6 of the Best: Surfers Who Shape Their Own Surfboards
Surfer-shapers are a dying breed, but they sit at the apex of the sport
In an ideal world, where the wind is always offshore, Donald Trump is a piss-trough lolly and Kanoa Igarashi is still on the QS, the surfer-shaper — the surfer who shapes his or her own surfboards and rides them as they were meant to be ridden — would be heralded as the very apex of the sport.
To be very, very good at one is laudable, but to be a high achiever in both disciplines is one of the most difficult gigs in surfing. These six below have done that, and much more.
Through their surfing and their designs, they have all changed surfing for the better. It’s time we gave them their props.
“Before Gerry the boards were too straight and too wide and basically the boys were pearling on every wave at Pipeline," two-time Pipe Master Rory Russell told Surf Europe, using the word pearling for the first time anywhere since in 1979.
“So he worked on a rocker and outline that would fit in the wave. And they worked. We all stole the templates of course. Anyone who has ever had a tube at Pipe has Gerry to thank."
Gerry Lopez’ efforts at Pipeline, both as a competitor and as Zen-stylist in the ’70s and early ’80s rightfully overshadowed his role in the board design that made the whole cakewalk possible in the first place. However since dropping out of the Pipe spotlight and relocating to the forests of Oregon, Gerry has continued his surfboard shaping, wracking up five decades of high-spec foam wrangling for every type of person and for every type of wave.
"Anyone who has ever had a tube at Pipe has Gerry to thank"
No other surfer-shaper has won a world title on their own hand-shaped creations, let alone the four MR racked up from 1979 to 1983. MR’s greatest contribution to surfboard design was, of course, the twin fin.
"Around this time he also had both a silver Porsche and a silver wetsuit, and still managed not to look like a dick"
“Two fins changed my life," Mark Richards told Surf Europe. MR had adapted a Reno Abellira two-fin design, itself modeled on a Steve Lis Fish, and the transformation from the stiff confines of a single fin to the loose-hipped twin-fin transformed surfing.
Around this time he also had both a silver Porsche and a silver wetsuit, and still managed not to look like a dick. MR retired in 1984, with back injuries and the advent of the tri-fin meaning he quit at his competitive peak.
For the next 20 years he went back to shaping out of his Dad’s surf shop in Newcastle. It is only in the last decade that surfers have again realized the potential of the twin fin and fish, and now a Mark Richards board is rightly seen as a prized possession. There are surfer-shapers, and shaper-surfers, and Mark Richards has a decent claim to be the best of them all.
Simon Anderson’s “invention" of the thruster, or tri-fin, is obviously what Big Simon will always be remembered for. However, to a degree it has overshadowed both his surfing achievements and his subsequent 30 years shaping boards for the world’s best surfers, including Kelly Slater, Andy Irons, and a host of current QS rippers.
In competition Simon won Bells twice, the Coke Surfabout and Pipeline Masters, and was a mainstay in the top 10, despite being 6’3" and weighing in over 100 kilograms. When he retired in the mid 80s he was the last real surfer-shaper on tour.
Yet it is the tri-fin that he will always be associated with, a design that he never received any real financial compensation for. “If I didn’t come up with it right then, there were a lot of other people at the time that were working toward that same end goal," he has said. “I’m just fortunate, and happy to contribute.
The Skeletor! The mohawk! The endless floaters! The fluro wetsuits! The Wave Tools surfboard!
Yep, for a brief time in the late ’80s and early ’90s Collins was the Californian that you either loathed with a passion or loved with teenage frenzy. And while his brash, trash-talking personality, uber-claims, and arms-and-elbows style made all the headlines, it must remembered he scaled to no. 8 in the world riding his own boards.
There hasn’t be a surfer-shaper that has reached anywhere near the top since Collins, and even if he's best known for his radical hyper-colour, anti-style approach, he should also be applauded as the last of a dying breed.
The San Diego native is one of surfing’s best current out-of-the-box thinkers, and is literally carving himself a name as one of the hottest, weirdest and most in-demand shapers on the planet.
While he makes beautiful fish-type boards and longboards for a growing waiting list, he is perhaps best known for his asymmetrical boards. “Surfing and shaping are pretty much all I do so I’m going to have to continue to reinvent myself to keep it fun and interesting," he said recently.
If you’ve seen footage of Burch surfing grinding G-Land or perfect Peru, I defy you to name anyone that makes wave riding look more interesting than Burch right now. And in that I include the Surf Europe Editor, whose surfing on a Burch-inspired asymmetrical at Mundaka is also interesting, but for all the wrong reasons. With shaping inspiration from Carl Ekstrom, Rich Pavel, Skip Frye and Joel Tudor, and a rare, silky-smooth progressive style, Burch is the modern template for the millennial surfer-shaper.
"And in that I include the Editor, whose surfing on a Burch-inspired asymmetrical at Mundaka is also interesting, but for all the wrong reasons"
Daniel “Tomo" Thomson is one of the more talented surfers from Australia’s Lennox Head, a historical breeding ground for shit-hot surfers and surfboard-design influencers. At a young age Thomson turned his back on a potential professional career to follow in his shaper dad’s footsteps and dedicate himself to making surfboards under his Tomo label.
He relocated to California and his unique wakeboard-like designs, which were significantly shorter, wider, and weirder than most on the market, were initially treated with general disdain, despite his own clips, which were consistently revelatory. However after Stu Kennedy’s performance on a Tomo “Sci-Fi" at the Quik Pro in 2016 the masses finally twigged that Tomo might just be on to something.
When Kelly Slater became an acolyte, Tomo designs became suddenly part of the mainstream. His philosophy reads “preserve the past, define the future." He seems to be making a pretty good fist of it.