A Visit With Northern California Shapers Bob Pearson, Scott Crump, And Geoff Rashe

We decided to visit the cold climes of Northern California and see what’s new. Our first shaper, Geoff Rashe of M10 Surfboards, is progressive and has a cutting-edge team that includes Santa Cruz aerial wizards Jason “Ratboy” Collins. The second, Scott Crump of Sol Life surfboards, is a former professional surfer who now shapes out of Half Moon Bay — a walk away from Maverick’s. The third, Bob Pearson of Pearson Arrow, is a Santa Cruz icon.

TransWorld SURF Business: How many years have you been shaping?

Geoff Rashe: Eleven years.

Scott Crump: Since 1995, so I’ve been doing it for about five years.

Bob Pearson: I shaped my first board in my parents’ basement in the summer of 1966. I used a saw, draw knife, and sand blocks. It took me two weeks to finish. From that point on I was hooked.

TransWorld SURF Business: How are NorCal shapes different?

Geoff Rashe: There are so many different kinds of people out in the water around here who ride such a huge variety of boards, making anything I might say on this subject a generalization. But in general, our waves are a little chunkier, bumpier, and colder than those of Southern California, and our shapes reflect it.

Scott Crump: The only thing that differs is the boards tend to carry a little bit more volume, because we have heavier wetsuits that make you ten pounds heavier.

Bob Pearson: Shaping in the Santa Cruz area of Northern California differs from other parts of the country because we have an extremely wide variety of surf conditions. This difference dictates the necessity for a wide variety of surfboard designs. Our factory makes boards for one-foot to 50-foot surf. We make contemporary shortboards, fishes, full volumes, hybrids, fun shapes, eggs, mini longboards, high-performance longboards, nose-riding longboards, tandem boards, paddleboards, sailboards, guns, tow-ins, and more.

TransWorld SURF Business: What shaping advances do you see in the future?

Geoff Rashe: I see more and more shapers with their own CNC machines that shape computerized blanks. More than an advance, I see that as a sad decline since it will ultimately lead to the extinction of the shaper who is a skilled craftsman.

Scott Crump: I think it’s all subtle refinements. I don’t think there’s anything too radical coming right now, just refining what we’re riding and people showing their different tastes.

Bob Pearson: Since I have been shaping for more than 30 years, I have seen it all come and go. To say it has all been done before is more correct than trite.

I think the biggest advancements in the future will come in the form of dialing each surfer in on an individual basis. More and more these days, the surfers are approaching surfing in an individual way — riding different designs to achieve their various performance demands and desires. Because of this, I think surfers are having more fun today, and show more promise in the future of having even more fun.

TransWorld SURF Business: What kind of different materials do you see for the future?

Geoff Rashe: Someday, something equally flexible and more durable will become available, but for now, it’s all about polyurethane, polyester, and fiberglass.

The new thing is UV-promoted resin. We kick our resin with UV rays instead of organic peroxide (catalyst), which is a highly dangerous chemical. With a three-board light oven, we can maintain production capacity with a significant increase in the quality of the glass jobs. The boards are lighter, whiter, and fully-cured upon completion — not to mention the drastically reduced styrene emissions and the more than 50-percent cut in resin waste. That means we work in a cleaner factory and make crisper sticks.

Everything you hear about brittleness and premature browning is B.S. I guarantee that UV-promoted resin will be the most significant advance that we’ve seen in the last 30 years of surfboard manufacturing. The average weight of our boards is now around five and a half pounds, down from about seven or more. That translates into a board more than twenty percent lighter, which is huge.

Scott Crump: That’s a hard one. It seems like the sun-cure thing is starting to prove itself. Other than that, I don’t see too many other things really happening right now — I’d like to, though.

Bob Pearson: At the Arrow factory, we not only make a wide variety of boards, but we make them out of a wide variety of materials. For the blanks we use 99-percent Clark Foam, expanded and extruded polystyrene foam, and woods like balsa and redwood. We use Airex and Devinocell in our sandwich constructions.

For fiberglassing, we use E, S, K, warp, direst size, Volan, carbon fiber, and Kevlar, among others. For resins we use Sylmar, Dion, Richold, sun-cure resins, and various epoxies.

There are advantages and disadvantages to each of these materials. The combinations of various materials are used for purposes such as strength, weight, cost, performance, aesthetics, hype, etc.

TransWorld SURF Business: Do you see increased profit margins for shapers in the future?

Geoff Rashe: There is no profit margin in surfboards unless you mass-produce them. Even then the overhead is ridiculous, the complications immeasurable, and you end up shuffling around tons of money in order to make a measly ten percent — half of which goes to Uncle Sam anyway.

You don’t do this work for profit margins. You do it because you’re a freak who likes the smell of resin and is fascinated by the possibilities of foam and fiberglass.

I’m fortunate enough to make a living doing something that allows me to live the life I want to live. My customers wouldn’t be too stoked to see me getting rich off them, but they don’t mind contributing to a trip or two to Indo.

