In the middle of the ocean, on the edge of the jungle, in an abandoned sugar mill with barren walls and foam-dusty floors, revolutionary concepts are taking form, cutting-edge ideas are bouncing about and the future of surfboards is carefully, artfully, taking shape.
But from out here, it’s hard to tell. There are no signs outside. No ads for it in the magazines. Not even a website you can visit. The only sound of it is the distant buzz of the machine-guided planer heard between the nearby set waves. The only signs are the laser-precision guns that dominate the local lineups. The only indication is the subtle industry rumble, like the first waves of an approaching swell.
But trust us on this one: the true face of the 21st-century surfboard is nearly upon us. All you have to do is open your mind.

When told he was being named SURFING Magazine’s “Shaper of the Year,” Eric Arakawa put up a fight.“I can think of 10 other guys more deserving than me,” he said, rattling off a short list of his cutting-edge contemporaries. That’s the type of guy he is. Soft-spoken, mild-mannered, and excruciatingly humble, Hawaiian Island Creations shaper Eric Arakawa prefers to defer credit to his peers, to his team riders, even to history itself. But since he won’t claim it, we will. His 30-year shaping roots (since age 14!) extend back through the labels of surfing lore: Lightning Bolt, Surfline Hawaii, Town and Country and now HIC. His relationships with Hawaiian legends like Derek and Michael Ho have inspired his shaping to new levels of perfection (“Mike’s standards were so high,” {{{recalls}}} Eric, “if the boards weren’t magic he wouldn’t even try to make them work.”), making him the preferred shaper of many of the North Shore’s top gun-men, including world champ and seven-year HIC team-rider Andy Irons. While his traditional polyurethane designs remain some of the most respected — make that, most PROVEN — in the world’s hollowest testing grounds, Arakawa’s enthusiasm rests largely in the giant metal mechanism presiding over his shaping room, and in the laptop computer through which he continues to refine and temper his design quiver. As one of the earliest shapers to embrace the art of computer-assisted design (CAD), Arakawa’s skills are widely recognized as some of the best in the business. And as new technologies present themselves — technologies better suited to the finely tuned constructs of CAD than the antiquated buzz of a hand-planer — Arakawa has consistently been among the first to lend his open-minded expertise. A 10-year veteran of various epoxy board-building methods, a founding member of the Salomon S-Core design team, and an amiable mentor to a new generation of high-tech shapers, Eric Arakawa humbly epitomizes the paradigm of the modern craftsman: his feet firmly grounded in the day-to-day evolution of the modern surfboard and his mind wide open to the blue sky of the future.

SURFING MAGAZINE: How do you respond to someone who says that the CAD system is taking away the “soul” of the surfboard?
ERIC ARAKAWA: One customer came in and saw what I was doing — he was ordering, like, five boards at a time — and he said, “You know, next time you make boards for me I want you to hand-shape them all.” And I said, “Are you sure?” And I took him into my office, and I sat him in front of my computer and I showed him what I can do with the CAD system, how accurate I can get everything. Five minutes later he said, “You know what, Eric, from now on I want you to do all my boards like this.”

Does it change the role of the shaper?
It’s just a tool, really. What it does is enable us to be more consistent. It gives us a better base to work from so we can focus more on the fine-tuning. But even beyond that, it helps us to really apply a lot more of the knowledge that we’ve gained about surfboards as opposed to just wrestling with the blank in a room. With the machine, we can apply more of our intellectual knowledge and our experience into each board. At the same time, we can archive it. When you get one board right, you can go back to it. There’s all kinds of experimenting you can do based on the system. It’s just more consistency. Being able to start with a certain base. I would never go back.
The team riders are all on the system, and they can come in and just sit down and talk about what changes they want to make. Every one of the top board-builders in the world is using some sort of CAD system. All of them. Nathan Myers