Month Of The Shaper: John Carper

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: give thanks for the North Shore's John Carper.

Name: John Carper
Zone: HI, CA, East Coast, international….I travel a lot.
Years shaping: 40 years…I was born shaping.
Specialty: Everything except stand-up paddle boards (janitors) and goat boats.

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

In many ways life is better since Clark because, most of the time, we have better blanks than before, so boards are stronger and lighter. The only problem is that distribution is not as steady and when the blanks are bad they can be real bad. Another problem is that the price of blanks never went back to the Clark price and boards cost me more to make.

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

It seems as though Polyester and polyurethane have really survived every assault by the so called “high tech” cult. It still remains the best material for a great board and if a board receives a minimal amount of care, such as rinsing your board off with fresh water and patching your dings, kinda like a fine guitar. There are some sound engineering reasons of why these materials work best and they all result in a better “feel”.

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

I am experiencing an increase in custom orders and it’s not to save money. They just want to get a good board that they feel will work for their needs and appreciate a bit of advice and care. There aren’t a lot of fine things left that can be made just for you and my customers know what goes into a good board and respect that effort.

Are quads declining or increasing in popularity?

Four-fin fever seems to be declining, which is a shame because they are a great design. I suppose they will disappear in a few years and in another few years after that, will be re-discovered, which just shows to go you that there really isn’t anything new under the sun.

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

When Clark went under, there was total panic. Everyone thought there would not be enough blanks to keep up with demand so every surf shop ordered big on boards from Australia and China. The dollar was strong and it took a lot longer to get the containers here. In the meantime, there never was a shortage of blanks because every shaper had squirreled away tons of blanks, and not to mention, the hundreds of new blank companies that sprung up. The problem was that a lot of the new foam was untried and turned out to be bad. The high tech boys jumped in and went way overboard on production. Everything hit our shores at once and the customer was blown away. The hugh inventories and a lot of defective boards just seemed to de-value surfboards in general. Boards were just crammed into the racks and just looked crappy. I think this scenario took the air out of the sails of the shops and then the economy went south so now a lot of people want custom boards because they want to really get what they want.

If it hasn’t already, will your surfboard production ever have to go overseas?

I travel a lot and make limited amounts of boards all over the world. I go to China a few times a year and only make real high end boards when I am there. There are some extremely talented workers there and I have a crack team but I have to babysit each board I make so this severely limits the quantities.

There is some real good surf there and whenever I surf there, I know I am the first and only surfer to surf the break plus the food and the people are great. Being from Hawaii I am used to Asian culture so I enjoy my stays there but we still do the majority of our production in the U.S. And will continue to do so.

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

I have real eclectic musical tastes but I do like it loud.

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

That depends on how much time I spend on my computer. I try to design my boards before I shape them but sometimes I like to deign them while I shape them. I really believe that shaping a surfboard is like cutting hair. If it takes too long, it usually means there is a problem.

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

I spend a lot of time on both. I am trying to spend more time in the water.

How important is teamrider feedback to you?

Team feedback is crucial. It is very hard to find team riders that are good communicators, fortunately I have been blessed with them.

What kind of board do you enjoy shaping most right now?

I always enjoy shaping guns but the biggest challenge is shaping small-wave boards, grovellers, everything has to work in such harmony or else they bog. Most pros stress out about their grovellers than anything else.I also really enjoy doing custom boards for guys that are getting back into surfing or want to put more into their surfing than before. It is really satisfying knowing that my board can bring so much pleasure to someone and keep their stoke alive. These guys really appreciate the effort.

How often do you get to surf?

I try to get out 3-5 times a week here in California and when I travel. I get to surf more often in when I am home in Hawaii.

Are you actively pursuing "greener" avenues in your surfboard production?

I am working on some "green" solutions and I am always open but there is so much hype it really makes it difficult. The main problem is that people want "white" surfboards that look like Wonder Bread. I like muti-grain bread but it is rough and brown. Until the public gets over their fetish for white boards we are stuck. If I even get a small fingerprint on a surfboard I have to discount it. I think I should get extra.

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