The St. Augustine Issue

Oldest City Shapers

Though Florida’s surf communities are collectively known for the ridiculous number of surf stars the state’s produced — Frieda Zamba, Lisa Anderson, a couple Hobgoods, some Lopezes and Geiselmans, Justin Quintal, King Kelly and more — it’s rare that the Sunshine State gets its proper due for the experienced, unsung craftsmen putting boards under those stars’ feet.

Needless to say, without the decades of skilled craftsmen, like Florida surf pioneer, Dick Catri, Cocoa Beach’s Slater-whisperer Matt Kechele, or Rockledge-based master shaper Ricky Carroll, the state’s standouts would never have been able to cultivate surf careers from the Atlantic’s fickle, gutless waves.

While it is an eclectic, accomplished bunch, St. Augustine’s current crop of shapers operate in an understated, inconspicuous manner befitting of the local surf scene’s collective air. From Autrey Surfboard’s low-key Waimmea charger, Josh Autrey, to the half dozen or so guys ghost shaping high performance blades for big international brands like …Lost and Channel Islands, those shaping boards in and around St. Augustine tend to let their craftsmanship do the talking.

Drew Baggett

Inspired Surfboards, ghost shaper for …Lost Surfboards

What’s the first board you ever shaped?

The first board I ever shaped was a Kelly Slater full-on, elf-shoe, rockered-out pointy nose piece of crap. I had copied the outline from a friend’s Natural Art and it didn’t come out anything like the board I traced. I probably spent five weeks messing with it before I actually lammed it. I mean every single night just going into the garage and changing little things here and there until I was happy enough — or actually until I knew I shouldn’t take anything else off of anywhere.

It was Dow extruded polystyrene — “Doug’s foam”: MCF was the trade name (megalite closed cell foam), but it was basically an XTR without the holes poked in. That’s all I shaped for the first five or six years I think. The foam is so hard, and there were little tricks to building with it, but in the end they would almost all bubble up. Mine never did because I kept them on ice, but any of my friends or guys around Ft. Myers and Captiva, where I was living at the time, that bought boards from me, they would leave them in the car and it’s about 150 degrees in the shade down there most of the year. It’s a recipe for disaster with closed cell Dow foam. I still have a soft spot for the foam, though. I think the boards ride unreal. I keep a little chunk in the rafters for personals.

So then my friend Johnny Lucas was bugging me, going “why don’t you get some Clark foam and make life easier on yourself.” So I did and it felt like I was totally cheating, it was so easy. I loved it. I only got my feet wet for a few years with the poly before Grubby Clark of Clark Foam shut her down and I went back to all epoxy the same week. Never looked back. Epoxies just make so much sense for boards here in FL. We really have to rely on the boards to do most of the work that the waves don’t do. I mean half the time there is just very little push, so we have to design the energy into the boards.

Where is your operation located now?

I’m in St. Augustine, in our little industrial zone. We have like one street in the whole zip code that was zoned light industrial. So all the mechanics and boat guys and carpenters and my little factory — we are all in one little ghetto. It’s pretty cool. I love all the salt of the earth guys I hang with every day.

I have about 2,000 square feet which is perfect for what I do — a little two-man operation. I’m sure guys in other areas would trip on how cheap my rent is. I’ve been in this space for five years, I moved around the street for a while until I found the perfect one for me. I hope I’m here forever. It’s about 15 minutes to the beach, and about five minutes to my boat ramp. I keep my boat out here, so I never have to tell on myself with the wifey if I decide I need a lunch break sesh.

...Lost “Psycho Killer” C4 Tech, Inspired “Deuces Wild” in Stringerless EPS with Cypress, ...Lost “Bean Bag” in C3 Tech Carbon Cork Composite Julien Roubinet

What’s your specialty?

My specialty is building epoxies. Working with carbon and cork and wood veneers and vacuum bagging. Higher end, tough, light boards. That’s what drives me everyday. To make boards that perform at a very high level, are super light, and can take a beating. Not indestructible, just tough as hell. That’s what turns me on. I never thought that I would be “the world’s best shaper” and in fact I gave up on trying to grow a surfboard “label” a long time ago. My label, Inspired Surfboards does okay. I sell to a bunch of my friends, and friends of friends, and I’m very happy with that. Selling sucks.

