40 Years of Foam & Fiberglass: Surfboard Craftsman Roger Hinds
Words & Photos by Mucho Arigato
Roger Hinds has been making custom surfboards on the North Shore of Hawaii and in Seal Beach, California for the last 40+ years under the brand of Roger Hinds Surfboards. He’s the defending 2x champion of the Icons of Foam shaping competition put on by The Boardroom International Surfboard Show — and Roger shows no signs of slowing down. We sat down with Roger in an attempt to tease‐out insights to his board making, life on the North Shore in the ’70s and ’80s, and how his peaceful approach to life affects his board making.
MA: Before we get into your experiences in the rich history of surfing and living on the North Shore in the 70s, I want to jump right to the Icons of Foam. Congratulations, by the way. What has your experience been with your back-to-back 2014 and 2015 titles? It seems like such a stressful competition.
ROGER HINDS: It’s an intense experience. Working under a clock and against other great board shapers is definitely a unique experience. Though I don’t want to spend too much time comparing myself to other board builders or trying to one‐up anybody, I do take the Icons of Foam challenges very seriously. I’m competitive against myself. I want to do the best job I can do anytime I build a board. It was a great experience and I’m looking forward to the Gerry Lopez board we’ll be building this year.
MA: Ok, now let’s go back to your early days in Southern California. When did you move from Seal Beach to the North Shore?
ROGER HINDS: 1971. It was a different time. I first went over with a buddy with enough money to last six months. We camped on the beach and were just happy to be there. We were in the water with all of the legends of that time. Whether in the lineup with famous people like the Aikau brothers or in town at the local market, we stayed under the radar. We just wanted to surf. Sure, if we were looking for trouble we could have found it. But, we weren’t there for that.
MA: You give the impression that the scene was mellow on the North Shore in the early 70s.
ROGER HINDS: Yeah, at that time there were a lot of guys that survived the Vietnam War. They had completed their time and just wanted to “be”. There are many military bases there in Hawaii, so it was common to meet a lot of ex‐military guys. Many of them just wanted to “checkout” of daily life and enjoy island life. Everybody gave everybody room. It was a great time to just simplify and surf.
MA: So, it was the early 70s. You and your buddy packed your boards and bags for your first trip to Hawaii. When you arrived did you think to yourselves, “Whoa, we’re part of something major here. We’re living part of surfing history.”?
ROGER HINDS: Nope. We knew it was the greatest place in the world to be a surfer. That’s it. We could paddle out at Sunset Beach and see every famous person that had been in Surfer Magazine at that time in the water at the same time. It was wide open. While we didn’t think to ourselves that we were part of a hugely influential era of surfing, we did know that the boards were evolving really quickly. From the 50s and 60s the medium changed from wood to foam. But from ‘69‐’75 designs were changing everyday. We could come in and make another board after riding and back out we’d go. I didn’t think I was part of anything big at the time, I guess it was an important time in surfing. I don’t pretend to be a driving force in that era, but I was there surfing and building boards. I was happy to be there.
MA: Did you start shaping boards right away?
ROGER HINDS: No. I was just there to surf. Over time, I would get exposed to legendary shapers and glassers. It was a time of constant evolution. By the time I began building boards in the early 70s, the creativity of my fellow shapers was evolving and changing every day. The goal was‐ and for me still is‐ to make the highest quality board possible. Back then, if a shaper had a new idea, he’d just make it. There was a lot of pride and desire to make the next board better than the previous. Back then we were learning everyday. I’ve never stopped learning since then.
MA: When were you able to say to yourself that you’ve refined your craft and had arrived? Was that back in the 70s in Hawaii?
ROGER HINDS: I don’t feel that now, let alone then. I feel like I’ve got room to improve everyday. If I can’t come up with something better than I did in the past, then what’s the point of continuing? I don’t use CNC machines or computer programs. I work by hand and will continue to. It’s part of my driving force. Whether it’s for the 70 year old man that can barely surf anymore or the young 25 year old that is throwing himself down a seven story wave, my focus is to build the fastest and most durable boards I can.
MA: I notice that your boards say “built by one set of hands”. Working by hand and without a crew of people helping build boards suits you?
ROGER HINDS: Absolutely. I get to work with my wife, surf in the mornings with my friends and build six to eight boards per week. It’s a great life. If I brought in a staff, I’d be putting out fires and managing people. I’d rather be building boards and working directly with my clients here at the showroom.
