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Making Surfboards in All Shapes and Sizes

By Natalie Jacobs

Tucked away in an alley, covered on nearly all sides by bars featuring local craft brews, there is a warehouse full of surfboard shapers. With five shaping bays and a second-story dedicated to glassing, Shaper Studios in San Diego’s North Park neighborhood is redefining what it means to be a shaper. 

“Riding a surfboard that you made with your own hands is like sleeping in the house you built,” Derek Kapalla, one of the studio’s founders and core shaping instructors, says.

Two years ago, Kapalla and Chris Clark, who have been shaping together for years, came together with the idea to make shaping something everyone can do. After conducting informal beach surveys and tossing the idea around over surf sessions and beers, they started this collective, where the public is invited to take individual or buddy lessons to shape the board of their dreams. 

I’m standing with Kapalla and Clark in the first shaping bay where an EPS core shape rests on the dock. The tip features a severe point and the rails are intently defined. The student came to Shaper Studios with a picture of a 1985 board called “Bad Whale.” That’s the board he wanted to make in his six lessons. 

After tracking down the original shaper on Facebook, he had all the details, he just needed an expert to bounce ideas off of, and a place to make it all happen. Kapalla and Clark happily rifled through their collection of outlines hanging on the walls outside the downstairs bays to come up with the hybrid shape the student was looking for. And off he went.

“We’re such an experimental generation of surfers,” Kapalla says. “People are riding paipos, alaias, people come in here with visions for things they can’t buy.”

Many of the students are first-time shapers and for some outside the Shaper Studios circle, the idea of teaching amateurs how to shape seemed like a daunting, almost terrifying task.

“People who have shaped are like ‘what have you guys gotten into? Teaching people to shape must be so hard,'” Clark says. “But we make it enjoyable.”

Students begin their shaping sessions with a one-on-one consultation with their instructor, either Kapalla or Clark in most cases. The guys say that this stage in the process is usually the hardest part because when you’re shaping your own board, the options seem endless. But the guys have a way of helping people narrow down what they’re looking for – it’s just a matter of asking the right questions, like what kinds of waves are you trying to ride with this board and how do you want it to feel under your feet.

“Some people are better at tools than others, but basically we’re making a bunch of surf nerds,” Kapalla laughs. 

They just moved to this North Park location, from a more industrial spot on Mission Gorge. Their small staff of three full-time and six part-time shapers and surf experts host lessons and workshops for one-time students and monthly members. At full capacity, they’ll host 30 lessons per month. For now, they’re building the space to their liking, breaking down walls and laying floor boards, carving out a retail space and adding personal touches like a vintage motorcycle.

Once the “Bad Whale” replica is shaped to perfection, the student will haul it upstairs to face a new challenge – deciding on colors and patterns from an endless array of possibilities in the glassing area.

The crew at Shaper Studios just have one warning for future students: once you shape your own board, it will be really hard to buy one.  

The public is invited to a grand opening party at the studio on November 8 at 8 p.m. There will be live music (bands and a DJ), live shaping and live art being made. Shaper Studios is located at 4225 30th St. Learn more here: http://shaperstudios.com/.  

*Photos by Nicholas Borrelli (see more of his work on Instagram @b_rells or on Tumblr here: http://nicholas-borrelli.tumblr.com/)

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