How to handle your shaper

While following along with certain acrimonious discussions taking part in another recent thread, I was taken by how positive my overall experience has been with various shapers over the years. This lead me to further reflect upon how much I feel I have benefitted from all of these fellows’ hard work, specialized knowledge, and years of experience. I can now look through my quiver and think about what each one of those boards and the process that led to their existence brought to my surfing experience. It’s certainly been a rewarding path for me. In light of this, I have tried to come up with some things that one could do well to consider when working with their shaper. I wouldn’t call them rules, as we already have way too many of those in the world, but maybe they’re just some helpful hints based upon my personal opinion and experience. __________________________ 1. Create a relationship with your shaper. This person is going to fabricate an important (and fairly expensive) work of art and engineering for you. Interact enough for him to know you, what you need, and how you see things. Go surfing with him if at all possible. Let him see and feel what you are and aren’t getting from what you’re riding now and what he can do about it. Let him honestly understand your skillset, your style, and your physical demands so he can draw from that knowledge while building your board. He needs to be thinking, “This is Church’s board,” rather than “6 foot, 220 pound rider.” It makes a big difference. 2. Leave a fat cash deposit and more. No matter how buttoned-down your shaper is, he’s running a low-margin business and has to put out more than half of your board’s end value in materials. I always try to leave at least half the finished cost on the first day I come in to consult. That money makes sure you get listened to thoroughly and not rushed out as a maybe/looker/hangarounder. It also sets your place in the production queue, gets the exact blank you need ordered if necessary, and commits both parties to the cause. Consider this money gone now, and NEVER change your mind and try to get your money back. He’s already spent it on his blank order. I also find it good to bring along a small personal gift. It might be his favorite import beer, or something for his wife, or whatever. He’ll remember it and you. You might just end up with a new board and a friend too. 3. Suggest, don’t tell. I’ve made a few of my own boards, but they mostly suck. That’s why I’m going to my shaper to do it for me. I have a very strong opinion and a damned good idea of what I want in my board, but I will always be deferential to the man with the planer. He knows more than I do without any doubt. I usually try to bring two boards with me to the first meeting-- my latest board of the type I’m looking to get, plus someone else’s (rider’s or shaper’s) board that I like some aspect of. That way he can know where I am and where I’m looking to go, but still use his judgement to give me what I need. Despite knowing all the numbers cold, I never actually quote any measurements to my shaper. I try to say things like “a little more in the nose” or “a little less tail width.” I think stating absolute numbers is fairly asinine and really diminishes what your shaper can bring to the finished product. If you attempted to hold the hand of the artist trying to paint your portrait, he’d poke you in the eye with the brush and go home-- and rightly so! 4. Ask once when it might be out, and never again. Talk to your shaper at the beginning about how backed up he is, whether the blank might be a special order (read: slow), and if you have some special deadline to meet (e.g., surf trip on a given date). See what he has to say and understand that this is a general prediction of the turnaround time. He knows everyone wants their board as soon as possible, but he’s got existing business, team boards, his personal boards, surf sessions, and whatever else can happen between now and then. He’ll do the best he can. He wants the rest of your money and for you to be happy with your stick. Just don’t ride his ass or you’ll get less than what he wants to take his time and give you. 5. Finish strong. This one means pay some attention to followthrough. When you get the call that your board is ready, scoot on down there and clear it up right away. Show up and pay your balance IN CASH and if it’s some weird total with so many odd dollars and cents, then round it up to the next bigger bill and put the money in the hand that held the planer. Smile, look the man in the eyes, and tell him how much you like your new ride and how much you appreciate the job he does. Shake his hand and say thank you. Sometime over the next few weeks you should do a followup. Stop by for a visit and talk to him about the board while it’s fresh in his mind and let him reflect upon it. Tell him what you liked and what you’re adjusting to. Be sure to say thanks again–that will go a long way toward making sure the next board he make for you is even better. _____________________________ That was pretty long winded, but I hope that others can make use of these suggestions and thus benefit as I feel that I have. Just remember that you’re not getting a brake job when you go to your shaper. This is something that he wants to do right because he chose it as a career despite the low margins, toxic chemicals, and everything else he’s dealing with while he’s mowing your foam. He takes pride in his work or he wouldn’t be doing it. He really does want you to be happy, so show some respect and appreciation. It will make you a better surfer in many ways. -church

A brisk spanking everynow and again

give him a phatty and cut him loose.

nice words church- too bad more people dont consider those ‘suggestions’. but the ones who do; well, a boardbuilder can see and feel the positive vibes!

church, Great post. I like to call it “stroking” or even better “you get more with honey, than vinegar”

