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COVER: Walk on water 


click to enlarge Shane Stoneman brings the heat to an Indonesian peeler during a surf trip a few years ago.


Shane Stoneman brings the heat to an Indonesian peeler during a surf trip a few years ago.

Every surfer remembers the first time they found themselves sliding down the face of a wave. After all the missed ones and wipeouts, after catching whitewater and going straight or pearling and faceplanting, if you keep at it, you eventually learn what all the fuss is about: paddling into and popping up on a clean, glassy face, making a turn, and then riding on Mother Nature’s free energy. Once you catch the surf bug, it can be a lifelong affliction.

For three Central Coast custom surfboard shapers, their craft was a direct extension of their love of surfing, a natural next step in their personal evolution to becoming better surfers by making themselves the perfect surfboard.

If you’re not a surfer but want to try, rent a board and a wetsuit and see if it’s for you. For many first timers—especially in the cold, unforgiving waters and erratic surf of the Central Coast—it might not seem as fun as it should. If it turns out you like paddling your butt off, freezing, and getting beaten down by waves, invest in a good wetsuit but buy an inexpensive foam board like an 8-foot Wavestorm that costs about $120 at Costco.

If you stick with it, you can buy quality boards off the rack at one of the many local surf shops, but eventually, as your skill grows, the next logical step is to have a custom board made specifically for you. Meet three of the local surf scene’s most well known shapers.

Shane Stoneman—the Renaissance man

Shane Stoneman is a terrific singer-songwriter and gifted painter, but he makes his living shaping custom surfboards. His shaping room is tucked up in the golden hills of Cayucos, a quiet place surrounded by wildlife.

He started surfing at 8 years old on Oahu, where he attended first through fifth grade before his family returned to California. His interest in surfing came from an unlikely source.

“It’s sort of embarrassing, but Fast Times at Ridgemont High came out, and there was the whole ’80s thing. It just seemed like a cool thing to do. I thought, ‘I want to be a surfer. That just seems cool.’ No one in my family surfed, but I got a surfboard for Christmas, and I fell in love with it super quickly.”

Don’t judge him over Fast Times. He was only in third grade. He kept at surfing after his family moved back to California to San Juan Capistrano.

click to enlarge Shane Stoneman uses a power planer to shape the rails on a custom board in his shaping room in the hills of Cayucos. - PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • Shane Stoneman uses a power planer to shape the rails on a custom board in his shaping room in the hills of Cayucos.

“I was 14 when I shaped my first board,” he recalled. “All told, I shaped four boards in high school. Then I didn’t shape for a long time. I was doing competitive surfing and I was working with shapers [who designed my boards].”

Later as an adult and after many years as a competitive surfer, he landed in Cayucos.

“That was when Cole Simler was in town. Remember Cole Surfboards? I was getting boards from him, and we were having beers one day and he said, ‘I’m not going to do your board. You do your board.’ I was like, ‘Don’t tempt me, man.’ We always had this really competitive friendship. He let me use his rooms and I went and shaped board No. 5. I never got a board from him again. It was really fun.”

People learn to shape surfboards in one of two ways—trial and error or apprenticeship—though often it’s a combination of the two. Eventually it comes down to gaining the confidence.

“I looked at it like, learning to surf was so difficult, and I already had my process for that, and I had already held so many boards that I liked under my arm that I knew how they should feel under my arm and how they should feel under my feet. I just trusted that I could do it,” Stoneman said.

He estimates he’s made somewhere between 6,000 and 8,000 boards. At the beginning, he created templates by copying boards that he liked and that he knew worked, but he considers himself “pretty low-tech.”

“Other shapers have a wall of beautiful rail templates and stuff, and mine are the same one I did 20 years ago. I used to surf a ton, so I was able to get a lot of feedback from myself.”

He’s also gotten a lot faster at shaping.

“The boards used to take me six hours to do. I was really slow and timid with the tools, and that’s super natural for people starting out. I was able to lean on my surfing ability back then to gather customers.”

Stoneman can create whatever a client wants—a necessity for a Central Coast shaper because of the diverse conditions.

“What’s cool about the shapers on the Central Coast is we have to shape everything, so guys will come and they’ll want a kneeboard or really wide board—stuff I’ve never done before. You’re listening to the customer, this is what they want, coming up with something original and hoping that you put in all the ingredients—like cooking ingredients—so that it’s tasty.”

