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Shaping Room: Building Your Own Custom Board with Chris Clark

Updated: Jun 20, 2020

We've been working with Chris Clark for just over a year now, and can't say enough about how rad this guy is! He's always down for new ideas, willing to help with anything at the drop of a hat, incredibly passionate about all things outdoors, and as you will come to find out below, incredibly talented when it comes to surfboard designs. Shaping a surfboard with Chris Clark should be on every avid surfer's checklist.

AIO: How long have you been shaping boards?

Chris Clark: This is year 16 for me, I started in 2005. I remember that first board like it was yesterday, but when I think back over all the boards and all the different changes in surfboard design, it’s definitely been a while.

How was that first board? Did it work?

CC: Oh yeah, that’s what got me hooked. I realized this was something I could do and really enjoy it, You know, I love working with my hands, and I love surfing … so when you put those two together, I was in love.

You’ve been a surfer your whole life, and live in San Diego, is that where you grew up?

CC: No, I grew up in the San Francisco Bay area. Originally I was a little, not landlocked, but locked from good surf. It’s hard to get into surfing if you’re from San Francisco, the waves aren’t super beginner friendly. So I didn’t really first stand up till I was on a family trip to Maui when I was 13. And I was obsessed with it ever since then. Then when I got my driver’s license I started driving to Santa Cruz every weekend. And then when I went to apply for colleges I was like, “This is a great opportunity to put myself in a better surfing situation (laughs)”. So I ended up in San Diego and never left.

R&D time.

Who would you say is the most exciting surfer you’ve had a chance to work with/shape boards for? Have you had any, “Wow, how did I get here?” moments?

CC: Yeah definitely, I can name a handful for all completely different reasons. I’ve gotta’ start with Kelly Slater, having an opportunity to shape a board for him and talk to him about surfboard design. That has to be one of the top highlights. From a design/gearhead/technology focus side, Kai Lenny had been amazing to work with just because he is so dialed into his gear and understands it really well. There are some female surfers that I’ve had the opportunity to work with on a variety of different things. So it kind of spans the spectrum; there’s been some really cool stories throughout the years.

You had the chance to go to (Kelly Slater’s) The Surf Ranch and build some boards too, right?

CC: Yeah I’ve been to the Surf Ranch three times now - and no, I haven’t had a chance to surf it yet. That’s always the first question I get. But I’ve gotten to shape there a bunch and it’s really cool from and R&D perspective to see boards come through there and get the quick feedback. You can see now how much board testing is going on there. It’s a perfect use for it. Just the exponential learning you get from testing equipment on waves like that is really, really good. You have that control element (a consistent wave) which is almost impossible to find in the ocean. It’s a great place to R&D from a materials side and you can really match the shapes and curves of the wave to the board, which is how I begin all design. And then you can just put it to the test and get so many repetitions in over a short period of time.

As it relates to your Adventures in our app, you have a mobile shaping studio, is that what you take to Kelly’s place to work on boards while you are there?

CC: Yeah that rig has been everywhere. It’s been really cool to bring shaping TO people, especially in environments like that. When we first started Shaper Studios we were bringing surfboard shaping out to neighborhoods from industrial parks - out of the shadows really. And then the mobile version of that was even more impactful because we would try to tell people what we did and how we did it, but it wasn’t the same as seeing it live. The mobile version allowed people to really get up close and see it in person. We’ve done some crazy events, music festivals and things. Joshua Tree was really out there, to shape in the middle of the Mojave Desert in like a120 degree hotbox is pretty mind blowing - the juxtaposition of this surf/water culture thing in the middle of the desert.

So how does a shaping session go for someone that has never shaped a surfboard? (Like me.) Am I going to pull something out that’s rideable at the end of it?

