These photos may be black and white, but finding your next magic surfboard is not.
There are more surfers today than ever before, but the distance between surfers’ hands and boardmakers has only increased with the influx. Surf industry tycoons used this boom as an opportunity to exploit and taint the supply chain. The result? Lineups everywhere are littered with low quality boards produced abroad in factories by non-surfer labor. It’s a shame seeing these absolute turds floating in the water next to boards masterfully crafted by local shapers, whose jobs are put in jeopardy due to uneducated buyers and poorly made, high-quantity shipments of boards outsourced to cheaper labor.
For the most part today, the sale of a board is directly correlated with the board’s presence in surf media. For example, back in 2014, Haydenshapes dropped the “best surfboard of the year” called the Hypto Krypto, featuring hip looking technology (leave the black rails to the Black Beauty, please) and marketed toward the everyday surfer for “every condition.” The board was a sensationalized hit and ended up being the most purchased board in the world in 2015/2016, largely in part to professional surfer Craig Anderson riding a 5’4” Hypto in pumping Indonesian swell, 10- to 12-foot Kanduis to be exact. In all honesty, it still stands as one of the most fucked up things I’ve seen done on a surfboard. Photos of the wave ended up on the covers of magazines, the clip of the wave has hundreds of thousands of views on each repost and still pops up on suggested social media pages for me some seven years later. With demand through the roof, Haydenshapes moved production to Thailand.
The thing about it, though, is the Hypto Krypto was one of the worst boards I’ve ever paddled out on in my life. Why? Well, I’m not Craig, and a majority of the time I’m surfing waist-high mush burgers at The Poles.
Surfboards are vessels for self education. Surfboards are subjective. I hate to break it to you, but there is no “best surfboard in the world,” no board to make you the next Kelly Slater or give you the courage to paddle out in pumping, double-overhead Indonesian swell. This is not a one-board-fits-all scenario; the board making me want to scratch into five more waves after land life consciousness kicks back in might leave you yawning in the parking lot and vice versa.
The purpose of this piece is to introduce you to a few shapers worth letting take the wheel on what board you should buy next. Local shapers know best. Period.
The two featured here, I feel, have been making a positive impact on the surfing community through their vision and who’s riding their boards but most importantly through the boards coming out of their shops. Surfer/shaper relationships have been the backbone of the surf industry, but these days the relationships take on a much different look.
Despite summer time being the slowest season for surfing in North Florida, it’s also the time when lineups are the most crowded, often due to new surfers looking to try surfing for the first time. New surfers means new boards, and this season I want new board buyers to be educated on why they should shop local, rather than grabbing a used, imported pop-out off Craigslist. Leave that Hypto on the shelf, where it should stay.
There is a certain earned knowledge that comes with being a local shaper. Working with local surfers, and surfing the breaks around the area gives shapers detailed insight into what makes a board work well in Northeast Florida swell conditions. Someone on the other side of the U.S. might not have even seen what waves we surf here, whereas local shapers are in the trenches every day.
“Performance always comes first for me. It’s got to function. Like when I know someone’s bought a board and they’re telling me they’re gonna hang it on the wall, sometimes I just want to give them their money back. It’s got to function first. But I can’t do that,” explained Tony Lannorone of Clean Ocean Surfboards (COS).
COS boards stand out in the lineup like no others. Perfectly balanced outlines and sexy curves coupled with pristine glassing is what you can expect when you snag your board from the factory. Lannorone has made a name for himself in the East Coast longboard community for having some of the logs around and some of the best surfers riding them, like Trent Phillips and Austin Strecker, both riding a Chingona here.
Lannorone has been shaping boards since he was 13 years old but started taking it as a career in 1989; he shaped his 10,000th board a few years ago and shapes hundreds of boards each year. He draws much of his inspiration from early ’70s and ’80s classic board design and the boards he would come across when he was a kid. His expertise runs deep and talking with him is like sitting next to a fountain of surf knowledge, but my favorite thing about him is his views on mentoring the next generation of shapers.
When Lannorone first started shaping surfboards, the only real way to learn was through trial and error on your own or by watching and learning from an experienced shaper. Today, YouTube, websites and all sorts of outlets teach board design, but still the best way to learn is to get into the shaping bay with someone who’s already producing high quality boards. Lannorone isn’t afraid to let someone in his shaping bay; he’s happy to share all the information he’s gathered over the years with people who are willing to put in the work, and he actively mentors a few up-and-coming shapers he feels have their hearts in the right place.
“Back in the day, shapers would only want you around because they wanted you to do all the grunt work. But you learned things from just osmosis and learning why you’re doing certain things. They’d show you the steps, but at the same time, you had to kind of figure it out on your own. Now with Instagram, I feel like a lot of guys coming up mimic what they see on Instagram, but they don’t really understand why they’re doing those things,” explained Lannorone.
One shaper Lannorone currently works with and mentors is Sean Piper of Piper Surfing Boards, formerly Ghetto Surfboards. Piper has been running his own board shaping business out of his backyard for the past 10 years but recently put his day job to rest in order to put in longer hours in the shaping bay.
While Lannorone found inspiration in classic board designs and shapers like Hap Jacobs, Piper picked up shaping thanks to the 1995 Lost Surfboards cult classic 5’5” 19 ¼, featuring Chris Ward and Cory Lopez riding modern-style fish surfboards that were 5’5” long and 19¼” wide (considered revolutionary at the time). Much like the Hypto Krypto, the Round Nose Fish, as it’s known, exploded and still is in production today, but unlike the Hypto, the board was not readily accessible to anyone with a credit card and was very difficult to get your hands on, so Piper took to the shaping bay and shaped one for himself.
The Round Nose Fish was unprecedented in design and still influences board design today. For his 10th year anniversary, Piper shaped a tribute 5’5” 19 ¼” style fish. I felt truly honored to not only hold this tribute board but also the first 5’5” he ever shaped. When I held both under my arm, I could just tell they wanted to go fast.
In addition to the design of the Round Nose Fish, Piper specializes in small, alternative style performance boards. His boards are easily characterized by the bright resin colors and eye-catching outlines. But what impresses me most about Piper’s shaping is his range. Not only does he whip up a smile-inducing alternative shortboard, but his longboards are up there with the best.
So if you’re looking to get your hands on a new board this season, rather than heading to Google for a “what’s the best surfboard” search, hit up one of these locals. Talking through board design with your shaper will not only help you get the exact board you’re looking for, but you’ll start to understand why the board is gonna work and what you can expect with board feel, ultimately leading to more fun in the water.