Surfboard shaping and the custom surfboard industry

CAMRA researcher Andrew Warren from Wollongong University has been carrying out research into custom-made surfboards.

Despite surfing being a multibillion dollar per year industry, with more than two million surfers in Australia alone, little attention in literature has been focused on the artists who create unique boards by hand-shaping them.

Sanding custom shortboard Curing surfboards
At Skipp Surfboards which opened in 1963. Yasu sanding a custom shortboard.
Photo by Andrew Warren.
John Skipp showing the cabinets where glassed surfboards are left to cure.
Photo by Andrew Warren

"Beginning with guided tours through four local businesses in Wollongong - directly employing some 28 workers - my research has uncovered an industry at a production crossroads," says Andrew.

"With increasing fabrication occurring via the use of computer guided shaping machines, hand shaping is a dwindling art. Each of the four businesses explains tensions surrounding surfboard manufacturing, where there remains a strong local demand for customised surfboards.

"The stories from participants shows how wider industry domination by firms such as Billabong and Quiksilver has ironically acted to help maintain locally focused markets, as much as encroach upon them. Yet, there is ongoing concern surrounding the importation of cheaper, lower quality, machined surfboards flooding into the region, and anxiety around what this will mean for hand shaping in Wollongong.

"Further, the 'older' profile of hand shapers in the region also raises questions for my thesis surrounding the future creative succession of this ancient form of surfboard making, skills first pioneered by Hawaiian royal Ali'I nearly 3000 years ago," says Andrew.

Andrew has also travelled to California and in 2011 is embarking on a trip to Hawaii. The University of Hawaii Press has asked him to send draft chapters about surfboard shapers in Australia, California and Hawaii for a book on cultural assets, globalisation and succession.

For more information on the Australian surfboard industry please access the following discussion paper written by Andrew Warren and Chris Gibson from the University of Wollongong: