Editor's Note: In conjunction with our annual Surfboards Issue (On newsstands Nov. 18), we will be posting one interview per day with a craftsman who contributed to the issue. Some are the biggest names in the bay; others are underground and want to keep it that way. But all of them share an equal passion for the crafts that move us forward. In these tough economic times, they all have a lot to say on where their craft is going. This time: multiple board-buildoff champion Ricky Carroll.
Name: RICKY CARROLL / R&D Surf (RC, Donald Takayama, Local Motion, Hawaiian Style, Dale Velzy, Pat Rawson, Chris Birch, Surfboards Hawaii)
Zone: East Coast, Caribbean, starting to branch out into Europe. (Based in Brevard Co., Florida)
Years Shaping: I shaped my first surfboard when I was 13 years old so …1973. But I'd say it was 1980 was when I gave up doing everything and just shaped full time.
Boards Per Week: I still personally shape 20 boards a week.
Specialty: "Versatility." (Ricky's winning Reef Board build off winner made the most of the coast; he also won the Ice 9 Shaper's challenge.)
Do you think there’s an increasing or decreasing appreciation for a custom surfboard?
I feel like we're maybe turning a corner now where people are waking up: "Hey, I can get a board custom made for me, with my dimensions and the way I like to surf." Whereas for the last couple years it's been model this and model that. And availability. Before factories were so busy, you couldn't get a board out quick enough and guys didn't want to wait. So people started buying models on the shelf. But there's guys who still want a custom board. I think retailers do a pretty bad job of perpetuating the custom boards. They shy away from it. I've even had retailers say to me: "I don't want to mess with custom orders. I want to buy a board, stick it on a rack and sell it." And that's where a lot of retailers have lost their hardcore appeal, because they don't have a guy in the shop who can talk design and sell a surfboard on its merits instead of its price.
What’s keeping you afloat? Custom clientele? Shop accounts? Surftech?
I don' have any royalty money coming in for designs, so the custom market is number one. Two is the shops that we deal with and have a good relationship with and who know how to sell surfboards. And then, the third would be the high-end custom. Resin pinlines, tints, acid splashes and polish glosses that a lot of builders shy away from. We deal with people up and down the coast who have the money and appreciated the well-built board and craftsmanship that goes into it. That's our clientele. I've never built a cheap board, so I've never competed in a cheap board market. And I think it's going in that direction where custom board builders will get a lot more for their boards and do a lot less. Which would be good for the craftsman. I'd like to see it go that direction instead of being a mass-produced item. And the board builders would get what they deserve.
If it hasn’t already, will your surfboard production ever have to go overseas?
It hasn't. And I've been completely against that because of the guys who I've had working with me for so long – we have 15 people — what's going to happen to their jobs and their families? But if it comes to a market where it can't sustain my current operation, then I'm gonna lose my employees anyways and do it all myself.
How much time do you spend on a single board now?
An average custom shape takes me about 40 minutes. And that's straight handshaped.
How important is teamrider feedback to you?
Always been important and always will. Because surfing keeps changing and I can't go out and bust an aerial reverse — but some of my teamriders can. Actually, my son, Dane, has been real influential just watching him go from a little grom to a real power surfer. And seeing that transition has taught me a lot about what kids need.
Are you actively pursuing “greener” avenues in your surfboard production?
Yes and no. Yes because we do so many epoxies and the Styrofoam we use is more environmentally friendly. We recycle our Styrofoam. No, because polyurethane isn't recyclable yet; at least around here. But you can only do so much and build a high-quality board. And there's a lot of stuff around here we mess around with that we haven't figured out how to make cost-effective.
MONTH OF THE SHAPER:
DAY 1: William “Stretch” Riedel
DAY 2: Mark Price / Firewire Surfboards
DAY 3: Jeff Clark
DAY 4: Chris Gallagher
DAY 5: Matt Biolos
DAY 6: Geoff Rashe
DAY 7: Mark Wooster
DAY 8: Jeff Bushman
DAY 9: Rusty Preisendorfer
DAY 10: Rich Price
DAY 11: Shane Stoneman
DAY 12: Ricky Carroll
DAY 13: Xanadu
DAY 14: Chris Christenson
DAY 15: John Carper
DAY 16: Michael Walter
DAY 17: David Barr
DAY 18: Ben Aipa
DAY 19: Jeff “Doc” Lausch
DAY 20: Jesse Fernandez
DAY 21: Cole Simler