How many established shapers can you name who are in their twenties?
Man, those crickets are loud.
For one reason or another, you just don't see too many young shapers immersed in the craft of board-building these days. That's why it's impressive to see a young guy cranking out quality surfboards – especially when his shaping roots were cultivated in unlikely environs like Virginia Beach. But that's Adam Warden of AJW Surfboards for you. Proud of his roots and the drive required to make a name as a young shaper, SURFER had a chance to sit down with Warden to talk about design, philosophy, and the future, because let's face it: with fewer young craftsmen coming up in the shaping game, it's more than likely we'll be seeing a lot more of AJW Surfboards as the years pass.
So how did you get started shaping in Virginia Beach, VA?
I started shaping, because I really wanted to get a new board, and didn’t quite have the money saved up. I wanted to just see if i could just do it myself? Little did I know how bad my first boards would be.
When did you know that shaping could be your profession?
I moved to Wilmington to go to school, and halfway through school I was getting a lot of board orders, and couldn't keep up with missing classes to have to go to work so I said "If I’m goin to make it as a shaper I need to get out of here, and gain more experience. Moving to CA was a start.”
I didn't know a single person out here. I bought this van and put a futon in it, so I opened up the Yellow Pages and called up tons of people, and hooked up with the guys at Sharp Eye and started doing some airbrushing. I shuffled around a few places and got my foot in the door and started shaping on weekends and did the best I could, and ended up making some decent boards and started getting opportunities.
How much of a role has traveling played in your life as a shaper?
A huge role. I decided traveling and shaping would get me where I wanted to be so I did trips to Puerto and Ecuador and Australia and Hawaii. I feel the travels pay dividends because I learn so much. Just last week I was in Hawaii and I learned a lot from being there; guys are doing a lot of techniques that are different. The shapers who do things best have their eyes open.
What's it like being such a young shaper?
There are so few young guys in it now, because there's no money in making surfboards. The only reason I could do it at a young age is the older guys gave me a chance. The messed up part is that a large chunk of the next generation of shapers will be exclusively machine shapers. I did about a thousand boards before I even touched a machine. It takes years to develop the feel for even just the basics. I think you learn that from handshaping. I don't think there will ever be a top shaper who didn't start handshaping.
Is there any advantage to being an East Coast shaper?
The only advantage I've ever had being a shaper from the East Coast is that I've always had to prove myself. A lot of people assumed that because I'm from the East Coast that I make great small boards, but that's not necessarily the case.
Would you say that you have a specialty as a shaper?
I don't want to shape any boards that I don't want to ride. I've shaped longboards and all that stuff, but I don't want to anymore. When it comes to my boards, I don't want to shape another funboard for the rest of my life. China can have that market. I want to shape performance shortboards, guns (which are my favorite), single fins, and boards of that sort. In my mind, I want to make you the board that will give you the best wave of your life.
How do you feel about custom boards versus buying them off the rack?
For the average customer, I'd say go buy a board off the rack all day long. You pick it up. You feel it. You see what you want and you buy it. You're done. You can buy a custom from a shaper you don't know at all and wait a month, then you get the board and the volume isn't even right. Buying a board off the rack is always a good idea. More serious surfers can fine-tune their equipment by developing a relationship with their shaper.
Glass on fins versus fin systems:
Usually, I like glass-ons on my personal boards. The reason being: the board either works or it doesn't. It doesn't mess with your head. It's like, "This is your surfboard. Learn how to ride it."
Do you have any tips to make your surfboard last longer?
Do ding repair. If you get a crack on your rail, fix it; otherwise, the board will buckle or break there. Don't leave your board in the sun or heat. For guys learning how to do airs if you're not going to make it – kick the board out. Be cautious.
Any advice to young shapers coming up?
First, theres little money. Second, it takes at least 100 boards before you even kind of know what you’re doing. I got to my fourteenth board and i thought it was perfect because I was young and just stoked to be shaping. It’s important to realize a board can always be improved.
Also I'd say to do what you're good at. If you make something and it works well…try it again when you're just starting out. Learn to be a good craftsman; learn to hand-shape first. Don't mess with machines for a long time.
For more on AJW Surfboards check out AJWSurfboard.com