Nathan Fletcher. Photo: Ellis
Nathan Fletcher. Photo: Ellis

Inside the Duct Tape Festival

Nathan Fletcher breaks down the celebration of self-shaped surfcraft, coming to Haleiwa tomorrow

Nathan Fletcher is known for punting massive airs and rushing evil-looking waves, not necessarily for his skills on the end of a planer. But for the Vans Duct Tape Festival, that’s kind of the point. Tomorrow from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Ali’i Beach Park in Haleiwa on the North Shore of Oahu, local surfers are going to get a rare chance to check out their favorite pros’ self-shaped sticks, and even take them for a test drive. The new DIY-inspired event series asks pro surfers to shape two boards and bring them down to the beach to be swapped and surfed amongst themselves and the broader surf community. Although Vans is keeping the full list of participants close to their chest, we got a chance to catch up with Nathan Fletcher about the event, what he ended up making, and how shaping your own boards deepens your understanding and appreciation of surfing.

So what’s the Duct Tape Fest all about?

Right now, since Vans has all their team riders and their whole crew out here for the Triple Crown and everything, they wanted to use their time and do something cool for the community. So it’s a surf event they’re putting on down at Haleiwa on Thursday, and they had four guys from the Vans team shape two boards each. The boards are just going to be there for anyone to try out, and it’s just a way to bring everyone together to have fun and try some different boards, and to let the kids hang out with some of the best surfers in the world, which hopefully inspires them.

What did you end up shaping?

I made two 5’5″s. I don’t really shape, so it’s kind of more of a novelty. Some of the guys shape more, so their boards came out looking really good. Mine are what I think the future of shortboards will look like, in some sense. They’re small, obviously, but I made them really thick with a straight outline through the board, and it’s got a snub nose and a diamond tail. It’s kind of like a fish, I guess, but I think eventually this is going to be a pretty common shortboard.

Most people probably don’t know you shape. Is this something you’ve been into for a while?

I’ve probably shaped 100 boards. It’s something I do as a hobby, and in the beginning, I started just because I wanted to know about boards and design and how they work and why they work. I wanted to figure that out after I started really diving into fin setups, and I realized that you can’t really know about boards unless you try to make them yourself. But, man, its a real tedious, nightmare hobby. If you were really a professional, you’d have a mask that was dust-free and you’d have air conditioning. But me, I do it with no air conditioning and no mask, so I’m just all sweaty and dusty—it’s pretty much the worst.

So you like the end result but not so much the process?

It’s torture. I like holding a board at the end and going, “That’s cool, I made that.” But it’s just messy and there are a lot of chemicals. It’s just bad.

Do you ride your own boards often?

I try to. Obviously I never set out to shape a board on the same level as a professional shaper, so my boards aren’t perfect. But I have shaped boards that came out super good, maybe on accident. When you get a good board that you made, and then catch a good wave on it, that’s, like, the best feeling of accomplishment. But when the waves are really good and scary, that’s obviously not the time to experiment, and I’ll ride something that’s definitely going to work. I’d never take my shapes over a Stretch, but they’re fun in…let’s say “hotdog” conditions, when it’s small and fun and sloppy. That’s what we surf most of the time anyway, right? So you’ve got plenty of time to try it.

What do you hope this will mean to the kids who come out and check out the Duct Tape?

I hope the kids are stoked, and I hope it inspires them to shape. But mainly, I hope it teaches them to get familiar with their equipment and try different things and be as open-minded as possible. You might think you know how something will ride, but until you try it for yourself, you never really know. I’m excited to try all the other guys’ boards at the event. Should be fun.