ENCINITAS — Matt Calvani hurriedly planed a surfboard blank. His goal? Replicate a classic Terry Martin longboard in less than two hours.
Tools weren’t allowed. And Calvani was cramped in a see-through shaping bay as onlookers peeked in. The adrenaline-fueled shaping session was part of a six-shaper competition at Orange County’s Boardroom surfboard competition two weeks ago. Ultimately, the judges declared Calvani the winner, awarding him the best Martin re-creation.
Calvani, who owns Bing Surfboards in Encinitas, has built a reputation as a shaper who can build an array of different boards, no matter where he’s at and what tools are available.
“Some guys specialize in certain shapes,” Calvani said. “I do just about everything.”
In 1987, he began airbrushing surfboards in the South Bay of Los Angeles. The next year, famed surfboard-maker Wayne Rich handed Calvani a foam blank — the equivalent of a sculptor receiving marble.
Although airbrushing remained his main gig for several years, he built more boards, absorbing what he learned from other shapes. During this time, Calvani credits the exposure to different shapers’ philosophies with expanding his palette.
“I feel like I have a lot of knowledge to draw from,” Calvani said.
Although groomed by other shapers, Calvani said originality remains important. He experiments with new shapes at his shop on “The Hill” — a longtime hub for Encinitas board-builders.
“I try not to look at other shapes too much, for fear of copying them,” Calvani said. “Naturally stuff comes out unique if you tinker with things on your own.”
In 1993, Calvani took a full-time shaping position at Becker Surfboards. There, he hand-shaped more than 25 shortboards a week, as well as longboards.
At that time, Calvani explained that surfers typically rode either shortboards or longboards, with few boards in between.
But now, surfers are riding a fuller range of surfboard shapes. It’s a sign that the times have caught up with Calvani’s all-of-the-above approach.
“That’s the way board design is going,” Calvani said. “I’m making just about everything for customers. There’s more of an opportunity to tailor your board to your style of surfing.”
About 13 years ago, one moment changed his life. Calvani just happened to spot legendary shaper Bing Copeland while surfing a secluded break in Mexico. Calvani, who had never met Copeland, had shaped a line of surfboards with a logo Copeland had the rights to. Calvani had the OK, but he still needed to pay Copeland royalty money.
“I knew what he looked like from pictures,” Calvani said.
“I walked up to him and said, ‘I owe you money,’” Calvani said with a laugh.
In any case, Copeland was “cool about it,” Calvani said.
The two became friends. And eventually, Copeland even asked Calvani to take over Bing. Later, Calvani moved Bing to The Hill in 2010 from Gardena, Calif.
Working as a craftsman runs in the family, Calvani said. He grew up in Massachusetts, where his dad restored antique furniture for a living.
“You could say this work comes naturally,” Calvani said. “It wasn’t something I had to think about or work hard to learn. I just always liked making surfboards.”
Calvani just gained another means of showcasing his surfboards. Bing just held a soft opening for a new surf shop at 802 North Coast Highway 101.
“We want there to more surfboards than soft goods — kind of a throwback to the old surf shops,” Calvani said.
True to form, Calvani said there would be a variety of shapes to choose from in the shop.