Dissecting The Current State Of The Shaping Industry

by Stab July 24, 2017 4 min read

Today, Diamond Glassing in San Diego shut its doors for good. For four decades, Diamond housed both fresh and established shapers alike as they refined their crafts. Figures like Skip Frye, Stu Kenson, Wade Largent, Rusty Preisendorfer, and Jason Stevens (when he was on holiday) glassed and put the finishing touches on their boards as they shared space under its roof. But after today, it’ll just be another empty (although, heavily resin scented) warehouse in East County San Diego.

Diamond’s another victim of job outsourcing in the surf industry. A consequence of modern shaping machines. Which took shaping jobs overseas to places like China and Taiwan, where materials are cheap and blanks can be shaped, glassed, and completed under budget and ahead of schedule. Sacrificing craftsmanship in the name of mass production.

Recently, John Kies, Wade Largent, and Stu Kensen sat down to talk about their early shaping days. And on the eve of Diamond’s closing, they discussed what tragedies like Diamond’s means for the greater shaping scene.

First, the introductions: “I’ve been building boards for about 40 years,” says Stu Kenson, who’s been shaping since the 70s and is responsible for the mid length and single fin resurgence. “I started on the east coast then came out here in ’76 when I got my first job with G&S, where I met up with this crew.”

“I’ve been full-time since ’91,” adds in Wade Largent, who’s been a sander for Diamond Glassing Co. for 30 years. “That was the heydays of 5000 to 6000 boards a year. Then we tapered off.”

“I’ve had the shop for 42 years and I’ve been shaping for 47 years,” adds in John Kies, who heads up Encinitas Surfboards in North County San Diego.

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Encinitas Surfboards, John’s shop and a landmark on Highway 101 in Encinitas.

So, what was it like when shaping machines started appearing in the market? “I remember Bill Bahne built the first one,” John continues. “And we’re all saying, ‘Uh oh.’ Everyone could see their jobs disappearing, all the shapers.

“And then when guys like Surftech came along all the big names like Takayama, Robert August, Rusty, and Al Merrick jumped on the bandwagon. And that’s when the Chinese thing started and people were accepting those boards. First they weren’t, but then they were. And I had my retail store, so they were there. Everyone was kinda guilty to a point.”

“Worldwide you can count how many good laminators there are now,” says Stu. “When I first was around, seeing what was going on, every shop had laminators, pin liners, and shapers that were all the same level. Which was as good as it gets.

Photo by JS 2

A stack of finished JS’, something that used to be a common sight at Diamond Glassing.

It started with that whole surfing sports crap. Where it was just like surfboards were just another commodity. There are very few hardcore shops anymore. And those left realised, ‘Hey, we’re not working on the boards, so we’re not making any money.’ 

“Now, we’ve got all these places where you can go and make a board. They’re like, ‘Hey, you want to use a Skip Frye template? Here it is.’”

“It takes the artful craftsmanship out of it,” John adds back in. “It’s cool to have a computer design a board, that’s the new thing. But it takes the soulfulness out of it.”

And what about Diamond Glassing? “Rusty was the biggest account there,” John adds. “Then JS and Skip Frye. Pretty much the same crew’s been here. TC, which is Tom Curtis, he was the airbrushed and pen liner here, and even he had to leave.

https://www.youtube.com/embed/bkB_BRdC0DI

A demonstration of the shape3d software, one example of board shaping in the digital age that’s led to the death of institutions like Diamond Glassing.

“I used to be doing 25 boards a week of my own brand and now I’m doing like eight a week. Two-thirds of the output is gone. And I think it’s because a lot of people are going with cheaper boards in my store now. I sell more of those than my own boards.

“Really the only thing that’s ok with it is I’m getting older and I don’t know if I want to shape that hard anymore. The prices have gone high and the people see cheaper boards that are coming out of China and Taiwan and they look pretty good.

“Yes, and people are skipping steps. Even the ‘Oh, I’m a hand shaper’ guys aren’t making their own templates. They’re downloading them or making them in Photoshop and Illustrator then printing them out.

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Inside Diamond Glassing, where racks like these will remain empty.

“The consumer is just a different. It’s just goods, uninformed, ‘It’s all price.’ I blame a lot of guys for selling out, because they’re too lazy to get dirty. They just want that mailbox money.”

“There’s a shortage of dedicated guys now,” Wade continues. “We used to fight over who got to clean the shop. If you wanted to shape, you better grab the shaper’s broom and start sweeping floors before he even asks. 

“Now, these guys come in with the wrong labels. They’re privileged. They want this, they want that. They’ve got their fucking laptop in front of them. They don’t want to get dirty. Before, it was surfers that wanted surfboards. Now we’ve got athletes that want to surf on the weekend and cross-trainers and the whole fucking circus going.”

“It’s just supply and demand,” Stu finishes. “We can’t keep up. Surfing has become such a mainstream recreational sport for everybody and because we couldn’t keep up it just made sense they went somewhere where they can. Which is China offshore. And of course, really low prices come with that so we get left behind in the dust. There’s millions of people out in the water with surfboards, but they’re not surfers.”

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