For the last decade, Wavelengths Surf Shop in Morro Bay has carried a stock of Stoneman Surfboards people can buy right off the rack.

click to enlarge Having a well-lit shaping room allows the shaper to see subtle shapes and shadows to get each custom design just right. - PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • Having a well-lit shaping room allows the shaper to see subtle shapes and shadows to get each custom design just right.

“I do have models that I know work well, and every once in a while if somebody’s not sure what they want, I can steer them into one of those models that everyone seems to like.”

His current favorite design is sort of an industry standard.

“I’m liking this 6-foot, 10-inch—I’m calling the Twin Du Jour—it’s a twin fin with a channeled bottom. It works great when the waves are good, and it acts like a fun board when the waves are small. It was a design everybody was doing so I called it the ‘Twin Du Jour’ … . It’s my version of what’s really been working.”

As he’s gotten older, Stoneman’s had some shoulder problems and can’t surf as much as he used to, so shaping has taken on increased significance.

“I think what I like most about making surfboards is that it made something that I fell in love with as a young kid into something much bigger. When I was growing up, surfing was a pretty selfish and solitary pursuit that I really got deep into, but now when I shape someone a new surfboard, it’s a shared experience, and I’m part of their surfing world, too, and because of that, I want them to get the best waves and have the most fun. I just love that my boards are making people happy in the surf.”

Custom ride
Visit to take a peek through Shane Stoneman’s boards, or email requests to [email protected].

Chad Kaimanu Jackson—sustainable materials advocate

Though he’s shaped a lot of surfboards over the years, it’s definitely a side gig for big wave rider and shaper Chad Kaimanu Jackson, who works as an anthropologist and tribal liaison for the Morro Bay Museum of Natural History. He’s got deep roots in Cayucos, though he now lives and shapes boards near Lopez Lake.

“My dad [Bruce Jackson] was shaping surfboards during the late ’60s in Southern California,” Jackson explained. “He was sort of a Renaissance man. He raced cars, was a builder, started making surfboards in the early days. He still claims he made the first twin fin he ever saw at Huntington. He moved to Cayucos in 1972 and started shaping boards for Steve Hennigh of Good Clean Fun, so my dad made some of the first boards in Cayucos in the early ’70s. My upbringing was surfing and being at the beach.”

Jackson was familiar with the ocean from a very young age.

“I was riding waves since a toddler, but the waves in Cayucos and the Central Coast aren’t conducive for learning how to surf at a young age. They’re dumpy and the water’s cold, so I rode a bodyboard until I was 12.”

Once he was stand-up surfing, the next step was inevitable.

click to enlarge Cayucos local Chad Kaimanu Jackson creates boards that are as much works of art as they are functional—made for the raw swell energy of Central Coast waves. - PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • Cayucos local Chad Kaimanu Jackson creates boards that are as much works of art as they are functional—made for the raw swell energy of Central Coast waves.

“By 13, I started watching my dad shape the boards. Right away he started teaching me, taking one pass at a time. ‘Here, I’ll do this rail, you do that rail.’ The board would end up super asymmetric, so he’d come back and fix it,” Jackson said with a laugh.

Still, he was motivated to learn how to shape good boards. While he was still bodyboarding, his friends had started surfing and competing, and excelled at it, riding “top of the line” equipment through sponsorships, so when he started shaping with his dad, he wanted to make boards as good as theirs. He also learned shaping from pro surfer and master shaper Dave Parmenter and Cole Simler of Cole Surfboards.

“We did ding repair,” Jackson explained. “My dad was the full ding repair guy, so I started learning how to do ding repair so I could make money. We would get all the top, modern shapes coming into the shop, and I would look at those and see there was this really streamlined shape, and we’d compare our templates and find there was really no difference in the outline between an Al Merrick, a Mayhem, and a Rusty—they’re all the same.”

Soon he was understanding what worked and what didn’t.

“Surfers and the general public sort of assume a shaper is some sort of engineer, that they know all about hydrodynamics and design, but what it comes down to is a lot of the shapers simply copied what had already been laid by prior ‘geniuses’ or amazing craftsmen. Me being a student of all the different designs, I tried to start by being able to essentially reproduce what the top-of-the-line shapes were.”

Even though he started later than some of his friends, Jackson developed into a very proficient surfer.

“As I became better, started competing, started surfing all the really challenging waves, started surfing big waves, I started pursuing all the best spots, trying to become one of the best guys in the lineup not from a competitive standpoint but just because I wanted to surf my best, and it would ultimately come down to doing my own R&D [research and development].

