Month Of The Shaper: Jesse Fernandez

Editor's Note: In conjunction with our annual Surfboards Issue (On newsstands Nov. 18), we will be posting one interview per day with a craftsman who contributed to the issue. Some are the biggest names in the bay; others are underground and want to keep it that way. But all of them share an equal passion for the crafts that move us forward. In these tough economic times, they all have a lot to say on where their craft is going. This time: WRV's Jesse Fernandez.

Name: Jesse Fernandez, Wave Riding Vehicles
Zone: East Coast (Based on the Outer Banks, North Carolina)
Years Shaping: 34
Boards Per Week: 20
Specialty: "Depends on the market, I'll do everything from 5'6" groms to 12-foot rescue boards. The customer's always right."

Is your business better or worse since the Clark Foam shutdown?

That's a tough call. I actually think the foam's gotten better, the blanks have gotten better. And we're still doing the same number of boards, so I'd say it's unchanged. I think, the entry level guys are taking a hit - the guys doing mostly funboards and longboards -- are taking a hit from the overseas product. But a 40-year-old company has a pretty good cushion, a pretty deep customer base. I think we have something like {{{80}}} dealers. And four stores of our own makes a difference toward the bottom line for sure. It gives us a little more wiggle room than other shops.

Do you feel polyurethane foam/polyester resin will always be the dominant surfboard construction?

Until somebody comes up with something better, it's still the best. It absorbs the energy better than any other combination. It acts like a shock absorber beneath your feet, not just for the water but the energy running under the water. And overall from two foot to 20 foot it has a better feel. Those lightweight epoxies, the comp-sands, when it's real glassy and real clean those things are gonna go unreal; but as soon as you get a little chop on the face you kind of need that extra weigh of a six pound board as opposed to a 4.5lb.

Do you think there’s an increasing or decreasing appreciation for a custom surfboard?

I'd say interest for them is up. I do about 60% custom, 40% stock. If a guy can get a hold of the person who's going to build him a board and talk to him about the way he surfs — or just get him some pictures or a vid clip — that's way better than grabbing a stock molded board or just a board off he rack. But with the economic environment now, surfboard builders in general are going to give the average guy more attention than they're used to in order to get their business. The industry has grown so much. You can't be, like, "Here's your groceries, buddy; sorry the apples are sour."

Are quads declining or increasing in popularity?

Um, that's tough, too. There are guys who are way into 'em. We've got three different models. But I don't think they're gonna grow much more. The competitive guys — because they haven't been accepted on the world scale — still see them as a gimmick. But we're still getting a lot of orders for them. I just finished doing two of the exact same boards for a team guy - one quad, one thruster. He wants the shortboard outline, but doesn't want to give up the speed of his quad. So he's gonna compare them.

What’s keeping you afloat? Custom clientele? Shop accounts? Surftech?

We've got eight molded boards with the Placebo guys - they're called Flexlites — and we went into that area to satisfy a certain demand. But, overall what keeps us going is diversity: you want paddle board? We'll make you a paddle board. Grom board? No problem. Long? Fun? Short? Done. We've got a pretty wide variety.

What kind of music do you like to listen to when you shape?

You're gonna laugh, but I like that slower, acoustic style. I like Tim Reynolds, My Morning Jacket. Andy McKee. No Metallica going on in my room. Too much happening in the music; I get lost.

How much time do you spend on a single board now?

Oh god, if get one done in an hour and a half, I'm lucky. When I've got a planer in my hand and I'm just moving foam, I'm pretty quick. But when it comes time to finish, I probably spend more time than I have to tuning things the average surfer probably wouldn't even notice. But if it's not done to the best of my ability - even tiny little stuff you can't see or feel -- I feel funny putting on the rack.

Do you spend more time on the computer screen or in the shaping bay?

What computer? This company is in love with the hand-shaped surfboard.

How important is teamrider feedback to you?

It's everything. It's what feeds all the designs that go into production and go on the showroom floor. But the surfer/shaper relationship comes down to the individual. Some surfers are, like, "I need a board, I've got a contest..." They're thinking about a million different things, and the last thing they think about is the first thing they put under their feet when they hit the water. Benny's good, He'll email, "Hey this is what it did; this is what it didn't do." But the stable guys like Noah - settled down, stable, married, family -- he's talking surfboards all the time. He understands relationships and he understands this is another relationship, and he has to communicate to satisfy his needs in the relationship.

Are you actively pursuing “greener” avenues in your surfboard production?

You know, as an employee for a major corporation, design is more of my concern. I did shape a few of the Ice 9, sugar-cane based MDI foam; And I heard about a corn-oil based resin that's similar to polyester. But all those avenues go back to why polyester-polyurethane is going to be around for a long time. Because the strength-to-weight ratios aren't in the ball park of a high-performance board that'll satisfy 80% of your customers. You can do a killer bamboo board with a sugar-cane based core and some corn oil resin, but when you pick the 10-lb thing up, it's like, "Whoa." And not in a good way.

DAY 1: William “Stretch” Riedel
DAY 2: Mark Price / Firewire Surfboards
DAY 3: Jeff Clark
DAY 4: Chris Gallagher
DAY 5: Matt Biolos
DAY 6: Geoff Rashe
DAY 7: Mark Wooster
DAY 8: Jeff Bushman
DAY 9: Rusty Preisendorfer
DAY 10: Rich Price
DAY 11: Shane Stoneman
DAY 12: Ricky Carroll
DAY 13: Xanadu
DAY 14: Chris Christenson
DAY 15: John Carper
DAY 16: Michael Walter
DAY 17: David Barr
DAY 18: Ben Aipa
DAY 19: Jeff “Doc” Lausch
DAY 20: Jesse Fernandez
DAY 21: Cole Simler