Part 1 – You Need Love. 

You dual-hemisphere surfers who chase winter swells across the equator, show up for the first swell all tuned-up and ready to go. You have sponsors, you fly in, musclebound, camerabound, headstrong and brave, stuffed with confidence. I love you, but I’m not talking to you today.

You are the choir. I’m not preaching to you. Your blades are honed, while the rest of us rust. Come first swell, we will have to scrape it off, soak in oil, sandblast and file away until the skin goes raw, then tear it back to find something harder. We are trying to tune a ten dollar ukulele while you are playing music already to a crowd.

I’m jealous of you, on one hand. It would be great, with adrenaline as your traveling companion, to hone, to get harder, rather than fatter. Darting around the hemispheres on jets.  

But I am not talking to you today. 

I’m talking to all the others. You, who spend too much time working in a place that is not beautiful, that does not move, or even shimmer. Those who punch clocks or invest money or clean buildings or mow lawns. 

You’ve spent all summer banging nails or bussing tables. Maybe you’ve been marinating in the sun or the salt water teaching lessons, hoping for lightning or a hurricane because 80 days straight work is too many. 

Did you order your boards? 

Quick. Call your shaper. “This is the year,” tell em’.  “This is the year I paddle out to the spot, sit in the line-up, wait for a set, spin and go like the big boys do, so shape me the shape, the one that fits my fantasies.” 

Hold up. You don’t have a shaper? 

If you don’t have a shaper, I’m looking at your soul. My hand is on your shoulder and I’m looking into your soul right now.. I’m talking to you. Get a shaper.  If you surf and don’t have one, you are a criminal without a lawyer. You will have Frankenstein’s monster for a quiver. Something assembled from graves, and given a life without meaning. Your crop will not bear the fruit you want.  

Get a shaper. 

Yours is out there right now. You will find them, if you are open and you believe. The crucial thing here is that I am not trying to sell you anything. I would never tell you who to love. I’m only saying that you need love, a specific kind of love, and suggesting why you need it. Those who rock around on jets to surf, they know this truth already. 

You need a shaper you can talk to.  If the one you want will not talk to you, find the one who will. 

It can be over the phone. 

You have to talk to them and, in a very short time, they will know you better than your parents know you, or even your partner in some ways. They’ll know as much about you as your most trusted mate. They will know if you are happy, depressed, broke, flush, enjoying success, or enduring suffering. They’ll know if you’re shredding. They’ll be your coach, your cheerleader, your therapist. They’ll know when you are hurt. They will help you realize the value of play again. They’ll be your inner child’s best friend. They are the toymaker, the candyman, your vitamins, your fountain of youth. Your shaper will want for you the one thing that you want for you, and that’s to go surf.  To stop being industrious, and start making smiles. Your shaper will want you to feed your soul the way your mother fed your belly.  The way your partner supports your heart, your shaper feeds your need for fun. 

When I met my shaper, I had been riding his boards for more than twenty years. It was the first time I saw the face and shook the hands that enhanced my life. 

I was surprised at the serenity of Doc even though I expected it. He showed me his world through pictures on his phone of his art, and his grandkid. And while we got to know each other, eating a giant bowl of mussels, a green flash of sunlight illuminated  the ocean where the earth curves. Green flash. The one I always pretended to see but I didn’t actually believe existed.  But this green flash lit up the stratosphere like lightning at night. It lit up our conversation and our bowl of mussels. Lit up our awareness. We realized that we’re standing on a spinning ball, flying through a universe. 

Part 2 - Phases 

Your shaper will need to have patience with you. And you will need to return it. Doc has shown me great patience through all my phases. 

My first phase ended in total failure. I got into my head that surfboard evolution peaked at single fins after muddled conversations at Sunset Beach with Owl Chapman, burping up bacon sandwiches from Teds. Doc, I could tell by his voice, wasn’t convinced, but did his best with me.

“Just pick a model,” he’d say.  I would not listen. Only plebes ordered models; I wanted pure custom. I wanted what was in my head to appear in my hand then to work like my dreams. I wanted it so much. He made me some great looking single fins according to my visions, and they would all hair out at the bottom turns. There was one particularly beautiful wave, I caught it and my cool looking board skipped out at the bottom again, and even before I went over the falls I knew my single fin phase had come to an end. 

Doc let me go that route, skeptical, but willing to help me go where I wanted. He kindly let me fail which, sometimes, is the nicest thing you can do for someone. 

My second phase started when I saw Derick Hynd surfing J-Bay on a board without fins. 

So I made the call. “DOC,” I said, because I was excited. I’m always Marty McFly. He, of course, is always Doc.

“DOC. Did you see this crazy edit - this is my new thing. I want to do this now.”  

“Yes.” He said at the end of my rambling, “but I’m going to put some plugs into it, just in case.” 

Maybe he thought I had learned from my previous failure of my single fin phase. I would have a backup; he was looking after me. The board really didn’t work, with fins or without. It was a five-foot statement of non-commitment and backpedaling. 

