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Shaping San Diego Surfboards In North Park

Evening Edition

Aired 11/8/13 on KPBS News.

Hoping to tap into the desire for the perfect board, Shaper Studios is the first San Diego business designed to help people make their own surfboards.

— Joe Ditler has surfed Coronado's beach break for decades. His board of choice runs long. He held up one of his regulars: a long, blue fiberglass board.

"I have a nice little edge on my tail, I like that. And there's no concave. Under here," Ditler said as he pointed to the nose of the board. "But I've got a good wide nose which will support me, nose riding."

Over the years he's honed a vision of his perfect board. Ditler's favorites hang in his carport, including a 1965 Hobie.

"The bottom line is I want to be able to get as many waves as I can, good waves," Ditler said. "And I want my equipment to be a part of me."

Ditler knows the surfboard shaping industry grew out of Southern California garages and spare rooms. He's even done triage on his own collection of boards at home, but it has been years since he's tried to make one.

Surfboard shaping largely has been the domain of professionals, but not anymore. Shaping now is being taught at a North Park business, Shaping Studio. On a recent afternoon instructor Mike Emery showed Dave Lanham how to file down the styrofoam form.

"Basically we just need to turn the board over," Emery said as he pointed to the board's edges. A couple of quick strokes with a file preceded a few words of encouragement.

"Do the same kind of thing," he said patiently.

Dave Lanham shapes his board

Shaper Studio is the brainchild of co-founders Derrik Kapalla and Chris Clark. They turned this 2,700 square foot building into a surfing workshop. The facility has several shaping bays and an area to put fiberglass on the boards. This process gives the foam a hard outer shell.

Making a board is almost a rite of passage for surfers.

"They want to scratch that itch, if you will, of having their hand in the different things that they do," Clark said. "There's not a lot of sports where there's a tradition and history of doing an art form behind the equipment you are using."

Clark said the company currently is shaping about 30 boards a month, but said there's room to double the volume. And he said the North Park location means they are not in a neighborhood saturated with surfing shops.

"The surrounding neighborhoods are really a creative environment for what we do. And this allows us to set out business apart," Clark said.

If Shaper Studios floats economically, Clark hopes to expand to five studios in different cities over the next five years.

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