I’ve been very fortunate to hook up with Matt Biolos and …Lost surfboards. Matt has some of the best shapers on the planet, and their brand is kind of a big deal. So I am very blessed to be able to build …Lost surfboards in all of my different technologies. And it’s the most fun I could possibly have, while growing a little “niche” in this industry. Matt’s super fun to bounce ideas off of, and he likes experimenting with new tech — which is perfect for me. I like all of the guys at …Lost it’s a great crew to be involved with. I feel like there is a real future there, which is kind of rare right now.

What’s the best board you’ve ever shaped?

I don’t know if one stands out more than the rest. For me, there is always something that I want to improve on. It’s a curse. I have a few gems for myself that sit in the showroom that I’m probably too fat for now. There was a run of twin fins that I built in college that I think about all the time. Every time I shape a twinny I think of that run of boards.

I have an eight-year old who I’ve been so patient with, waiting on him to get the bug without pushing too hard. And this past summer I built his first “real” board and that one is super special to me, because I’ve been able to have some great sessions with him this summer. Then there’s my wife’s SUP. I hate those things, in fact, I probably won’t build and sell another. But the one I built for her gets her out on the water with me. And the board I’m currently riding is an absolute keeper. It’s a new tech that …Lost will launch next year, and I got to go first. I love it. It came at the perfect time for a great hurricane season.

What is unique about being a shaper in Northeast Florida?

Northeast Florida is just a special place. It’s home. I’ll never leave here. There is a great crew of guys building boards all around Florida and I’ve made some great lifelong friends. I think in my city, the guys are awesome. Nobody is shy to ask to borrow a fin box or leash cup or something we are waiting on getting delivered. Because we are kind of on an island. We can’t just roll up to a distributor and grab something on the fly. There is no real industry here. It’s just us, and we help each other when we can. There is no real “competition” between the few of us. We have our own little deals, we service our own crews, and we all build different kind of boards. There are a few up and coming guys here in St. Augustine that I’m stoked to see them evolve. I haven’t seen any new guys come and really take a crack at it quite like I’m hoping to see the new crew do.

Julien Roubinet

Do the waves in St. Augustine dictate the kinds of shapes you make? What would a California or Australia shaper not understand about shaping boards for Northeast Florida?

Our waves definitely dictate the boards here. You need to have a board that can generate its own speed and maximize energy returns. You can’t waste any energy or speed at all because the wave is short and the face is flat, generally. You have to have a board that has a spark. I think that translates to other waves around the world better than other shapers from around the world translate to our waves.

How has your perspective on surfing/shaping changed since you started shaping?

I guess that just has to do with getting older and raising a family. My perspective is so much different now compared to when I was building boards for beer money or when I was bartending just to float this business. I think I’m much more grounded now. I know my lane and I’m just doing the best that I can to push myself and my factory in the right path. I spend a lot less time paying attention to things going on in the industry, and much more time making sure we are putting out the best product that we can. I mean, those outside factors like the customers buying trends, imports, all that stuff comes and goes. The cream always rises to the top, you just have to make absolutely sure that your product can stand out. Quality shows.

5-fin Bonzer, Hybrid Shortboard, Standard Shortboard Julien Roubinet

Kevin Mileski

Black Pearl Creations

What’s the first board you ever shaped?

The first shape I started, I never finished. I karate chopped the sucker in half. I made a few mistakes and knew I could do way better. In my younger days, I put so much damn pressure on myself. The second attempt was a 5’7” keel fish. I glassed it also and hand foiled the fins — no leash plug. I still have it.

Where is your operation located?

I have a facility on the corner of Dobbs and Dobbs cutoff near Epic Movies. It’s an all in-house-start-to-finish operation. I also do repairs and glass for smaller companies or shapers. I scaled back some years ago to find a balance in life. I literally spent 20 years in a board building environment. Now I have an even balance with music and boards and I’m much happier.

