Ryan Lovelace. Photo: Gordon
Ryan Lovelace. Photo: Gordon

Do Something: Be Your Own Shaper With Ryan Lovelace

"If you're not excited to make a board, don't make it."

Santa Barbara, California's Ryan Lovelace will make you a surfboard, but it will take six months. He's a busy man. Lovelace's modern take on old-school-ish shapes, like his sought-after V-bowl mid-lengths, are painfully cool and very much in demand. So why not just make your own? Lovelace taught himself to shape and started on his apartment's balcony — about as humble a beginning as a successful shaper can have. He thinks you can do the same.

"I was 19 years old and I just realized one day that I could make a surfboard instead of saving up for it. All of a sudden my first board was done and I was like, 'Cool. I'll make another one.' So the next month, I did. The next month, I made two more. I had a balcony on my second-floor apartment and I covered the whole thing with a tarp and built a pulley to raise and lower a tarp to cover the whole area up. I got the fire department called on me a few times by my neighbor. I think I did my first six boards up there."

For about the price of a new board, you can easily set yourself up with the tools it takes to make boards for the rest of your life. "First, you need an enclosed space," Lovelace says (apparently a balcony counts). "Then, a planer is probably $200; if you buy metal racks to shape the board on, they're probably $250, but you could build your own for $50. Then another $50 on random tools and sandpaper—lights are probably $100-something, shelves are maybe $50 or $80. So it's between $600 and $800 to have a decent setup. You'd be in a good starting place."

According to Lovelace, you want to start with shaping lights that cast shadows that reveal subtle curves in a board that you can't see in normal light: "I don't think I had shaping lights until my 12th board. I shaped my seventh or eighth board in a friend's garage, where he had a whole shaping-room setup with proper lighting. It was pretty mind-blowing. It's hard to see what you're doing without the lights. That was probably the most important thing I overlooked at first."

Lovelace says that studying under a veteran shaper would be ideal, but he didn't start that way and wouldn't change it: "I didn't have a mentor because I didn't know to ask. It probably would have helped to have someone teaching me, but I wouldn't change my path. I got a much more thorough education by teaching myself. Of course, it took me 10 years to get that education instead of two years."

Also, Lovelace says, when you're figuring out shaping on your own, jump right in and make what interests you: "For templates, you can make your own curves or trace your favorite boards. There's a website called Blending Curves that you can buy templates from too. It has good, clean baselines for different designs. Fishes are a really easy place to start. They're pretty hard to f–k up. But just make whatever you're excited about making. If you're not excited to make a board, don't make it."

[This piece is Part III of the DIY series "Do Something," where four surfers share their how-to secrets for board-building, moviemaking, swell-chasing, and alternative living]