Capturing Cobley: Profile on Local Shaper Dan Cobley
“Becker came to me and was like ‘I love your boards but really Dan, taking out the beveled nose on the UFO?’
It took a breakfast at Tammie’s and a mid-week Malibu surf safari to really get Cobley going.
His introduction to surfing, at age 8, was as unconventional as they come.
“My Mom’s from Catalina. I first stood up at a beach break on the backside of the island,” he said.
“I was ditching class to surf and smoke pot,” the now long time sober shaper laughed. “I went to every continuation school in the South Bay.”
“Kent Wyatt was a bad ass who’d only go out if it was like double overhead at Manhattan Beach Pier,” the ’97 West High graduate said of his surf coach. “He’d try to rally us to surf contests on Saturday’s but we’re like, we’re going to party Friday night and wake-up around 2 p.m.”
After high school, Cobley competed on the Professional Longboard Association series, a contest circuit with events up and down the coast. But the political nature of the organization left a bad taste.
“You could do the best hit in the world and still lose to the bigger names,” he said. “It got under my skin.”
Cobley was riding Hap Jacob’s boards with wedge stringers and all the bells and whistles. But a chance riding of a Dave Daum (now of King’s Paddle Sport) shape at a private cove took Cobley in a different direction.
“I had a beautiful new Jacobs, red resin tint gloss and polish with a hi-density stringer that I didn’t want to take out because of the crowd and the chance of dings,” he said.
From his old VW bus (his forth one as he drives them to dust), he pulled out the “Dominator.”
“It wasn’t pretty, with curve bally rails, like my longboards now,” Cobley joked, “But it worked like magic.”
Cobley has nothing but good things to say about Jacobs. He considers him “an all time great” and “respects him more than anybody.” At this time, though, he started working with Daum.
“Daum ran a machine shop and made boards as a hobby for friends,” Cobley said and laughed, “missing out on his kids’ soccer and stuff.”
The second board Daum made was not exactly like the “Dominator.” In fact, everyone was a little different, but usually fell in the 9’-6’ range with a rounded pin or square tail and a 2+1 fin set-up.
“My favorite board was the 9’ Carpathia model because it was devilish good,” he said. “Tail 360s [whirly birds], big snaps, and I could noseride when I wanted to.”
On the side, Cobley experimented with shaping his first board. He was inspired by his dad, whom Cobley described as “a huge inspiration, a big influence, and a DIY guy either mechanical or with wood.” When his dad was remodeling a bedroom in the Cobley house, Cobley took the opportunity to use his dad’s tools.
Cobley asked Daum to teach him to shape boards. Every weekend he’d be in Encinitas, shaping in Daum’s garage learning the fundamentals, skills, and how to use a Rockwell
“Daum is a master engineer and it shows in his shapes being by the measurements,” Cobley said. “I more of an intuitive go-by the feel guy, but we collaborate.”
By ‘98 Cobley was a frequent visitor of Mangiagli’s Glassing and the Becker factory, where he bought blanks from Phil Becker.
One day after buying a blank, Becker said to Cobley, “Sonny you want a job.”
Cobley believing Becker to be pulling a fast one on him smiled and said, “For you, no,” as he went to pull out a blank from the racks.
“Seriously, 30 boards a week and I’m not kidding,” Becker said.
Cobley was still convinced that Becker was messing with him. The two bantered back and forth until Cobley finally realized Becker was serious.
“I told Becker I had to think about it and inquire about not stepping on anybody’s toes,” he said.
Cobley found out that the shaper he would replace was moving on voluntarily to work for another label.
“The hell with it, the first day I made 7 or 8 boards with an order card for that week of 40 boards and the whip comes,” he said. “Thanks Phil.”
“Stock production keeps you busy and paid,” he said, “But it could be a bit tedious because shaping for me is an artist’s release and great fun.”
Cobley would get creative and add subtle tweaks to each model. On the UFO model, he first took out the beveled nose. On the next batch of UFOs he also changed the rocker a skoosh, and finally the rail shapes.
“Becker loved me because I was doing 50 to 60 boards a week, keeping the glassing shop busy,” he said, “But he came to me and was like ‘I love your boards but really Dan, but taking out the beveled nose on the UFO? [The UFO was one of Becker’s designs from the’ 60s when he shaped for Rick Surfboards.] We laughed about it.”
Becker is an inspirational person to Cobley. He views Becker as “a voice of reason” who “tells you straight and how it is.”
“One of the best things Becker has taught me is to evolve the fads in the market and grow the design,” he said. “Don’t be a copier, but a designer who gets the original intent and makes it work.”
This “designer ethos” would lead to the next step in Cobley’s shaping career.
“I was getting kind of tired of being a human shaping machine and with Phil retiring, I felt it was time to make my exit,” he said. “I had a feeling Becker corporate was not into my style or me.”
Cobley embraced being a custom surfboard shaper.
“I’ve found that working closely with the individual I can dial in that magic board and get them on a better board then what they have been on,” he said.
During the shaping room photo shoot, photographer and DZ graphic design guru Mark Kawakami and I got to see Cobley in action with one of his regulars.
A customer took in an older Cobley board to be replicated, but he wanted it glassed a little heavier. It was a quad fin, a fin set-up first popular in the early ’80s, with the thickness, a swallow tail outline and a beak nose straight off of Mike Purpus’ mid-70s quiver, and a modern bottom with a double barrel concave.
“I love reinvesting in and examining these old designs,” he said as he pulled out different templates laying them on the board to figure out how he came up with such a wild shape.
The customer, Carlos Lopez, mentioned what he like about the board and it being his favorite stick.
“The variables that go into making surfboards are so broad and complex that the puzzle never ends. It’s a life long love because people, waves, and conditions change,” he said. “I’m focused solely on the individual with hand shapes and not this mass production crap.” DZ