Del Mar — When the dust settled, Wayne Rich couldn’t believe he’d won. “There was a lot of pressure, but not a lot of time.” Rich said. “A mad rush where you’re hoping for the best is a good way to describe it.”
Six of the best surfboard shapers in the world competed in a contest to see who could design the best board at last year’s Sacred Craft expo. Each shaper furiously sawed and planed surfboard blanks in see-through shaping bays for more than an hour while onlookers watched.
When the adrenaline-fueled shape-off concluded, Rich emerged from the shaping bay victorious, making it the second time he’s won the event, a tribute to the art and soul of hand-shaped surfboards.
He’ll defend his title at the Del Mar Fairgrounds beginning Oct. 6 during the Boardroom International Surfboard Show, formerly known as Sacred Craft expo.
Rich explained that surfboard shaping is typically a solitary pursuit. So the event is a welcome chance for shapers to feed off each other’s energy and swap ideas. But it hasn’t always been that way, he said.
“This used to be a closed society,” said Rich, who has been shaping surfboards for 35 years. “Secrets were guarded. Now you have guys working with each other for the sole purpose of improving surfing, and the amount of respect we have for each other couldn’t be higher.”
It’s part of the reason Rich thinks surfing and shaping is better than it’s ever been.
Wayne is the first to admit his view is atypical of someone who has been in the business for more than three decades. Margins on surfboards, which were never big to begin with, have gotten slimmer. Materials are more expensive. Many surfboards are mass-produced in factories.
In other words, it’s difficult to make a living crafting hand-shaped surfboards in modern times.
“These days, though, I think there’s more respect for what we do from surfers and the public,” Rich said. “And I think shapers are more tight-knit, leading to some huge innovations. We’re riding the equipment and ways we dreamed about in the ‘70s.”
Rich’s passion for surfing is readily apparent, which may be an understatement. When asked about surfboard design, with child-like wonder, he excitedly jumped from Hawaii’s surfing history to shapers he considers to be geniuses to how asymmetrical surfboards are all the rage.
“Sorry, I just get really into this stuff,” Rich said after talking without pausing.
“I’m actually more excited about doing this than when I first started,” Rich added.
Although he didn’t get his degree, Rich studied aerodynamics in college. He had several more financially sound career options in front of him, instead Rich chose to be a surfboard shaper, a decision he doubted earlier in life because making surfboards isn’t the steadiest of jobs, he said. Yet Rich said he’s now content, and happy to spend his days “having the freedom to create things people will enjoy.”
“I don’t think you can get that in other industries — they’re rigid,” Rich said.
He grew up in Hermosa Beach, Calif., shaping under the watchful eye of famed shaper Dan Bendiksen, who Rich called “a personal hero.” Rich currently lives and shapes in Santa Barbara, where he said surfboard shaping is alive and well. He’s also quick to compliment San Diego’s shaping scene.
“Shapers like Carl Ekstrom — it just doesn’t get better than that,” Rich said.
This year’s shape-off will honor surfing world champion and shaper Mark Richards. Rich said he’s looking forward to competing in the event, the theme for which is twin fin surfboards.
“He’s a legend and we all respect him so much,” Rich said. “Can’t wait for it.”