett McNamara caught a record-setting 78-foot wave in Portugal on one of Stretch’s quads. (FYI -- That’s as tall as a 7-story building.) The other major hallmark of his career is his advocacy for environmentally-friendly EPS epoxy foam and resin, which he posits more as a cost-effective, high-tech approach to running his business than hippie propensity.

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Courtesy of Peet's

The same way California surfboard shapers dedicate their lives to the perfect board, Peet’s Coffee has been working since 1966 to “put coffee first” -- and it shows in their new bottled cold brew. Using the same blend of freshly roasted beans and slow steeping process for making cold brew in their cafes, Peet’s hand delivers its bottled cold brew to grocery stores to ensure it is fresh and flavorful from your first sip. They call it a “true cold brew” -- we call it true passion.

Thomas Meyerhoffer, San Francisco

Meyerhoffer, a fifty-something industrial designer, hails from what may be the least friendly surf city in the world: Stockholm, Sweden. He summed it up for Surfline in 2013 when he said, simply: “My boards are not for everybody.”

What he does: Meyerhoffer’s most famous surfboard creation still makes the least amount of sense, at least to the untrained eye. It’s an inverted hourglass shape with bulging hips in the back third of the board, a narrow empire waist, and another wide bubble near the nose. But it does work, relying on weighty surf concepts (parabolic rails, negative cuts, swing weights, and deep double concaves) to produce a longboard that rides like a shortboard. It can drop into steeper waves, turn on a dime, and accelerate quickly, all while still producing the cruise and glide integral to any longer board.

How he does it: By tapping into past groundbreaking work for little ol’ companies like Apple, Nike, Porsche, and IDEO. Focusing on intuitive, engaging solutions, Meyerhoffer mixes the functional and the emotional, relying on computer-assisted design techniques that redefined the way surfers thought about their boards and the assumptions we routinely make about what’s “right” and “wrong.” Meyerhoffer even teamed up with the futurists at Global Surf Industries, which mass produced his signature board using EPS and epoxy, the most efficient materials then on the market. It all adds up to explain why that curvy, curious surfboard attracted so much attention when it first debuted ten years ago.

Courtesy of Kiley Vogel

Ashley Lloyd, Santa Cruz

Current stats say women make up almost 35% of the surfing population, but even in ultra-progressive coastal California, surfing is effectively still an ol’ boys club. Inside the shaping bay, that’s even more accurate. But Ashley Lloyd is looking to change that.

What she does: Lloyd’s sleek longboard shapes, made specifically for Santa Cruz’s slow, easygoing pointbreaks, represent such an important connection back to the golden days of California surfing. Ashley grew up with world-class longboard waves in her backyard: she was raised in Malibu, the epicenter of Golden State surfing. She studied music at UC-Santa Barbara, where she familiarized herself with the “Queen of the Coast” surfing spot Rincon Point. Then, she moved to Santa Cruz (with boasts iconic breaks like Pleasure Point and Steamer’s Lane) a decade ago with her husband, Alex Thompson, and their children.

How she does it: Lloyd works closely with her husband when shaping her boards -- in fact, Thompson applies the final layer of fiberglass to Ashley’s nine-foot-plus creations in their Greenest Glassing facility, which uses a bio-based resin that’s far more environmentally friendly than traditional polyurethane. Lloyd and Thompson even play music together as The Shapes, imbuing the easygoing feeling of a cruisey California surf session in every aspect of their lives. It’s a feeling summed up perfectly by Ashley’s shaper signature, which she inscribes on each of her boards with the same message: “Made With Love.”

Chad Kaimanu Jackson, Kaimanu Surfboards, Cayucos

Chad Kaimanu Jackson comes by his passion for surfboard shaping honestly: his father, Bruce, first started building boards in 1969 -- then passed the business on to Chad in 1992. But he’s more than just another hippie making beautiful, eco-friendly boards.

What he does: Kaimanu’s hydrodynamic shapes are perfect in big waves, heavy waves, isolated waves, and high-performance waves. In other words, he knows how to make boards that can seriously perform, even when made out of eco-friendly materials. If you’re just hitting easygoing pointbreaks and summertime beachbreaks, you’re better off with something different.

