If you’re walking down 30th in North Park, San Diego, nestled between the brewery signs advertising ice cream beer floats and happy hours your eyes will fall upon a sign of a different kind. It will say “Surf Shop.” There will be an arrow pointing down the alley behind Belching Beaver Brewery. That is where Shaper Studios sits.
Shaper Studios is “The World’s first public surfboard workshop.” What does that mean? It means you can go to Shaper and for a monthly membership fee of $20 you can use their tools, their work rooms and board stands to shape your own board. This is not your grandpappy’s surf shop. At least in that respect, but in other ways it is just like an old school surf shop. You can take lessons (additional cost) on how to shape or glass, you can buy related products, surf gear or just hang out and talk swells. Shaper’s North Park shop acts as a hangout for in-land surfers. A place to congregate, commiserate and talk shop. Like an old school barbershop but instead of getting a trim and talking about the weather you’re learning to build your own surfboard and talking about how the weather might affect up-coming swells at La Jolla Shores or Swami’s.
When I walked in on Saturday to hang out shop manager, Kory, greeted me warmly. He had a beard. He was going to be giving a 2nd lesson to Angela who was finishing the surfboard she started the day before. Each private lesson is three hours, and at the end you have a board ready to be glassed. They also have group lessons, stand-up paddle board shaping classes and glassing lessons.
They were kind enough to let me hang out on the sidelines and watch. With Angela was her boyfriend, Jeremy, to watch and provide moral support. He had already taken a board shaping lesson the month before. Over the next few hours I watched as Kory took her step by step through the intricacies of finishing her board shape. He would show her how to perform each step, then let her finish the process. Always encouraging, he’s a natural teacher.
When I wasn’t watching the lesson I was sitting at the patio table that greets customers as soon as they walk in the shop. It was a natural resting place for everyone going in and out. Anytime anyone walked in the first questions they were hit with were “How was it today?” & “What’d you ride?” Followed by discussions of local swells, full line-ups, what boards to ride and frozen feet in the cold winter water. Even though I don’t surf, have never surfed and only understood about half the conversation I never felt left out too uncool to listen in. It’s an inclusive shop. The goal is to spread surfing, and all the things that go with it far and wide. Instead of my ignorance being offensive it seemed as if it were welcomed. I was fresh meat to be taught about this sport these guys and girls so obviously love.
I had a chance to sit with Chris, the owner & founder of Shaper Studios, and asked him why people should come to Shaper to build their own board.
“Shaping for me is an extension of surfing. That is the main reason I choose to shape. The other reason is that I can’t buy a lot of the strange asymmetrical boards I like to ride. Others choose to shape because it’s more affordable than buying new boards all the time. Some surfers just like learning about what makes boards work and working with their hands. And I’m sure there are some folks that enjoy the graphic design and art aspect of customizing their surfboard. The reason all of these surfers, with different intentions, are attracted to Shaper Studios is because here we celebrate all of those things in a community. There is always someone cheering on your project and supporting your craft. It’s just a big clubhouse for nerdy surfers.”
Chris also walked me through the steps learned in the lessons. From creating a plan shape, picking a blank (the material a board is shaped out of), cutting the outline, foiling, the rails and concaves. You learn a lot. Not just about surfboards but about building. That is part of the appeal. Not just getting a surfboard but learning to create something. In our throwaway, order another from Amazon culture, it is rare we learn to build things anymore. Even if you wanted too, our opportunities to learn to build are fairly limited. You can watch a million YouTube videos, and it will never give you the same opportunity to learn & retain as having someone working with you giving hands on tutorials.
There is a growing cultural wave dedicating to learning to make things. Shaper Studios has been growing along with that wave for three years (previously located in east San Diego). In addition to North Park they recently opened a shop in Vancouver (5 hours from the nearest surf break) and plan to open several more possibly as soon as this year. They realize the need for surf lovers to stay connected to the surf even when the waves are absent, the weather is bad or the nearest surf is hours drive away. The shop offers more than just classes. They also have a newish retail section selling surf gear and apparel. And there have a built-in charitable bent where instead of spend part of the marketing budget supporting Cystic Fibrosis Foundation of Orange County and the Switchfoot Bro AM. You can feel good about supporting Shaper Studios because they want to support the local community too.
By the end of the afternoon I was craving some Belching Beaver Peanut Butter Stout. I said my goodbyes. Shaking hands not just with Kory and Chris but the other staffers, the intern, and several customers who had been hanging out I realized that what Shaper Studios is doing is not just selling board shaping lessons and Iron and Resin caps. They are creating a community. A community of customers who become friends who want to share their love of surfing. Going to the studio is connecting with the surf in a hands-on way even when you can’t be out surfing. Or, in my case, don’t know the first thing about surfing.
If you’re walking down 30th in North Park, San Diego, nestled between the brewery signs advertising ice cream beer floats and happy hours your eyes will fall upon a sign of a different kind. It will say “Surf Shop.” There will be an arrow pointing down the alley behind Belching Beaver. If you’re like me you’ll wonder why there is a surf shop so far from the beach. You’ll wonder if it is some sort of kitschy shop more about selling tee-shirts than surf gear. In that instant you remember your mission to get to Fall Brewing or Tiger! Tiger! and decide to move on. Don’t do that. Stop. Go up the alley and wander into Shaper Studios. Even if you don’t surf stop in for a moment. Say “Hello.” Shake some hands. Listen to the sounds of shaping, take in the smells of work being done, listen to the conversations about morning swells. Sit at the picnic table. Make a plan to come back.
Shaper Studios, 4225 30th St, San Diego, CA 92104
Tuesday: 12:00 – 08:00PM
Wednesday: 12:00 – 08:00PM
Thursday: 12:00 – 08:00PM
Friday: 12:00 – 08:00PM
Saturday: 12:00 – 08:00PM
Sunday: 12:00 – 08:00PM
Customer Service & Info: firstname.lastname@example.org
San Diego Workshop & Retail Store: 619-889-1158