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Inside San Diego’s Shaper Studios

Shaper Studios in San Diego

Surfboard shaping is an art form usually reserved for the masters. That is, until San Diego’s Shaper Studios opened, allowing longtime surfers to become first-time shapers.


San Diego, a city entrenched in surf culture, has been home to many of the most important shapers and surfboard designers in history: Skip Frye and his ultra-long trimmers and gliders; Steve Lis, who invented the groundbreaking fish; and Rusty Preisendorfer (known for Rusty Surfboards) and his recognizable high-performance shortboards – to name a few.

So it makes sense that the world’s first public surfboard shaping workshop, Shaper Studios, opened in this very same city. The airy two-story building – located in the hipsterhood of North Park and home to work spaces, materials, and expertise – provides an opportunity previously unavailable to surfers: to create a board with their own two hands. But more than that, it’s about deepening their connection to surfing by learning firsthand how the tiniest shift in the variables of a board – angles, weight, shape – can hugely influence how one rides, and how the board responds to a rolling, unpredictable wave. Surfing wouldn’t be an art if it first weren’t for the art of the board.

How Shaper Studios Came to Be

Started by San Diegans Chris Clark and Derrick Kapalla in 2013, Shaper Studios was originally intended as a place for experienced shapers to practice their hobby among all the necessary tools in exchange for a membership fee. The 3,000-square-foot warehouse features three shaping bays with dark interiors and blaring side lights that look like stages upon which the shaper is the star. Upstairs in the glassing room, varicolored resins have dripped and layered onto hardened puddles on the floor like a dreamy Jackson Pollock painting. But the company learned quickly that the majority of the clients who came through the doors were actually average surfers with little to no shaping experience at all. So they began offering lessons.

Shaper Studios in San Diego

How it Works

You can sign up for a range of different lessons, including a Group Class, a Buddy Lesson, or the cream of the crop, a Private Lesson. If looking to shape an entire surfboard from start to finish by yourself, you’ll want to select one of the two latter courses, which includes roughly four to six hours of instruction and range in price from $600 to $900 per person (depending on the size of the surfboard you want to make; foam blank is provided).

What You’ll Learn

Instructors help you select your preferred template (akin to blueprints), then show you how to trace the template on the foam blank and cut it using a saw. Once your angles are the perfect 90 degrees on top and bottom, you operate an electric planer to “skin the blank” (take layers off the deck) to transform harsh right angles into curves you can picture yourself holding underwater. The final touch is using a handsaw to cut your preferred tail shape, after which you hand over the board to Shaper Studios to professionally glass in the next two weeks (if you’re only in town for a short time, Shaper Studios will ship your board anywhere in the world).

Shaper Studios in San Diego

What It’s Like to Surf a Board You Made

It’s not easy at first. In fact, you should expect to have to make several attempts before finally catching your first wave. But you will get used to the board and how to ride it. And while it might not be as flawless as a Takayama or Rusty, it is something you made. Something that has brought you closer to the art form of not just surfing, but surfboard shaping.

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