“I’ve always been drawn to bigger boards for bigger waves, so I’ve really tried to work on big boards that you can still maneuver,” he added. “A lot of time, big wave boards were narrow and gunny and meant for just making the drop and making the wave, but man, a lot of the best waves on the Central Coast are big wave spots. I want to be able to do big turns.”

Because of his anthropology career, Jackson’s board output is decidedly slow. He also does everything himself, from shaping to color to glassing the boards.

“I’ve kept my clientele pretty intimate, and I’ve always wanted to build boards that were meaningful to me. I never wanted to just bust out a bunch of stock boards, so I’ve always been just custom orders.”

When he takes on a client, he really wants to get to know their needs.

“Sometimes I say, ‘Let’s go surf together. I want to see how you ride.’ I ask some very specific questions that might not be typical. ‘What size shoe do you wear? Let me see your stance. Stand on the board. I want to measure how wide your stance is.’ Those are super critical for the board. Obviously, weight and height, but also, ‘Where do you want to surf?’”

His boards also take longer to make because in 2006 he became interested in using more sustainable and alternative materials, such as hemp cloth for deck patches and agave wood instead of a foam core.

“If you try to use more sustainable materials, is the board still going to hold up to the performance standards? Surfers want it to work well and not cost them too much money. I’ve been using hemp cloth for more than 15 years, a tie-dyed hemp deck patch to keep the deck from getting pressure dings. It’s also less likely to delaminate. There are several blanks available that have less of an impact, but most still have 50 percent petroleum-based foam cores, but I’m doing agave boards. That’s something I’ve been doing for over 10 years.”

The agave core is striking, especially when its colors deepen after glassing.

“I’ll collect the agave wood and glue it together. I work on that with my dad. Those are beautiful. They’re light like balsa, but the agave is more sustainable than balsa because agave is a succulent. You don’t even have to water it, and the thing will grow anywhere. It’s a soil remediation when you plant the thing, and after five to 10 years it will throw up a stalk and send out rosettes that will proliferate the plant; you can cut the stalk down and that individual plant will die, and its roots will continue to grow through the rosettes. It’s a really sustainable plant, unlike balsa that needs a lot of water and subtropical environment, and it takes 10 to 15 years before you can harvest it.”

Of course, there is a drawback.

“It’s super labor intensive.”

Each stalk has to be planed square so it can be glued together. Jackson sometimes adds foam rails so it’s easier to acquire the subtle shaping they require. Agave’s flexibility and durability is “pretty amazing” as “long as it doesn’t get holes in it because it soaks up water relatively fast if you don’t repair it,” he noted.

“I’ve been really getting into the art,” he continued. “That’s something that enhances the experience of shaping for me and through the glassing process, doing different resin swirls, incorporating fun inlays like abalone shell or little pieces of jade, something custom for the client. I’m doing tie-dye art on the hemp cloth with my gal, Jena, so the boards have this beautiful tie-dye hemp deck.”

If it sounds like Jackson’s boards are too pretty to ride, they might be—but despite all that goes into them, they’re high performance vehicles. Jackson’s half-Hawaiian on his mother’s side, and that lineage also plays into his design philosophy.

“Here on the Central Coast, we’re dealing with raw swell energy, so the waves start with a lot of power, and the take off and your initial entry is super critical, whereas a lot of waves, when you get in the lee of Point Conception, the takeoff isn’t so critical. Being a Hawaiian from the Central Coast, I was always inspired by Hawaiian surfing. I started to push my wide points a little forward. I didn’t invent anything, but like most shapers I developed my own style and interpretation, which led me to hiding the volume—a low-volume board didn’t work so well around here—so I started making a lot of fish and twin fin designs because the beach breaks on the Central Coast required a little extra flare along with the ability to catch the wave and make the drop and get going down the line.”

Jackson’s turnaround time to make a custom board may take a while, but if you want a piece of surfable art, he’s your man.

“I have a full-time career as an anthropologist, and I’ve committed myself to becoming an academic. It helped round out my life. I never wanted to be pigeonholed into just surfing. It can stagnate.”

Surf on art
Find Chad Kaimanu Jackson on Instagram @hempsurfboards or email him at [email protected].

