Like it or not, Hawai’i, California, and the East Coast all have their own unique surf conditions — differences that also dictate different board styles and business strategies.
We decided to ask for the perspectives from two well-respected East Coast shapers, Greg Loehr and Rick Carroll, about the shape of the board industry and these regional design differences.
Transworld SURF Business: How many years have you been shaping?
Greg Loehr: 31 years.
Rick Carroll: twenty-plus years.
Transworld SURF Business: How many boards have you shaped lifetime and per year?
Greg Loehr: In my lifetime I’ve shaped more than 25,000 boards, and probably 500 each year. I don’t do the numbers I used to.
Rick Carroll: More than 16,000 in my lifetime and 1,200 per year.
Transworld SURF Business: What labels do you produce?
Greg Loehr: I don’t really know. A bunch.
Rick Carroll: Ricky Carroll Shapes, Local Motion, Hawaiian Style, Donald Takayama, Billy Hamilton, Pat Rawson, Nev Future Shapes, and G-Force.
Transworld SURF Business: How do the boards you produce differ from West Coast Boards?
Greg Loehr: I don’t distinguish between East and West Coast boards anymore. It’s time to drop the East/West crap and realize we are all American.
There is so much communication between shapers here and in California that I don’t believe there’s a significant difference at this time, nor will there be in the future.
I do produce Epoxy boards. I haven’t built anything else in many years. I don’t think there’s any comparison in the ride quality of epoxy over polyester boards. I know there’s always been a debate, but if you just ride each you’ll see what I mean. By the way, there are many fine epoxy board builders in California too.
Rick Carroll: The boards that I shape for the East coast are shaped with a different rocker that works better for our conditions. We also use more Super Green blanks from Clark Foam than the West Coast does. This makes a stronger board.
Transworld SURF Business: How does the business on the East Coast differ from the West Coast?
Greg Loehr: Another East versus West question. I don’t think there’s a big difference. The bottom line is that as people in the surf industry it’s our job to promote the sport and better it.
The West Coast does needs to look seriously about how to relieve crowding by offering more access — whether it’s artificial reefs or some other creative idea like lighted spots. Most surfers don’t realize this, but millions of dollars are spent every year on recreation by local cities and counties. None of this money is spent on surfing. When a ball park is needed, the city builds one. Most ball parks today cost more than a million dollars and another twenty-thousand plus in upkeep and lighting each year. Now think about how many ball parks there are in Southern California and you begin to understand the kind of money available.
Surfing is a popular and an overcrowded recreational pastime. It deserves the same consideration as any other sport. There has been too many fights and too many newspaper articles about overcrowded surf spots on the West Coast. It’s the responsibility of those in power to provide reasonable access for recreation. When the solution is found, there will be opportunity for increased business.
The East Coast, on the other hand, has 3,000 miles of nice beach breaks. No crowd problem here. And none anticipated in the foreseeable future. So, immediate growth in our sport will continue here and our numbers will probably eventually eclipse the West.
Rick Carroll: I don’t sell very many boards on the West Coast, so I can’t give you a very accurate opinion.
Transworld SURF Business: What distinguishes your shapes from others?
Greg Loehr: I can and have shaped just about everything. As a former pro surfer I’ve tested all those shapes. This may give me a different perspective when designing.
We’re also different from most because of the materials we use, which gives us freedom in design that standard board builders don’t have. We’re able to progress more rapidly because we don’t have to wait for blank molds to be built. But then again, there hasn’t been a rapid progression in shapes for a number years that have directly affected other board builders.
Rick Carroll: I think all boards have certain traits in their shapes that give them a certain personality, but what makes you stand out is how you’re perceived by your customers.
The best indication of all is how many custom shapes you do — as opposed to the stock shapes. I’m at about 50 percent, with almost half of that being return customers who were satisfied with their boards. I like the challenge of shaping longboards, fun boards, fishes, and short boards. I don’t limit myself to a niche market.
