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Joseph Frazer, Section 1 SP 15, Spring 2015

Surfboard shaping finds home in San Diego

Bird's Surf Shed

Bird’s Surf Shed off of West Morena Blvd. in San Diego is a unique venue showcasing the many different surfboard shapes and sizes that have been made since the 1960s.

San Diego has some of the most diverse and consistent surf in the country, attracting surfers from all over the world.

The county’s coastline has everything a surfer could ask for: point breaks, reefs, beach breaks, good exposure to almost any swell the Pacific can produce, with plenty of nooks and crannies and enough kelp to ensure that somewhere is always protected from wind.

It truly is a premiere location for surfers; just ask Rob Mochado, Josh Kerr and the many other professional surfers who have settled down in “the most consistent surf zone in all of Southern California, if not the country,” according to, the leading international forecasting website.

A large variety of waves and thousands of surfers with a variety of skill levels, professional to beginner, means an even larger variety of surfboards of all different shapes and sizes to keep up with the crowd. Naturally, San Diego becomes the perfect location for surfboard shapers with over a hundred currently calling it home.

Most surfboards you see are handmade by professional shapers. Hours of labor are spent in a small studio perfecting every dimension of each board’s complex shape to make it perform a certain way once it hits the water. For some it’s a business, for other it’s an art.

“There is probably close to 90 percent of the shaping industry here in San Diego,” owner and shaper of Zen Surfboards, Cal Schafer said., a global surfboard shapers index, has 101 listings in San Diego, some being larger companies that employ five or six shapers.

This list mainly includes the people shaping surfboards commercially, it doesn’t account for the many others who are trying out the craft as a hobby or a one-time experience of shaping their own surfboard at the various shaping studios in San Diego like Shaper Studios Surfboard Workshop or Foam E-Z.

Not only does San Diego account for a significant amount of surfboard shapers, but it is also home to some of the best shapers in the world.

If you look through the surfer profiles on the World Surf League website, which includes their surfboard sponsor, close to half of the professinal surfers on the World Championship Tour use boards shaped by San Diego companies.

Filipe Toledo won the first event of the 2015 World Tour on a Sharpeye surfboard. Josh Kerr rides Rusty surfboards, Michel Bourez is on Firewire surfboards, just to name a few.

San Diego also hosts the annual Boardroom Show, an international tradeshow for the latest in surfboard design and surf equipment housed each year at the Del Mar Fairgrounds. The city is also home to places like Bird’s Surf Shed and the California Surf Museum, which both hold some of surfing’s greatest history from classic surfboard designs to old contest jerseys and more.

“For me, surfing means riding any kind of board, whatever it takes to find the stoke that day. Over the years there was this desire to collect these different boards, learn their stories, explore their mechanics, and pass that along,” Eric “Bird” Huffman said.

surfboard shaper working in studio

Schafer works in a small studio in Carlsbad crafting custom surfboards for the San Diego surf and his clients’ specific preferences.

One out of one hundred, working against the odds

Most, if not all, shapers are surfers and most surfers aren’t known for their business skills.

“The artist and the craftsman part of my career came naturally to me. I think the business part of it was the bigger challenge,” owner and founder of Rusty Surfboards, Rusty Preisendorfer said.

Preisendorfer started Rusty Surfboards in 1985 after an already successful career with another company. Based in San Diego from the beginning, the business has received international praise from professionals.

Considered to be a master of the trade, Preisendorfer has been shaping for 45 years, and will be honored for his success and innovation at this year’s Boardroom Show.

Cal Schafer, owner of Zen Surfboards, shapes surfboards in a small rented studio in Carlsbad. He is a one-man band with only four years as a business under his belt working on making surfboard shaping a successful business.

Starting in his parent’s garage, Schafer says he didn’t begin with the business in mind.

“I always grew up building things, so I decided to build my own surfboard,” Schafer said. “Some of the boards I saw I felt I could do a better job.”

Eight years later, after shopping long and hard for garage buildings for sale, he has his own garage and he is now shaping four surfboards a week as Zen Surfboards, selling each for $445 and up depending on materials and design.

VIDEO: Cal Schafer talks about the different surfboard shapes he likes to shape the most and how they work in the water, particularly the beaches around San Diego.  

“Doing more alternative shapes and creating the designs that aren’t the traditional performance shortboard, there’s plenty of those guys and that’s not a market I’m trying to compete with,” Schafer explained.

Not shying away from all the competition San Diego has to offer, he says he enjoys having all these shapers in one city.

Capitalizing on a fully hand-shaped design, Schafer also sees his craftsmanship more as an art as the industry moves more toward a machine-driven future.

Schafer also draws influence from the waves in North County that tend to be slower and less powerful. “These kind of waves need a board that floats better and generates lots of speed, so that means more foam, wider and thicker, and usually some sort of fish design for the tail,” Schafer said.

different surfboards stacked side by side

The surfboards on the rack in Schafer’s studio all have a different shape, here is a fish (front) and a performance shortboard (behind), the shape of the tail is one of the most important variables.

The fish is a classic surfboard design in which the middle of the tail is cut out mimicking the look of an actual fish tail. This creates a large channel for the water to flow through propelling a surfer faster on a wave.

“Cal shaped a custom board just for me, thick and wide but short with four fins. It’s perfect for Pipes, the surf spot I surf almost every time,” Jonah Babcock, a Zen Surfboard customer.

Babcock said the price of the surfboard was the main reason he chose to go with Zen Surfboards, but the custom fit was “like a cherry on top.”


Although Zen Surfboards is growing, Schafer still juggles a day job as a hair stylist in Poway where he grew up.

“Eventually I would like it to be the only thing I do, but for now I’m just trying to build the brand while sticking to 100% handcrafted, creative boards,” Schafer said.

Whether it’s a business or a hobby, a garage or a warehouse, San Diego caters to all surfboard shapers.



About Joseph Frazer

Freelance Journalist & Action Sports Enthusiast.


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