Well said. It also works well with boat carpenters, canvas guys ( both of which include me) and sundry trades where the tradesman has money out to cover materials and such for your job. You’re spot on - absolute numbers are absolutely asinine. Likewise, things take as long as they take; all bitching about it is gonna do is get a shoddy job turned to get you out of his life, ideally forever. Dropping by somebody’s shop? Bring coffee or something! You’re disrupting somebody’s day, after all, messing with their train of thought and production, it’s the least you can do. Treat somebody well and they’ll treat you well. Hassle somebody, nickel and dime 'em and payback’s a beach… doc…

BUT, It is a business transaction and anyone can have a bad day or day’s. Short story long, I would not be to pleased if we agreed on a plain wrapper board, lets say dims: L= 9’/ N=17"/ W=22" / T=13 1/2 and three months latter get the call to pick up new board and it’s L=22’/ N=22" / W=22" / T=22" and it comes out in “Passionate Pink” “PUT IT ALL IN WRITTING” and include the agreed upon price, deposit and Balance when delivered.

I do agree with most everything you said simply based on the surfer shaper relationship is VERY different than any other money for product relationship. This, to me, is kinda like dancing and it can be like religion. The shaper and I are like Fred and Ginger and he can be my pastor/priest/yogi/rabbi/etc…Deliver me o’ great one! You have to find the one you gel with. SO, I agree with Churchill B. Grimes, Jr thoughts once you have established a relationship (some boards) with a shaper. I don’t believe that the type of scenario mentioned would be sought straight off the getgo - you shouldn’t have to tuck your tail between your legs and go at it with “yes sir, whatever you say sir” for the guy. Remember he’s being paid to make you a board - he’s not doing it out of the kindness o his heart. Yes, a shaper puts soul into a board but they don’t own your soul and be complete flakes, prima donnas or do business differently with everyone that walks in the door. This is a relationship and you as a customer are expected to act a certain way then, by the power of a 7.5amp motor, so should the shaper. The kinda stuff (austin or mr happy or whomever) happens in business, especially surf boards, because it can be very emotional. It’s easy to get all hyped up when your buddy gets a new board, your magic board busts, you’re finally going to Indo and you run off to get one going. For the most part you’ve been saving and talking about the board you’re gonna build for a while (obsessing) and you order the board and it feels like you hit a wall - now you wait and you wait. Some wait better than others, some change the color of their board 10 times, some call every three days and some quietly stroll into the shop 6 weeks later. Some may say that most shapers are shapers first and a businessman second (or third, fourth, fifth sometimes). But, the reality is a board builder is in business so he should act like it and for me I expect that at least he be able to provide me with some basics: order sheet, estimated due date, a return phone call/email, specifics about the process (standard $amount for a deposit, who should contact in a said time about status), and the cost of the finished product at the time of the order - no +$100 surprises (sure the pin liner is always a flake so they have to get someone else and he’s more expensive kinda of thing is fine). If they don’t do that I can’t believe they’ll be in business too long. Some may like the feeling of underground, going around the backdoor, secret builder relationships but not me. With that said you have to take part in the process and go into it with open eyes. Set some standards you’re willing to accept and if they can’t do that then for ya then he ain’t your guy. I don’t mean laying down the law, that’s silly, but you can talk to the shaper about what your looking for and get a feel if you can proceed/or will gel. For the surfer your shaper is only as good as your last board.

Thank you Church, my customers who follow these courtesies always get better service, and when we surf together, we’re friends. I made the film ‘The Shapemakers’ to bring to people the feeling of just what you haver articulated. The business side is neccessary, but as Mitchell Rae says,“Its not about money”, the satisfaction for the shaper is hearing back from the surfer that the board worked well and that they had a great surfing expierience! Works every time. Regards, Paul Kraus

Geeze, the phatty sounds nice, but how about my Mormon client that bought me a ticket to the North Shore this winter, he might be slightly offended, Fairmount brought me a 12 pk of Bud Ice, I stupidly put it in the shaping area fridge, it was gone the next day. And I’m sitting on a half dozen finshed boards that the customers now have to use the money for Christmas bills. God I still love this business!!!

Well stated Church. I’ve been working with custom/customer shaping for more than 27 years and I always remember the person who understands. I try to block out the people who call “is done yet? IS IT DONE YET?” Usually a grom who has no etiquette. I have found those inquiries a reality of the business but it is very distracting; to be honest I almost want to hide… I also recently made the mistake that Jim Phillips did; I put the twelvie in the main 'frig but I know EVERYONE in our place gets stoked. You know what really surprises me is when I get a tip. Every once in a while it happens, kinda wierd but definitely acceptable. Still waiting on plane tickets though…