WORDS & PHOTOS BY GLENN DUBOCK
Most surfers are content to ride waves with whatever watercraft is under their feet. They may have a certain brand loyalty, preference to length, choice of fin set-up or color scheme, but beyond that, whatever is looking good off the rack with the available funds at the time of purchase is going to be the ride they glide. A small percentage will meet with a shaper, sometimes one they have had an ongoing relationship with, and continue their dialogue about design and desires as one’s abilities hopefully progress to higher levels.
There exists another subset amongst our species – the one’s that possess unbounded curiosity towards all things related to foam, fiberglass and resin. Working in rooms with glowing beams of florescent tubes that underlight the crude blanks they will transform into nautical crafts of speed and grace, they endlessly toil, mowing foam until they are ultimately satisfied that the canvas of aquatic art before them is worthy of their signature somewhere next to the stringer.
These artisans shall forever be known as Custom Surfboard Shapers – and with the onslaught of computer shaping machines and overseas production factories – they are a dying breed.
Ray Lucke is a large and friendly man, with massive hands that were built for manual labor. He looms over a surfboard blank like Paul Bunyon over a redwood stump and yet he seems to float around the shaping bay as he dispenses pearls of wisdom from his decades in the industry.
“I shaped my first board when I was 14 years old in my own garage with a good friend. It looked like a piece of crap but it rode well. I was stoked!”
I went to see Lucke at his combo surf shop/surfboard factory adjacent to the lettuce fields of Camarillo. He had invited me to sit in on a shaping lesson he was giving to a young man from the area.
When asked why he was willing to share this treasure trove of knowledge Lucke replied, “I realized that the surfboard industry had been fading off people wanting to learn how to make surfboards. The art of surfboard making was dying. I wanted to get everybody involved.”
Lucke has passed his passion onto about 70 people, ranging in age from 13 to 60 years old, both men and women. Lessons run about 2.5 hours each with a total of about 8 hours. Within 30 minutes of templating the board, they are cutting it out on their own.
Over at Surf Country in Goleta, a homegrown product of the area is passing on his considerable skills in a shaping room just off the showroom floor. Doug Yartz was born and raised just a few blocks away and rode his first waves just down the street at Goleta Beach.
“Once I started surfing, I wanted to know everything about it. I started fixing boards in my garage for my neighbors. I met Dan Wozniak at a garage sale and I bought my first true longboard from him. He later taught me how to shape. The first board I shaped was a short board for a childhood friend.”
Watching Yartz teach a student that came in from Lompoc, I could see that he was getting just about as much from the lesson as the pupil was. With over 100 lessons under his sanding belt, Yartz has fined tuned his approach to cater to the inherent tool knowledge of each participant.
“Pulling the curtain back on how boards are made is exciting for surfers; most people feel like it is a secret so sharing how it is done is super fun.”
Lucke and Yartz both share a gift for making people feel comfortable with tools, techniques and even philosophies that may be quite foreign to them.
Yartz recalled one student in particular. “I had a lawyer once that didn’t know how to use a single tool; it was challenging and scary for me. He was so stoked after the first lesson and completed board that he came back and shaped two more with me.”
With fine mentors like Lucke and Yartz passing on the torch of surfboard crafting, perhaps our tribe will not lose it’s artful history.
Dropping In On
The surfers, shapers, movers, and shakers of the Central Coast surf scene.