Interviews by Matty Raynor
I remember the first surfboard I shaped very clearly. My dad brought it home from a landfill, and I stripped off the old fiberglass and attempted to reshape the foam into what I thought a 100-pound 13-year-old should be riding. The scarcity of boards for kids my age (coupled with a scarcity of cash as a teenager) started me on this path. Two decades later, my desire to take something raw and refine it into something functional has allowed me to live and support my family.
In the line of work as a surfboard shaper, there are endless variables. To do it well, you have to be curious, and love the novelty of the craft. Learning to adapt and evolve your designs to fit specific wave contours, body types, and wave-riding styles keeps it exciting. Below, I talk shop with a handful of shapers from different islands, who each have a unique approach to the boards they build.
Hilo, Hawai‘i Island
Known For: Contemporary Alaia
Raynor: Brandan Ahuna exclusively builds boards called “alaia,” which are Hawaiian surfboards made with a single plank of wood, traditionally heavy koa or ‘ulu (breadfruit) wood, and without fins. But Ahuna has created alaia that are fine-tuned to be ridden with a much more contemporary approach.
Raynor: What is your interpretation of the alaia design?
Ahuna: The traditional alaia was plain and simple, ranging anywhere from 5 to 8 feet in length. A lot of what makes my alaia designs different is the use of different, lighter woods, like paulownia, glued together with other types of hard woods, like koa, mango, purple heart, and java plum for strength. I also like to experiment with different contours, tail shapes, and rails to allow the board to be more stable and yield more control to the rider.
How did you become so committed to building them?
As a Native Hawaiian, the ocean is a big part of my life. Being able to handcraft a board out of a natural piece of wood and ride waves on it is an incredible feeling. The balance of the wood on the water gives off a natural energy, and gives me a strong connection to my ancestors before me. The feeling I get when I surf my alaia is nothing but pure happiness, and to be able to share that feeling with others is what keeps me stoked.
Known For: Surfing prowess, versatility in shaping
Raynor: I first met Matt Kinoshita when we competed in a novelty, shapers-only heat at a surf contest on O‘ahu. He smoked the entire field. A lot of his technique can be credited to how well he knows the lineups, how well he surfs, and the seemingly limitless amount of knowledge he holds in the shaping bay. In an industry notorious for guarding designs and tricks of the trade, Kinoshita shares his knowledge freely.
Raynor: What started your board-building career?
Kinoshita: I was born on O‘ahu, but lived on Maui my entire life. As a teenager, my surfing coach was Ben Aipa, who was also my shaping mentor. The way that Ben taught me to shape 30 years ago is the same way that I shape today. It’s perfect. I call it the Aipa method, and it has stood the test of time.
How did you develop your versatility?
Aipa taught me to “fear no blank,” which involved using very oversized blanks to eliminate any restrictions in creating your vision. This opened the door to an “anything is possible” mentality, which was perfect for a place like Maui, where we have world-class surf, longboarding, windsurf, kitesurf, [stand-up paddling], [tow-in] surfing, foilboarding, and ultra-big-wave surfing. Being a shaper here is the ultimate test in versatility.
Known For: Performance boards
Raynor: The Tokoro logo has long been a staple in the quiver of the majority of successful surfers who have taken part in the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing. From Hawai‘i to Europe and beyond, shapers have been heavily influenced by the curves and contours that Tokoro has set in place.
Raynor: Can you give me a brief history of your shaping career?
Tokoro: My brother Kerry and I started shaping in 1985 in our backyard. We both love surfing and working with our hands, so it came natural to start building our own boards. Since I started shaping, I’ve built boards for the likes of Jamie O’Brien, Andy and Bruce Irons, Sunny Garcia, Mick Fanning, and Gabriel Medina.
You’re known for making boards that perform amazingly out at Pipeline, but you’re also no stranger to the lineup yourself.
I’ve been surfing there since 1982, and know the wave relatively well. I feel fortunate that I’m able to field test some of my boards. While I’m surfing, I’m thinking about how the board is working and what I can do to adjust and improve on the designs. I also spend a lot of time working with team riders, getting feedback, and dialing in certain models. Communication is very important in the board-building process.
Known For: Five-fin boards, custom fins, perfectionism
Raynor: Greg Griffin is a true legend of the craft, who is committed to making something noticeably different, like his signature five-fin surfboards. He also builds a custom set of fins specifically for each board he shapes.
Raynor: How did you get into shaping?
Griffin: I started shaping in 1967 under Doug Haut, and built boards through the “shortboard revolution,” which gave me a very interesting perspective and experience. I moved to Hawai‘i in 1980 to shape for Local Motion. From there, I shaped under all the major labels, and was able to refine my multi-fin design in the mid-‘80s as T&C’s lead shaper. Since 2007, I’ve been shaping under my own label.
Why do you insist on making custom fins for each board?
I created all my designs and the fins for them before [the technology for removable fin systems like] FCS and Futures existed. (Up until they came around in the late 1990s, custom fins were much more common.) My boards require a very specific fin setup, and neither of them have fins that are designed for my boards, so I make the fins myself to complete the designs.
[These interviews have been edited and condensed.]