MA: Clients come direct to you?
ROGER HINDS: Mainly, yes. I have clients of all types. I’ve got one of the best Big Wave riders in the world riding my boards and some of the worst old man long boarders too. Though anybody can get my boards at Wise in San Francisco, they can come here to the factory too for a custom board. We can hang out in our showroom and discuss the type of board they want me to build. I have the factory in the back. I do it all back there: shape, sand, polish, glass and even millwork for special projects like the Ultimate Craftsman board where I built a stringer and fin using pieces of wind‐fallen sequoia that are 3,400 years old.
MA: In the Ultimate Craftsman project you competed against the likes of Travis Reynolds, Gene Cooper and Marc Andreini. What was the overall experience like for you?
ROGER HINDS: It was a big project. Those guys are great board builders. I took 2nd place. I wanted to push myself on that project. I learned from a buddy that a mill up in Sacramento could provide officially certified wind‐fallen 3,400 year old sequoia. I used it for the checkerboard stringer I milled. It was over 500 pieces! The indexing was crucial. It was like glueing‐up a giant tail block. I used a 9’8” Y classic weight blank from US Blanks. I was inspired by the late ‘60s Skip Frye boards. Though it’s an expensive board, it’s a rider; not just a wall hanger.
MA: Is that Sequoia board for sale? Or is it something you’ll keep at the factory?
ROGER HINDS: Oh, yeah, it’s for sale. Though my clientele come from all walks of life, there is a subset that want to own some of my rarer boards like the Ultimate Craftsman board we’re talking about now. They have the budgets and seek out boards like that one.
MA: You create boards for creative projects like the Ultimate Craftsman and for guys looking for any type of board style. What about women? Are you seeing more women get into surfing and coming to you for boards?
ROGER HINDS: Definitely. I have a lot of women clients. Women need different boards than the average guy. An example would be my Chrysalis model. Like with any board I build, body type is a big factor in what I ultimately make for them. Try throwing a woman on a board I build for an average sized guy and their paddling might suffer because the board may not have been designed for a narrower torso. The surfer has to be comfortable and and be able to paddle with ease and power. They have to be able to paddle tight; close to their body. So, with my women clients I treat them just like any other client. I want to be sure they get the highest quality board I can craft for them that will enable them to catch the waves they want to ride.
MA: When you are flown around the world to build, are you seeing the same types of board requests?
ROGER HINDS: Actually, no. The boards I make when I’m in Brazil are different than the boards I would make in Japan or Italy. Take Japan, for example, there may be a large portion of the orders for 80s style boards. When I arrive I begin to sort through the orders and group the board orders together. So, if I have five 9.0 orders, then I want to shape them all at the same time so I can develop a rhythm. Then I move on to the next type.
MA: So, there would be a guy or shop in Japan, for example, that would do the pre‐selling of orders for the boards you’d make once you landed?
ROGER HINDS: Yeah, they’d place advertisements in surf magazines and do the sales. Also if people heard through word of mouth that I was coming to town, they’d drive in from other areas. If I were in‐country for enough time, new orders would come in because people would be out riding the boards I had just built. Others would see them and want to get an order placed before I returned home or departed to the next country.
MA: What other countries would you want to shape in?
ROGER HINDS: I’d like to get to Spain and France to do some shaping there. Though I’ve done Italy, I’ve not spent time shaping in those two countries.
MA: Earlier you mentioned that you have a well-known big wave rider riding your guns. Are you seeing your big wave board clients coming from a specific part of the world?
ROGER HINDS: Big wave riders are spread all over the world nowadays. People are riding bigger and bigger waves in Brazil, Chile, Japan, Europe, etc. It’s not just Hawaii these days. San Francisco is a huge market for me also. More people are starting to ride big waves more than ever. It’s great to see, but the big waves are becoming more and more crowded. That may be due to the combination of safety equipment and the boards we can make today.
MA: What’s next for Roger Hinds?
ROGER HINDS: I’ve been building boards recently with parabolic stringers and a high-density foam rail. My clients are liking them and sharing good feedback. I’m seeing more and more orders for boards made with them. I plan on exploring more board types utilizing the parabolic stringer and trying different materials.