Do you have a shaping mentor? Any local shapers you look up to?

I really look up to the small guys hacking away in some shitty little shaping room. The business has grown in a way that it’s become just that: a business. The sheep follow trends put out by the mainstream, but the trends are created by the small guy with nothing to lose. My heroes are the backyard crews.
Locally, that’d be guys like the Conklin boys, Crust surfboards, Tempo surf. And I have mad respect for Inspired Surfboards.

What’s your specialty?

I’ve become pretty well rounded, here. I hand shape everything, so any design I need is in the 100 templates I have acquired over the 27 years. I really love East Coast equipment. There is a real art to small wave surfing. I tend to lean a little more high performance, but I think the ever changing conditions require an open mind to equipment.

What’s the best board you ever shaped?

Magic boards happen. Do ya believe in magic? When a customer is happy with the board we create, it’s the best board ever. I work on such a personal level, one-by-one. I bring the relationship and the ideas to the customer and I develop and try to produce them a dream board.

Julien Roubinet

What is unique about being a shaper in Northeast Florida?

Northeast Florida is super special. We held on to the old school roots and ways. Maybe all them southern rock bands that spawn from the area helped. I think sense of community goes along way. I love St. Augustine and am truly blessed to call this home and do what I do here.

Do the waves in St. Augustine dictate the kinds of shapes you make? What would a California or Australian shaper not understand about shaping boards for Northeast Florida?

Shaping boards for small waves is tricky. Creating a board that works in good waves is much simpler. Small wave boards need to be able to manipulate and hustle the wave to get any kind of jam out. The whole “float like a butterfly sting like a bee,” or “tiptoe through the Daisy’s thing.” I love the art of small wave surfing.

Drew McCormick & Kevin Sullivant

Cambium Surfboards

What’s the first board you ever shaped?

Kevin: The first board I ever shaped was a 6’4” single fin pintail back in ‘99. A good friend of mine, Shawn Hughes, and I were talking one day about how cool it would be to shape a board and he said that he had a shed at his house to do it in. So we went and got some blanks and some basic hand tools and hacked out our own boards. Overall it wasn’t a bad board, just way too fat and flat as hell. The best part was that it was fun as all get out to ride mainly because I had made it myself. After that I was hooked and eventually got my foot in the door polishing boards thanks to my friend Zeph Carrigg. After that I started trying to absorb as much board building knowledge as I could.

Drew: I started out on some single fins, which you were definitely hard pressed to find anywhere in Florida (even to this day). There’s just something about them that keeps me coming back. My first goings with the laminating process were a bit rough, but they rode decent.

Do you have a shaping mentor? Any local shapers you look up to?

Kevin: Dennis Murphy and Larry Gordon without a doubt had the most influence on me. Growing up in San Diego I got to surf with Larry regularly and he always had good advice on board design whenever I was getting ready to get a new board. Later on in life when I started working at a local board factory polishing boards I met Dennis Murphy who took me under his wing and started giving me pointers on perfecting my craft. One day after I had just finished making my fourth board I was walking by Dennis and he stopped me to ask who had shaped my board. When I told him I did and it was only my fourth board he told me he wanted me to start working directly for him. He then sat me down and taught me his method for shaping so I could get the same results every time. Once he felt I had learned enough I started ghost shaping for him up until Clark Foam went out of business and all the work dried up.

Drew: Shit, there’s too many to mention. I love all of the originators: Velzy, Jacobs, Hobie, etc. I mean these guys were figuring everything out on their own with no guidelines, they were real fucking craftsmen! And those shapes and techniques are still widely used today, but it’s a shame that most of  this younger generation has no idea who they are. There’s a bunch of local guys in North Florida that are really good — Kevin Mileski, Drew Baggett, Mike Whisnant — that are really pushing board design and even construction.

Round Nose Fish, Hollow Wood Fish, Pintail Mid-Length Julien Roubinet

What’s your specialty?

