This morning we take you into the Hobie Shaping Room to get a visual look at the five most important tools a shaper uses to handcraft a surfboard.
While you look at the photos, remember the people who’s hands hold these tools apprentice for years while they hone their craft. Sacrificing time with family and friends to stand in a foam dust filled room watching master surfboard builders go through a long day transforming blanks in the bay. They study every cut, line, and curve before they touch their own block of foam. They learn all this to earn very little name recognition, no matter how good of a shaper they eventually become. In today’s world people are more likely to know John John’s cats name, then the name of the person who shaped their surfboard… and they for sure have no idea the names of the people who glass it (and that will be a whole blog on another day!). If you know a surfboard builder who is a millionaire, they must have married well or inherited even better… because no one is getting rich behind a shaping room door. They make your boards out of a love of working with their hands, and of building things better so people can have more fun.
The Skil 100 Planer.
This is truly THE shapers tool and they aren’t even made anymore. The Skil 100 stopped being made in the 80’s. Originally made for carpenters to make doors, they are now highly sought after on eBay, Craigslist and the like. Gary had his original for over 15 years, it sadly went to the unfixable tool graveyard a few months ago, so he is breaking in a new one now. The planers come with a long plane on the bottom, some shapers like Gary, cut the back off to more easily fit into the rocker and curves of a shortboard. The copper wire you see twisted around is an addition made by shapers, it is placed there to eliminate static created from the vacuum.
This has been used on every board Gary has shaped since he was 15 years old. It was handmade for him by Steve Boehne. The grooves you can see in the block are just from the pressure on the balsa over the years from Gary’s hands. EVERY shaper who has ever made a surfboard has used a tool just like this and they have most likely made their own.
Block Plane and Spoke Shave.
These are used to take the stringer down. (They also make those beautiful curls of wood you see on shaping room floors). Each one has its own job, like the small one on the right side, it is a spoke shave and it is used to get into the small spots and tight curves, like in the nose of a shortboard.
Used to outline the rough shape of the surfboard onto the blank. Each one is handmade by the shaper and used for each different model board they make. Gary has over 40, and he is constantly making new ones.
Saws and Files.
Used to cut the outline and fine tune the rough shape, every shaper will posses a variety of saws and files. Some are used only for one purpose, like cutting out a swallow tail.
If you want to see and learn about the board building process, you can see Gary Larson shaping at the Hobie Surf Shop in Dana Point. We have windows that look into his bay, and he is always more than willing to take a minute or two to chat with you about the surfboard building process. Just remember, shapers are paid by the board, not by the hour, so be respectful of Gary’s time.