How he does it: While Chad inherited dad’s Kaimanu Surfboards label when he was 18, he immediately set out to push the business into the future by concentrating on natural materials: eco-friendly, agave-based foam for the surfboard blank; a hemp-derived fiberglass substitute for its strong outer layer; and recycled redwood for the fins on the bottom. That means that a Kaimanu shape is most definitely a piece of art -- but also a supremely functional one.

Courtesy of Todd Hanson

Michel Junod, Santa Cruz

Surfing is funny in that its youngest adherents are often groomed to revere its oldest masters. Michel Junod bridges both gaps -- he was raised in Los Angeles in the mid 1960s but, in the ‘90s, he experienced a renaissance with the young, hip longboard crowd thanks to fruitful collaborations with today’s trendsetters (like filmmaker Thomas Campbell).

What he does: As a kid, Michel was so small he couldn’t wrap his arms around the unwieldy 10-foot longboards of the day. So he worked with legendary shaper Hap Jacobs to produce a smaller, more refined model that set Junod down a lifelong path of experimentation with the cornucopia of shapes -- twin-fins, quads, finless planks, kneeboards -- commonly referred to today as “alternative.” But ironically, Michel was also one of the first surfers in the 1970s to dust off his traditional longboard again, flying in the face of the Shortboard Revolution and reviving one of surfing’s most traditional art forms.

How he does it: Junod’s lean, fit frame still glides through Santa Cruz lineups with ease on the beautiful quad-fin, twin-fin, and single-fin creations he makes in a former produce-packing plant. Each aspect of the shaping process is done by hand, from start to finish, to ensure every inch of the board has his personal care -- and that’s all the way down to his psychedelic, pastel color glass jobs, which Junod also does in-house. His meticulousness has made him a perpetually in-demand shaper, known for fine-tuning old-school design ideas into adventurous, high-performance present-day experiences.

Matt “Mayhem” Biolos, San Clemente, CA

Get this: the most accomplished and in-demand surfboard shaper in the world gave his first board the name “Ratz Ass.” A teenaged renegade in mid ‘80s Southern California, Matt Biolos’s punk-rock predilection has earned him his fame. His board’s second name, Mayhem Surfboards, stuck; but even non-surfers will recognize his third: ...Lost.

What he does: Twenty-five years after founding ...Lost, Biolos’s, fast, loose, ultra-refined shred sleds are routinely found under the feet of the world’s best surfers. At least half of the World Surf League Championship Tour’s top surfers rely on his boards, particularly when they descend on Lower Trestles in San Clemente for their big contest every summer. But the notoriously gruff and outspoken Biolos also led a people’s power movement producing tens of thousands of wide, thick, and fun shortboards that changed many surfers’ perspective on what good surfing in bad waves could look like. (Hint: not anything like what the guys and girls on the World Tour were doing).

How he does it: It’s that upstairs-downstairs dichotomy that represents everything the Mayhem brand stands for today: the highest of high performance, delivered to the world’s best surfers in the best waves, and a singular focus on helping the world’s average surfers ride their average waves better. Basically, Biolas has a passion for making even the smallest waves fun, and is constantly tweaking ideas to make that possible. In a small surf, he’s said, you’re already blessed by thin crowds -- so having a board with better performance makes it possible to own the waves.

Courtesy of Annabelle Shumann

Bob Pearson, Santa Cruz

It took a while for Bob Pearson to make his name as one of the most accomplished shapers in the surfboard building game. After traveling the world to surf, teaching high school in Australia, and eventually becoming the #2 rated surfer on the United States’ fledgling pro circuit in 1976, Pearson returned to Santa Cruz, opening the city’s iconic Arrow Surf Shop and quickly becoming one of the biggest producers of surfboards in the world.

What he does: Under the Pearson Arrow label, Bob and his team of committed shapers pump out upwards of 2,000 boards a year -- shortboards, longboards, beginner boards, advanced shapes for big waves, custom boards for special needs kids… you name it and Pearson can do it. And he does it on a grand scale, while still maintaining the eye for careful, personalized attention he cultivated at the very start.

How he does it: When Pearson made his first longboard in 1966, it took him a full two weeks, because he built his own tools to do the job. Fifty years on, he still applies that sort of everyman precision and passion to the boards he makes today. Even as far back as 2000, when surfing was much more homogenized than it is today, Pearson said surfers were set to begin approaching surfing in an individual way, and riding different designs would not only change shaping altogether, but better equip surfers to perform at their best.