Kurt Roberts—the expert tailor

Kurt Roberts of KR Surfboards is a master craftsman who can do it all—making custom-designed and team-tested surfboards of any size, shape, or style. Over the years, he’s supplied surf shops with thousands of boards, but these days he’s happy shaping custom orders in his detached shaping room on his Los Osos property. Going direct through him can save some money, too. A custom clear short board starts at $450—a steal by any standard.

Like most shapers, he took a familiar path.

“I grew up as a competitive surfer. I turned pro when I was a kid. I used to be sponsored by a few companies down in Newport Beach. During that time, I was getting a lot of surfboards made for me, and I’d actually be in the shaping room with these guys, going over designs and what kind of board we wanted to get me on, so I got interested in it from a young age, watching these guys shape my boards, going out and riding them and thinking, ‘Man, that’s so cool that they can do that.’”

click to enlarge Kurt Roberts, owner and shaper of KR Surfboards, examines the lines of a freshly shaped board in his Los Osos shaping room. - PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • Kurt Roberts, owner and shaper of KR Surfboards, examines the lines of a freshly shaped board in his Los Osos shaping room.

His company KR Surfboards started in 2000 in California after he’d spent a couple of years in Hawaii learning to shape boards. When he moved to Los Osos, he started befriending the best surfers in the area, gave them custom-built boards for free, and then all the kids in the area would see their heroes, these pro surfers on KR boards and want one, too. It was brilliant marketing.

Over his decades of shaping, he’s gotten better at sizing up clients and giving them exactly what they need.

“Experience level matters. I’ll ask, ‘How long have you been a surfer? Where do you surf? What kind of waves do you like?’ I’ll try to get an idea of their experience level and kind of take it from there. If they’re beginners, I’ll recommend a board that will be easier to paddle and easier to stand up on, more floatation.”

Like a lot of shapers, he can recommend a good all-around shape.

“The hybrid models, ones in between a shortboard and longboard, are super easy to catch waves on, and it’s got enough floatation to be real stable, but once you get up it’s still short enough where it’s going to turn for you. You can have a funner session. If you don’t have a lot of experience, it gets frustrating.

“They call them ‘hybrids’ and they’re in between a fun shape, which is like a small longboard, and a shortboard. If you started off on a longboard and you feel like you’ve accomplished that skill level, then you can jump down to a fun shape or a hybrid, which will turn easier, and you’ll start getting the feel turning a surfboard, and then once you’ve accomplished that, you can step down to a shortboard. Well, unless you just have the talent. Some people do. They can just jump on a shortboard and learn how to ride.”

Roberts picked up his skills servicing damaged boards.

“I do a lot of ding repair and you’ll get a pro surfer’s board in here for a repair and you figure, why not [make a template from the shape]? I make everything. Fishes, twin fins, guns, longboards. I have my models that I make—six models that I sell—and then custom orders, of course. I usually have five or six boards in the shop here, but I do about 75 percent custom orders. I get guys who come in and say, ‘I’m going to Indonesia, and I want four boards in increments,’ like 6-0 up to 7-0, and they want them all to have the same paint jobs. You get some crazy requests.”

Listening to Roberts talk, it’s clear he approaches shaping as a master craftsman, which he is. He’s also been in the construction trade for years. Shaping a custom board is all about doing it right, from expertly setting the fin boxes to perfectly shaping the rails.

“It’s all symmetry. When you’re shaping, you don’t want to sit here and work on one side for half an hour and then time to go to the other side, you know? If you make four or five passes on this side then your flip the board or go onto the other side. You’re duplicating everything you do. It’s all increments—a big learning curve.”

After years supplying surf shops with custom designs people could order through forms, he prefers now to work one-on-one and in person.

“I used to deal a lot more with variety when I was dealing with the surf shops because they’d have order forms and kids would come in and start drawing on it, ‘I want it to look like this.’ A lot of expectations and stuff, and that’s why I stepped into making the models. They can pick whatever colors they want, size they want.”

click to enlarge Kurt Roberts can shape any design, and sometimes clients come in and order a quiver of boards for various wave conditions. - PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • Kurt Roberts can shape any design, and sometimes clients come in and order a quiver of boards for various wave conditions.

His main six models are extremely popular, but if you need that one-of-a-kind custom fit, he can tailor anything to your specifications.

“Anything!” Roberts assures. “I can jive templates together. I can come up with pretty much anything. Anything the customer wants, really.”

Find your fit
Reach Kurt Roberts at [email protected] or visit KR Surfboards online to see what he does best at


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