So I ordered another, this time with really thin rails, something to bite into the water that isn’t a fin. 

“I can’t,” Doc said, “I can only go so thin with the plugs.” 

“Then leave them out,” I said. I had to tell him 3X that I was sure. 

Failure enabled that commitment. And also, unlike my single fin phase, I could hear excitement in his voice. 

“I’m excited,” he told me on the phone.

The board he made me next looked like a UFO, and surfed like it had fireworks underneath. It was fast, and spun around in circles of course, but had the control the other one didn’t.  I’d bungle most waves, but do it grinning ear to ear. This one didn’t work either. But it played. 

Surfing well, looking good while doing it, is not my thing. Moments of pure fringe brilliance is what I’m after. And what Doc made me wasn’t a tool, or a toy, but an art that functions. Art does not have to work, but it does have to play.  

You should have a shaper because your idea, and your collaboration could one day lead to an unimagined joy. Something for solely you, that is your thing.  Something that maybe nobody else is doing. 

On the other hand, your shaper can provide you with the tools to hang out with your friends. 

One day my friends wanted to surf the big wave at Mullaghmore, which was awesome, but they wanted to paddle into these waves instead of our usual tow-in session. Fear now changed my philosophy.  

“But tow-surfing works,” I’d argue, forgetting my lesson with the finless.

“Well fart on what works. We want to have fun!” they’d say. 

I called Doc and told him the problem. We were working on my third tow- in board model. And I was starting to feel like I was dialing into something. I called him with this new problem.

“DOC! My friends are all paddling into this wave now!”

“Don’t panic, “Doc said. “I got this new thing.”

“I’ll take it.”

I had trust. Totally and absolutely. The new thing enabled me to have very scary fun with my friends. 

Part 3 - Last Night a Shaper Saved my Life.

Wiping out in big waves is not fun. It hurts. And paddling into big waves you can expect at least one wipeout per session. You have to be brave because you know it will hurt, but your shaper can help with that too.  All of my paddle-in boards have tiger stripes in their design. It’s a phase that stuck. It’s my war paint.  With my stripes, today is a good day to die. But a couple of concussions in a year and I lost it. I lost whatever it is you need to paddle into a wave out there at Mullaghmore.

I called Doc. I didn’t want to order any more boards. Not the tigers, I was scared.  I couldn’t do it. My friends were having fun all around me. For two years, I paddled into the lineup and paddled back out again. It felt rotten. I felt like the tiger stripes didn’t suit me anymore. I called Doc to let him know. Told him I haven’t paddled into one in a long time. That I was going to hang it up. He knew that not catching a wave out there in two years was a metaphor for my life.

Doc said, “A long time ago, I was an angry man.” 

Doc knew I was struggling. That I was in a dark place. What he said to me that day was part warning, part confession, part empathy. It sunk into me like water flowing down a drain.

“You are going to order another,” he said.

“OK, But maybe no tiger stripes?” This time no pause.  

“I think you should.”  He wasn’t as tough on the stripes as on the board itself, but he knew he wouldn’t have to be. 

Get a shaper. They will remind you who you are. 

Part 4 - Magnum Opus

With tow boards, heavy is good.  Often referred to by their weight. “I’ll take the 9-kilo,” one might say, “because it’s really big out there.” Heavy will hold the line, keep the fins and rail in. 

I don’t know how long I will paddle big waves, but I’m confident I’ll tow into big waves until I’m Doc’s age. And I wanted the board I will hang up one day. 

Where and how weight is added to tow boards bothered me. At first, we bolted dive weights on the top of the deck, between our feet. Yea, no, it was like strapping a car on top of a car. 

Then, ball bearings were laid into the deck – better. 

Next, someone came up with the idea of inlaying the bearings on the bottom. Even better, like a keel in a boat, much more stable. But there were still issues. The lumps of ball bearings in the foam created a weak spot in the board, and the cracks in the weak spots let in water, rusting the bearings, and adding more weight every time it got wet. 

After a half dozen tow-boards, we had had a refined design, but the build could be better. I never understood why we took super light foam and added fifteen pounds of heavy metal. Why didn’t we just start with a heavier material, like wood?

I called Doc.

 It really did sound like Doc and Marty in Back to the Future. I could hear his excitement matching mine. 

After three years of researching and searching for the right wood, test trials and experimentation, Doc  glued redwood and balsa strips on either side of a walnut stringer to make the blank. Then with the help of a computer and shaping matching, applied that refined shape, hand tuned it up, and glassed it. When it was done he called me, sounding like Marty McFly. 

“It's my magnum opus,” he said. “My finest creation.”  

Without each phase, the failures experienced and epiphanies realized that come with having a shaper, I would be missing out on so much more than just surfboards.    

Now, what I realize is that shapers are into the business of fun. They want boards that play because that is what we are about anyway, playing with the earnestness of a five-year old on the beach with friends. It is the only time we can truly forget our troubles and the rest of the world. It is when we can all seriously focus on simply having fun. 

    Thanks, Doc.