CC: There’s three parts to it. The first is kind of the “download/get-to-know-each-other” part and get to know what you are looking for. SO we kind of know each other before we even step in the studio. And then the meat and potatoes is that time you get to build your own board. There’s somebody there with you the entire time that knows how to do it. And by breaking it down in steps, it’s actually not that difficult. There are things that are far more difficult; surfing is far more difficult than shaping a surfboard. Think about if you had never surfed before and you take first surf lesson - the learning curve there about the waves and the ocean and carrying this board around and getting thrown off - that takes so much longer to master than building a good board. And then there’s the after-shaping portion, where you get to pick up your board and it’s complete and fiberglassed and you have your signature on it and get to take it out for the first time. That’s where the whole experience comes full-circle. You’re like, “Whoa, I just made a turn in the wave with something I just made with my own hands.” That is next-level, and the thing that kept me coming back to shaping surfboards and what a lot of our students experience.

Students of all ages welcome.

How long does it take, start to finish? Can you do it all in one session?

CC: Yeah we’ve got it down to doing the whole lesson in four hours. We go for two hours and then take a little break, go for a surf or have some lunch, and then come back and finish it. So if we start in the morning you’re basically home for lunch. It’s not a huge commitment. If you were to walk into your garage with a piece of foam and no instructor, different story. But it’s not actually that hard (when you know where to start) … we have a good time doing it.

How many boards would you say you build in a year?

CC: That’s actually a good question. I don’t shape full time. I shape a very limited number of boards right now for specific people. I kind of have two projects - I have Shaper Studios, which is teaching, and I will always do that. That’s open source, for the public, for events with the mobile shaping studio, for Adventure IO. Then I have my own project which is high-performance asymmetry. An article came out in Surfer magazine that talks about the future of asymmetrical (designs) in high-performance surfboards, which has never been done before. So that’s what I’m focused on right now; I work with a small group of surfers both on and off the tour, aerial surfers, etc. and designing boards for them. And then I’m doing about 10 a month for customers.

Can you explain a little bit more about the benefits of asymmetrical boards?

CC: Yeah, so the one constant in surfing is your stance. It will never change, you’ll always have a toeside and a heelside, whether you’re going frontside or backside, right or left on a wave. So when designing the equipment you have a right-foot forward and a left-foot forward, and it’s about optimizing that equipment to improve the performance based on your stance. So it’s going to be different pressure points, different weight balances in the equipment that people have never considered because they’re always worried about making a board perfectly symmetrical down the middle.

Clark is pioneering new lines in asymmetrical boards.

Tell us about your involvement with Lululemon.

CC: I’m coming up on two years as an Ambassador for Lululemon. It’s a really cool network of people that are up to rad shit - just game changers, mover, shakers, entrepreneurs. Some are in the fitness industry, some are cooking professionals, they’re all different. The brand is really supportive of all of us as entrepreneurs and visionaries, what our dreams are, and helping us reach our potentials. On the product side, as a surfer, I think they make the best boardshort on the planet. And they do that quietly. The brand has really supported me in a lot of different ways.

Okay, one last thing - how have you been getting by during quarantine? Give us some recommendations on how to stay entertained.

CC: So I got into running and downloaded some Audible books and I’ve “read” more books in the last two months than I’ve read in the last 15 years (laughing.) I feel so good, I’m crushing books and just absorbing knowledge. But I hear a lot of people say “I’m trying to stay busy.”. And busy is one of those words that I just axed from my vocabulary in January of this year. I read a book about the elimination of hurry from your life. I’ve been focused on getting creative. Whether it’s coming up with business venture ideas or surfboard concepts - anything I can do to stimulate creativity during this time, take advantage of it. Because without this pause button you have ideas in your head but you never make time to do them. So now I’m like, “Okay, put the pencil to the paper, let’s go, let’s get creative.”

*Note - This interview was edited for length. To hear more from Chris on a variety of subjects, including Kai Lenny’s genius at Nazare, shaping hybrid boards with Rob Machado and the future of asymmetrical surfboard designs, check out the raw interview video below:

To inquire about booking a private shaping session with Chris, CLICK HERE


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