Kevin: Defiantly logs and retro shapes, basically anything that promotes smooth style and flow. My favorite boards to shape though are Skip Frye inspired Double Eagles and Fish Simmons due to their complex bottom contours and rails. They take a long time to make but the end result is always
something magical.

Drew: I love fishes, of all fin varieties. Kevin and I have been working hard on getting a perfect one dialed in, and with a little nod to Larry Mabile, I think we have got the perfect little twin fin or quad fish worked up now.

What is unique about being a shaper in Northeast Florida?

Kevin: There are a few things unique to shaping in Florida. One would be getting custom blanks can be a challenge since it sometimes takes two or more months to get anything that is not standard. While on the west coast you can expect to get any type of custom blank within the week. This really puts a damper on turnaround time for custom one off boards. Another thing is that there seems to be less surfers per capita than on the west coast. So this makes it great for surfing, but makes it harder to break out in the local surfing community. The other major thing I have noticed is that this area seems to be about 10 years behind the trends as far as surfing goes. A lot of people here are still stuck on their clear 6’ thrusters whereas on the west coast people are riding anything and everything. I think people will have a lot more fun when they start expanding their quivers and riding a variety of different styles of boards.

Drew: Just trying to get people to break the norm and try something different. Everyone has been so brainwashed into Al Merricks or …Lost by just the sheer volume of boards shoved down their throats. I want to make boards that you can catch more waves on, get more water time, built to last and are ones that you want to take care of.

Julien Roubinet

Do the waves in St. Augustine dictate the kinds of shapes you make? What would a California or Australian shaper not understand about shaping boards for Northeast Florida?

Kevin: Not really, you have to make little tweaks here and there to rocker and rail design, but it is nothing drastic. I think that as long as the shaper has a good grasp on board design then they shouldn’t have any problems as long as they have had a chance to surf the local breaks. One of the problems I see, especially with new board builders, is that they don’t surf good enough to analyze their boards performance and/or they have no real understanding of board design. Unfortunately there are more than a few guys just plugging dimensions into a computer and calling themselves a shaper at which point they are no better than a Chinese pop out (or worse).

How has your perspective on surfing/shaping changed since you started shaping?

Kevin: I would say that the biggest change to my perspective would be how much work goes into making a board. Before I started making boards I was always trying to get discounted or free boards through sponsorships or bro deals. Then I started making boards and putting in the hard work and people would always be asking me for a bro deal, I remember thinking, “How is someone supposed to make a living doing this?” You already make hardly anything and people are asking you to hook them up with bro deals. Fortunately for me I got smart and got a job with a steady paycheck by joining the Navy. Making boards is now a labor love for me where I don’t have to worry about not selling a board just to be able to eat that day. Now I can take the time to make a truly awesome board and not lose money doing it by feeling pressured to sell the board for next to nothing. Another thing that has changed for me is riding a large variety of shapes. Being able to make any type of board and then learn to ride it has broadened my horizons and given me a greater understanding of what works and why it works.

Drew: It’s hard having a surf shop, I want to ride everything. I’m addicted to surfboards and different shapes. I mean there is so much variety out there, how could you not be excited about it? Why would you want to be stuck riding the same style board your whole life?

This article was originally published in our St. Augustine issue and was made possible with the support of  VansDesign Within Reach, and Flexfit.

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For more surfboard shaping radness, check out the Vans Duct Tape Festival in St. Augustine September 20-22nd.

Matt Shaw

Matt Shaw is a North Florida-based writer and journalist. He’s the former editor of the award winning alternative newsweekly Folio Weekly and currently serves as a features writer for SURFER Magazine and the Editor-in-Chief of a Northeast Florida culture/lifestyle glossy Void Magazine. He’s contributed to The Surfer’s Journal and reported on national stories for The New York Times. Aside from his work as a writer, Shaw plays in the psychedelic, garage rock trio, The Mother Gooses. He lives in Atlantic Beach, FL with his daughter Dylan and wife Samantha–a Public Defender with the 4th Judicial Circuit.

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