Transworld SURF Business: How much do you anticipate your business growing in the next few years?
Greg Loehr: Not much. I build 500 boards a year, and shape everyone myself. I don’t use machines or any other mass-production tricks. I just go in and knock ’em out by hand the way you’re supposed to. There just isn’t a better way to do it in the existing market place.
If the demand for custom surfboards wanes at some point, then maybe a mass-production product will be an answer. But this is a sport that promises individuality and the specter of mass-produced product, I believe, is still distasteful to most surfers.
Rick Carroll: My business, R&D Surf, has grown steadily for the past seven years and as we continue to add new labels to glass we’ll keep growing each year. We’re currently looking to expand the size of our factory to increase our volume.
Transworld SURF Business: How do you feel the different fins systems affect to performance of the shapes?
Greg Loehr: Fin systems are the single greatest performance progression of this decade. What people are starting to find out is that the ride of any board can be severely influenced by fin selection.
Every board has a balance of lift between the nose and the tail. In boats and aircraft they call this pitch. If the board rides nose high, it tends to bog and is difficult to plane. If the board rides nose low, it tends to track, spin out, and catch edges.
Correct balance eliminates all of these problems. As the waves get hollower, the pitch changes towards a more nose-low trajectory. Likewise, as the wave gets flatter, the trajectory is towards nose high.
This pitch can be controlled by changing the real fin — larger will put the nose up, while smaller will lower the front of the board.
Likewise, when in a turn there’s a pitch between nose and tail in regards to the lift being created along the rail. Knowledgeable shapers call this “lift rail resistance” because it is, in essence, a resistance of the rail to the wave face. Nose high through your bottom turn and you aren’t going to get the speed and acceleration you desire. Nose low and you’ll experience spin out and catching edges. Changing the side fins can control balance of resistance. Larger fins will produce a nose-low trajectory while smaller fins will produce nose-high turns.
Once again, correct balance is what we’re shooting for and this depends on more than just the shape of the board and the fin set-up. The type of waves you ride and how you surf has as much to do with this as anything. This is actually a really long subject that I have just touched on here, but this balance is the basis of board performance.
The fin systems allow for adjustments to made in the balance of the board, thereby adding versatility and performance to toadies boards.
Rick Carroll: The fins are very important to how a surfboard will perform and the different systems all have their positive and negative features that affect performance.
I could go on forever on this subject, but here’s a few things to consider: How are the foils of the fins? What is the flex of the fins and where is it flexing? Are different materials of
fered for lighter or stiffer fins? What is the weight of the fin system (fins and boxes)? What is the adjustability of the fin? Can it be moved? All of these factors can affect performance and it’s really up to the individual surfer to determine what works best for them.
Transworld SURF Business: Where do you see surfboard design and materials going in the future?
Greg Loehr: The surfboard industry today needs to look towards environmentally cleaner and more responsible materials and building techniques. The elimination of VOC solvents and TDI-based urethane foams are a must if this sport and industry expects to have a future. The kind of pollution these products produce is simply unacceptable in today’s world. This reduction of wastes is also a subject that needs to be addressed. There’s so much resistance toward change among this industry’s piece-work labor that instituting a forward-thinking program is difficult, if not impossible.
The leaders of this industry need to institute programs within their business that address these problems now. The alternative is going to be government intervention in our businesses and industry. We have instituted these changes within our business with great success and significant financial savings to boot. We’ve totally eliminated solvents, instituted a recycling program for scrap foam, and reduced resin consumption by 66 percent. Anyone who cannot see these programs as positive must be blind. And yet, resistance to change prevails.
Rick Carroll: Materials are going to play a big part in future surfboard designs. New materials are going to change the weight and flex of surfboards, which will change the way we shape them.
We’ve seen board designs go to the extreme thinness, narrowness, and rocker. Then designs came back to a combination of old and new. I think design changes are going to be in small increments, but material changes are going to be more drastic.