Month Of The Shaper: Mark Wooster

Zone: Florida and Central America (Based in New Smyrna Beach)
Years Shaping: 13
Boards Per Week: 20
Specialty: "High-performance, Polyester, Shortboard Thrusters" (A Wooster's made nearly every major East Coast pro final the past four years.)

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: New Smyrna's Mark Wooster.

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

I feel like we're running it better. Obviously, we're not doing the numbers we did before Clark closed but we feel good about the products we're making. I have no complaints about our materials. What the closure did was opened the door for Australia and other guys to get into our market more than anything. So there's a lot more players with deeper pockets now. In order to sell a major store you're gonna have to have a {{{financing}}} program and a little bit bigger business methods than before

What percentage are P/U thrusters?

Probably {{{80}}}%. The other 20% are epoxy quads. We've recently started doing more high-performance epoxy. Kyle [Garson] won New Jersey on a roundtail epoxy thruster. And we've also been experimenting with carbon fiber epoxy stringerless. Both Kyle and Jeremy have one and really like it. Our only reservation is it's driving the cost up quite a bit with the carbon fiber. It's $150 more than a regular board. So with the economy the way it is, I don't know how far we want to go with increasing costs.

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

As soon as we get a similar flex pattern out of materials that last longer, we're gonna see a change. But not for at least three or four years. I watch all the WCT contests and it seems like most of the guys who are winning are riding the high-performance poly-thursters, so that makes me think we're doing the right thing. But at the same time, you don't want to turn your back on technology and what might be the next big thing. But the flex patterns of that basic board still seem to still be the favorite feel under your feet.

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

It seems like there's an increase now. With all the poputs and the China boards, a lot of people want a custom board hand-shaped for them by someone they know who knows how they surf. It's kind of like having a personal doctor or going to WebMD. If you know a doctor you feel comfortable with him and they can prescribe the things that help you. And that's what handshapers do now. It's a smaller client base, but it's a more intimate climate base.

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

It seems the retailers have been struggling a bit. We've seen a transfer doing mostly custom orders off our website now. And just custom in general. Last Friday, a girl came in and cut me a check for a custom board. I shaped it that day, and she got the board yesterday. So the total turn around time was seven to 10 days. For a custom board that's exactly what she wanted. And I think that's the key nowadays. If you can do a custom board in a reasonable amount of time where the customer feels good about the buying experience, that's the future for local shapers

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

We only do about 20 boards a week now; we used to do 30-40 when we were really busy. If retail sales stayed good maybe, but I really don't see being able to build them custom overseas in a time frame like we're talking about. It's like a hand-tailored suit for them, done right in their town. And for me it's a more intimate setting so it's more enjoyable for me. I don't think I'm making as much money, but I'm having more fun right now, that's for sure.

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

What I really enjoy is, say, when a guy's going to Indo and he gets four or five boards. Because I live vicariously through him: I think about the waves and think about what they'll be doing, and the boards just breeze by. I try to get in their mind, think about them sitting in the boat. It's like you writing a story and you want to live that story. And that's what I enjoy most. It's like not even working.

How often do you get to surf?

Almost every day if there's waves. That's part of the joy of New Smyrna. It's so consistent. You work or you surf, not much to do besides that.

Is the backyard shaper coming back?

I think so. I see that market as probably the best market, because surfers like that intimate relationship with a shaper. And that's why I started shaping. Because I was a big guy and it was hard to get a high-performance shape catered to my size. I wanted to surf like a kid, but I weighed about {{{200}}} pounds. And if a shaper didn't understand how I surfed at my size, I'd order one and it would either be way too big or way too small. So I think that's the future for guys who want to make boards around EveryCity, USA -- or the world: Maintain good honest relationships with the people who purchase from you; deliver in a good time frame; and give 'em a fair price. And I don't think you have anything to worry about really. I think that's the best business model for now. We're near {{{Daytona}}}, so I like to think we're less like {{{Ford}}}, and more like Jack Roush: we build smaller amounts of cars, more high-performance, as opposed to being a mass-produced brand. And you know what I do a lot now - and it's something I do with Jeremy and Kyle -- I encourage even regular customers to come down and watch 'em shape the board because that educates them more about what they're riding and they carry that forward to anyone or back to me and get a baseline and build off of that. Because, if you learn something from a buying experience, it's a more enjoyable buying experience.

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