Kevin Cody

Best of the South Bay Sports, Part II

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Best shaper

Pat Ryan, ET Surfboards

Few shapers have been more outspoken in their criticism of imported, machine-made surfboards than ET Surfboard’s Pat Ryan.

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For the past decade, Ryan has argued with anyone who would listen that “pop-out” surfboards are too limited in their designs, too stiff, and most importantly, have no soul.

Ryan began shaping in 1970, under the tutelage of pioneer shaper and big wave rider Greg Noll. Over the subsequent three decades he honed his art hand planing over 25,000 surfboard blanks. In addition to shaping ET Surfboards, Ryan is the exclusive U.S. shaper for McTavish Surfboards, Australia’s most prominent longboard maker. Ryan is one of the sport’s few shapers who are equally respected for their shortboards and longboards.

Last summer Ryan went into what he jokingly refers to as “10 percent” retirement. He put down his $100 Skil electric hand planer in favor of a $100,000 KKL shaping machine. The machine shapes shortboard blanks in 15 minutes. For a shaper to achieve the same result, he must draw the template on the blank, cut the outline with a saw, thin the blank with a planer, sculpt the shape with a power sander, refine it with a sanding block, then shape the rails with a screen. The process can take a skilled shaper an hour, or all day.

The shaping machine opened Ryan to criticism that he had capitulated to the corporate-industrial assault on the soul of surfing.

Ryan’s response is that shapers are defined by their designs, not their tools.

The machine’s speed and the relief it offers from the elbow tendonitis that afflicts most shapers are benefits, he acknowledges.

But the true value of the machine, he insists, is its ability to execute, more precisely than the shaper himself can, what is in the shaper’s mind.

Surfboard manufacturers such as Spyder in Hermosa Beach and Santa Barbara’s Channel Islands have been using shaping machines for nearly a decade. But until recently, Ryan said, the machines could only copy designs scanned from hand-shaped blanks. As a result, the machines were largely limited to reproducing generic designs, or for shaping mold plugs for the imported “pop out” boards.

Surfers don’t want a generic design, Ryan says. They want boards designed for their weight, their height, their style of surfing and their waves.

Ryan’s shaping machine is driven by a new software program from 3D Motion System Designs, similar to the CAD programs used by architects. It allows the shaper to custom design individual boards on a computer. Like an artist who sets aside his brushes for a computer stylus, Ryan put down his planer in favor of a mouse.

Instead of the surfer who wants a new board standing for hours in a shaping bay watching Ryan bring their shared vision to life, the surfer and Ryan sit in a closet-size room next to the shaping bay, in front of a personal computer.

From among the dozens of surfboard templates he has created, Ryan opened one for a six-foot-seven thruster. Four views appeared on the screen, representing the board’s outline, cross-section, rocker and thickness.

The rocker template showed the nose has five-and-a-half inches of rocker.

“If this was your magic board, but if you wanted a little less rocker and a little more volume for winter, I could change the dimensions with two clicks,” Ryan said.

One click and a few strokes on the down key reduced the rocker template from five-and-a-half inches to five. Another click and a few strokes on the right cursor stretched the outline template four inches.

Jags on the outline template showed that the new dimensions created inconsistencies in the flow line. Ryan corrected the problem by dragging the “hips” forward from the tail.

Another click and a rotating, three-dimensional view of the doctored design appeared on the screen.

Seven minutes and 96 passes of the planer later, the shaping machine had produced a sculpted blank, that except for shallow ridges left by the machine’s one-inch wide blade, looked ready for glassing. A few minutes of Ryan’s time with a circular sander to erased the ridges and a few passes with a screen to smooth the rails and the blank was ready for glassing.

Surfers who seek that “magic” board have long been frustrated by the inability of even the best shapers to make exact copies of even their own shapes. The machine can do it, Ryan noted, tomorrow, or five years from now.

Ryan recalled that as a 17-year-old Mira Costa senior doing ding repairs while teaching himself to shape on blemished blanks, he earned a prized slot as a shaper for Noll, and later Eddie Talbot because 1970 was the cusp of surfing’s transition from longboards to shortboards. Many experienced longboard shapers resisted the transition, opening the door for young, new shapers who recognized the sport’s future.

ET Surfboards, 904 Aviation Blvd., Hermosa Beach 379-7660; 904 Aviation Blvd., Hermosa Beach 379-7660

Runner-up: Tyler Hatzikian, Tyler Surfboards, 305 Richmond St., El Segundo 322-6861.

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