January ’06: SURFING Magazine’s 2005 Shaper Of The Year; Bill ‘Stretch’ Riedel

Gifted surfboard shapers can't bank on much more than their own creativity. Think about it: there are hundreds -- maybe thousands -- of 'em out there, plowing away to the buzz of their own planer. Team riders come and go. Their shapes fall in and out of fashion like so many designer jean labels. Profit margins shrink to 1/16th of an inch. And yet, they must mow on. To surf. To eat. To live.

It can be a disheartening prospect, which is why fewer and fewer shapers out there are doing it their way. Some assume the role of the boardbuilding undead and become ghost shapers. Others disappear altogether, buried in an unmarked grave of foam shavings and unpaid debt. And then there's the few who survive on hope and ideas alone, who continue to squeak by knowing that someday, somehow, their time will come.

William "Stretch" Riedel is one of those shapers. At a towering 6'6" and as skinny as a rocker stick, Stretch looks more like the scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz than one of the world's most forward-thinking shapers. But make no mistake: the 47-year-old Santa Cruz resident has a brain -- a brain that's obsessed with pushing waveriding equipment to unseen levels.

This has always been his driving force. For the better part of 25 years, he's been making boards lighter, stronger and faster using different foams, different resins and different constructions. And for more than half of this time, after a tragic windsurfing accident, he's done it with a locked-up hand and partial paralysis on his right side.

His efforts didn't get him much more than an underground following in Santa Cruz until sometime last year, when the world started to notice.

First: the technology. With more and more surfers veering away from disposable, polyurethane surfboards, Stretch was right there to offer them the state-of-the-art epoxy equipment, feather-light and ready to take a licking. His mastery of the medium became even more apparent when he unveiled his "new generation" tow board, a $1600 sandwich-epoxy rocket that can only be described as space age.

Second: the team. Stretch always relied on his core of world-class Santa Cruz talents for feedback. Guys like Josh Loya, Josh Mulcoy and Ratboy Collins. But when air king Nathan Fletcher jumped on board and pushed his bat-tail quads on Stretch, the ideas started flying. Suddenly, bat-tail quads became the shape of choice for everything from 2-foot Murph Bar to 20-foot Maverick's.

Finally: the results. No new concept holds water until someone actually backs it up. So, when Westside charger Anthony Tashnick went out and won this year's Maverick's Surf Contest on a 9'4" bat-tail four-fin, he and Stretch essentially erased 40 years of big-wave board theory in a single event -- arguably the biggest design statement since Simon won the '81 Bells on a Thruster.

A four-fin in big, hollow surf? According to Fletch and Stretch, they wouldn’t pull in any other way. Nathan foils through Puerto
Either way, it's certainly big enough to earn SURFING Magazine's Shaper of the Year honors. But we know long overdue credit isn't what drives Riedel. Hometown hero or unknown soldier, Stretch will continue tinkering away in his Midtown factory, leaving no blank unturned.

SURFING MAGAZINE: Do you still consider yourself an underground shaper?

STRETCH: I went to the trade show only a year ago, and a big-name shaper took a look at one of my quads, complimented it and then asked if I shaped for a hobby. [laughs] That was a wake-up call. Like, "OK, nobody knows who you are, dude. Get it together."

Did your dad [{{{Malibu}}} surfer Mike "The Noodle" Riedel] inspire you to start shaping?

My dad was a balsa guy, and he never really made that transition into foam. But after we moved from LA up to Gilroy -- I think I was 18 at the time -- I basically went up to him and said, "Dad, how do you shape a board?" He gave me a few starting tips, a friend and I gutted out an old trailer and I shaped my first two boards with a jack plane.