It’s no secret that surfing has become big business. Lately in particular
it has become increasingly impossible not to notice the economic explosion of our
sport. With Quiksilver poised to earn an estimated three billion dollars in sales
in the next five years, films like “Riding Giants” hitting the big screen, and surf athletes
signing seven figure deals, one almost forgets where the roots of the industry
itself lay. Hidden by massive international corporations and mind-blowing profit
margins, the cottage industry that started it all is still in place and
continues to play a key role in the growth of the sport. The local shop down by
the water, the shaper around the corner, and the ding wizard up the block are all
still vitally important. These small independently owned businesses are the
historical building blocks of what has become the modern surf industry. They
also play a role in the cultural foundation of the sport as well by providing
communal gathering points outside of the water, places where surfers can come
together to exchange goods, services, ideas, and stoke away from the competitive
atmosphere of the lineup.
The importance of the small local surf business cannot be stressed enough,
and the existence of a traditional approach to the industry is essential to the
sports survival. With this in mind we decided to sit down with 31-year-old San Diego shaper
Chris Christenson, owner of Christenson Surfboards. Chris understands his niche
within the surf industry and seems to revel in the role he has created for
himself. Strongly influenced by the past, yet with an eye on the future,
Christenson has been mentored during his career by an older generation of shapers
whose names include masters like Dick Brewer and Skip Frye. Incredibly diverse
Chris can shape anything and shape it well. His ability to crank out quality
progressive equipment and traditional designs alike has made him noteworthy among
shaping circles and pro’s alike. Skip Frye calls Christenson’s work, “amazing for
someone of his age…he is way ahead the game and his approach to the business is
both professional and polished.” Brad Gerlach agrees and says Christenson is, “a
versatile, soulful shaper with old school traditional values that translate into
his work.” We caught up with Chris at his shaping bays in San Diego and sat down
to talk about his connections to the past, his passion for traditional board
designs and versatility, his overall outlook on shaping, and his approach to
running a small business in an ever-growing industry.
SURFERMAG.COM: Chris, where are you from?
CHRIS CHRISTENSON: I grew up in LA County and moved to San Diego in ‘91 and now I live in Cardiff.
SURFERMAG.COM: How long have you been shaping?
CHRIS CHRISTENSON: This is my 13th year.
SURFERMAG.COM: What was it that got you into shaping initially? What drew you in?
CHRIS CHRISTENSON: I always liked working with my hands but what started me off was where I grew up.
My next-door neighbor had a full-on garage factory. He was this guy from Hawaii
and I got the bug from him. Ever since I was a kid on bike with training wheels,
I always used to watch him doing it cause he’d have the garage door open.
Then, when I was about 18, I saw a blank for sale at some random surf shop. I went
and bought it and I brought it home and I just said to him “hey man let
me borrow your tools,” and that’s how it started. My little brother Eric, he got
into it too, and now he shapes up in Newport so we both kind of got the bug that
way. My Mom’s license plate says “shaper mom.”(Laughs)