Tribute to the Master Icons of Foam Shape-off: It Started in Australia
You have to put this into context. It was 2006. This was just a year after the Clark Foam closure. At first the industry froze. Then it thawed out and all sorts of stuff filled the vacuum left by Clark. Boards, foam, materials, get rich quick schemes. A lot of surfboard retail business was going to Asian manufacturers. Many retailers didn’t have a clue, it’s not their fault, they were scrambling like all of us. Shapers, it seemed, were a dying breed. I was seeing guys in the lineup, friends of mine that shape, struggling. It was bad time for the surfboard building business.
I realized this is our surf culture at stake. We need to lift up the craft. As a young surfer in California, shapers were a big deal. They were the lifeblood between me and my board, between my board and the waves. I’ve always held them in the highest regard. They were legends. Gruff, salty, sometimes rude, but they always held the magic ticket. Surfboard shapers were a big deal to me, and they still are. At the time it seemed as if they were on the way out. Oh, by the way, unbeknownst to many of us, we were just a year away from the recession – a double whammy.
We had to do something, and I say ‘we’ because it wasn’t just me that felt this way. The entire surfboard manufacturing base in Southern California was anxious. To their credit, many surf industry influencers such as Paul Naude, Bob Hurley and Peter Townend understood that losing the surfboard building culture in California was bad for everybody – soft goods and hard goods alike.
In 2006 I was traveling Australia doing editorial stuff for SURFER Magazine. I covered the Quik Pro at Snapper, the Currumbin Alley Fish Fry, went to Byron Bay, and then went up to Noosa for the first ever SUP event at Noosa. During part of the journey, in an effort to save money on lodging, gas, rent a car and stuff, Chris Christenson and I traveled together for a bit.
Along the way we started talking about the Sacred Craft show I was producing, and the conversation drifted to the REEF Board Build-off (Bob Tanner coalesced a serious collection of unique surfboards for auction). The REEF BBO surfboards boards were absolutely killer, but it didn’t really spotlight the shapers and the craft. It was more about the art on the board, and the wood boards always seemed to win. Chris and I started brainstorming about the best way to honor the shapers themselves.
Chris had most of the insight for the shape-off. Initially I told him that I wanted the shapers to take a large block of foam and carve a surfboard out of it. Chris talked me off that ledge (coincidentally I eventually produced a competition called the Chunk of Foam Challenge which Chris won in 2014). But back then, during our initial conversations in Australia, Chris was all about the actual shaping, highlighting the craft, excavating the finer points of the craft, rather than building an ‘art’ board or doing something that didn’t do the shapers justice, such as spending hours getting a block of foam down to a workable blank. Chris convinced me that cutting into a large block of foam seemed way off base, plus it would have to be EPS block, and that turned us off a bit. Everyone was still pretty much polyurethane oriented.
So anyway, in an effort to really refine the shape-off competition, I asked Chris questions , “How much time would you need? Can you measure the board your copying? Do you need a template or just go from eyeballing the board? Who goes first? Can the other shapers watch? Queries such as that. Chris really helped me refine the competition, because he’s a shaper – I’m not.
We basically got down to the basic rules. Each shaper gets 1.5 hours. There will be a template, a rocker bar and a blank provided, but that’s it, the competing shapers need to bring their own tools. The shapers can measure the board prior to the time starting. The finished blanks are anonymous, the judges don’t know who shaped them. Those rules basically came from Chris and I fine tuning them, you know, looking at it from a shapers perspective. A perspective I simply didn’t have on my own. I still pick Chris’s brain about the shape-off.
The first Sacred Craft was 2007 in Del Mar. We honored Mike Diffenderfer in the Tribute to the Masters Icons of Foam Sh ape-off — it was sponsored by Ice9 blanks.
The shapers in the first event were Jim Phillips representing San Diego, Terry Martin representing Orange County, Tim Phares representing Los Angeles, Marc Andreini representing Nor Cal, Ricky Carroll representing the East Coast, and a guy named Scott Ray representing, believe it or not, Lake Michigan, the Great Lakes region.
I threw them a curve ball. The Diff surfboard I chose was unique. It wasn’t a classic Diff. It wasn’t a gorgeous 8’ Diff pintail. It was a small board, perhaps made for a girl, 5’ 8” x 18” with an “S” deck upturned nose rails, circa 1968–it was a trip. It was that short period of time when Reno and others were riding boards you might consider way too small and way too narrow. Peter St. Pierre found it for me in the rafters at Moonlight Glassing. The board belonged to Rob Machado, who had stashed it with Peter (that board is at Bird’s Surf Shed now – a gift from Rob to Bird). I kept the shapers in the dark. Nobody saw the board till the day of the event, and I know it raised some eyebrows.
We used the Hobie shaping bay that attached to their tradeshow booth. Gary Larson, Mark Johnson, Sean Haggar and Jeff Alter built the shaping bay out for the competition.
The winning shaper that first year, honoring Mike Diffenderfer, was Ricky Carroll from Florida. Ricky is an incredible shaper (he’s a 3X winner of the Icons of Foam Tribute to the Masters event – and has also won that Chunk of Foam Challenge we produced in Orlando), a great competitor, an accomplished musician and all around great human being: quiet, soft spoken, with a real discerning eye, and all of the hard core surfboard industry people really respect Ricky’s talent.
Interesting side notes from that first year:
- Chris Christenson (friend and collaborator), John Kies (shaped next to Diff for 20 years) and Steve Pezman (publisher The Surfer’s Journal) were the three judges.
- Legendary shaper /competitor Terry Martin shaped the twist (that had moved and settled ) into the board. To his credit, Terry was the only shaper to shape the twist into the board.
- In the haste of the first year tear down, I let the shapers take the finished blanks. Luckily Ricky Carroll was kind enough to give me the winning board. We now have all the winning boards from each of our Icons of Foam Shape-off competitions in our Icons of Foam legacy display at each event.