Scott Crump: I hope so, but I don’t know. People aren’t really willing to spend too much money on a surfboard in this country. The profit margins are a lot higher in Europe and Japan and places like that.

Bob Pearson: I don’t think there is any way for the general shaper to increase their profit margins for the future. This is simply because of the supply and demand principle. There is an overabundance of people shaping who are willing to shape just for the fun of it, for the art of it, for the ego involved, or for the unrealistic hope of success in the future, which keeps the supply high and the demand low.

TransWorld SURF Business: How much do fins affect the performance of a board?

Geoff Rashe: All the variables count, and the fins are a definite variable in the equation. We can say that now more than ever because it’s so easy to change fins and feel the difference. I predict glass-ons will soon become obsolete. For me, they already are.

Scott Crump: So much it’s ridiculous. That’s why the fin systems like FCS are so advantageous, because you can try different fins to get more drive, less drive, more release, less release — all that kind of stuff.

Bob Pearson: The fins are one of the most important features of the board. You can take a magic board and put the fins in the wrong place, or put wrong fins on and you have a dog. Likewise, you can make almost any board surf better by putting the right fins on. Since surfing started, fins have been underrated by the surfing populace. Every surfer should have removable fins and constantly change the fins as conditions change.

To assume you have the perfect fins on your boards and in the correct place for all conditions is absurd. Wave size and shape make your board plane differently, resulting in needed adjustments.

TransWorld SURF Business: Who is your team and how important are they for your label?

Geoff Rashe: My pro team includes Jason Collins, Tyler Smith, Randy Bonds, Chris Lynch, and Edrick Baldwin. The amateurs are Russel Smith and Noi Kahulukukui.

How important they are for my label depends on where I want to sell my boards. For local sales, a high-profile surfer like Rat doesn’t count for as much as the
combined weight that many local rippers present at a variety of popular surf spots around town. But if I want to sell boards elsewhere, then I need a recognizable surfer to give credibility and notoriety to my name.

It’s somewhat common knowledge among board builders that the reputations of the world’s greatest shapers have flourished during and because of their relationships with the world’s greatest surfers. This phenomenon is due to the fact that each and every competent surfer knows that all boards are not created equally. You see the top pros riding boards by the same shapers because they are watching each other surf and taking notes on what they’re riding. If it works like that at the highest level, then imagine the influence a popular pro has on a psyched grom.

Scott Crump: I mostly work with a lot of young kids as far as my team riders, and I make boards for different pros. But I can’t afford to sponsor. From the little guys to the top pros, they give the label credibility by surfing really good, and people see them on your boards. They also push your designs a lot.

Bob Pearson: A good team is important to stay on the leading edge of design through research and development. A team is good for name recognition, and therefore sales. We have a very big team with names such as Jay Moriarity, Barney, Flea, Skindog, Kevin Reed, Josh Mohr, Lance Wolslagle, Shylo, Tanner, Joey Nichols, Frosty, Sid, Danny Cortazzo, A.J., C.J., Dane Perlee, and Sarah and Mike Gearhardt.

TransWorld SURF Business: How important is rider feedback?

Geoff Rashe: Rider feedback is paramount to my operation. I’m hunting for better designs and the team riders are my hound dogs. Sometimes they’ll bark up the wrong tree, and sometimes I might miss the shot, but when we get our prey, the hounds are happy and the results get passed on to the public.

Scott Crump: Vital, totally vital. I surf a lot myself, so I give myself a lot of feedback, but I have team riders who are a lot better than me.

TransWorld SURF Business: What do you think about CNC shaping machines?

Geoff Rashe: I have some ambivalent feelings about shaping machines. The service is too expensive for the amount of time saved, and they leave the tedious part of the job for the shaper. They also are not as uniform and accurate as they are supposed to be due to machine-operator error. Who cares more — a shaper or some random sticking a blank into a machine? It’s a myth that the machines leave the harder foam on the deck — the opposite is true. But they certainly do allow a guy to do more boards in less time without using a ghost shaper.

Scott Crump: I think they’re good and bad. I think they stifle creativity and advancements, but they also give you consistency — they have their place. An example of one of my own personal advances is the OSB — a true flat bottom into a 3/16″ panel vee that goes through the fins. It gives a more stable feeling out of the tail for those who don’t dig the skatey feeling of concaves.

Bob Pearson: Shaping machines are great, however they are not as great as they are cracked up to be. By that I mean they say the boards come out perfect clones — they don’t. The machine can be flawless, but human error is involved. The machine will cut within a fraction of an inch, but people have to set up the machines, which means there’s potential for inaccuracies.

However, the end product from a machine with its inherent inaccuracies is still far better than most shapers can do by hand anyway. Also, at best, the shaping machine only does approximately 85 percent of the shaping. The machine blanks need to be finished by hand.