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The Shape of Things to Come

Surfboard maker Shawn Vecchione

One of Vecchione’s favorite parts of the job is watching surfers, like the one pictured above, get pleasure and excitement out of his hard work. Photo by Luke Simpson

Bobby Allen, an old-school Kauai surfboard shaper better known as Basa, taught Vecchione the basics of sanding and glassing boards. He was recruited to work under Max Medeiros at Hawaiian Blades Surfboards. Vecchione had a talent for working with his hands, but he never entertained the prospect of shaping his own board from start to finish. One day, Chris Champion, a friend and accomplished shaper, paid a visit to Vecchione and convinced him to try.

He guided Vecchione through every step until he had a beautiful six-foot board for his now ex-wife. When he saw her ripping on it in the water, he says, “It made me feel really good, in my heart, to know that I created that kind of enjoyment for somebody.” He made one for himself, too, and enjoyed it just as much. Within six months, he founded Vec Surfboards and shaping became his full-time job. He learned from mentors like Dick Brewer and Billy Hamilton, but ultimately, he says, shaping requires a talent that can’t be taught. In 2007, after years of shuffling between Hawaii and Cape Cod, he came back east for good.

Surfboard maker Shawn Vecchione

Vecchione poses in his work space. Photo by Luke Simpson

The craft of surfboard shaping has been around as long as surfing itself. Thousands of years ago, Hawaiian craftsmen toppled trees and sliced them into rideable dimensions with an ax. Now, the stock boards in surf shops are generally spit out by computerized lathes with a shaper adding finishing touches at the end. But custom surfboards, tailored to the physique and style of the rider and contoured for specific types of waves, are a cornerstone of upper-echelon surfing. “You would never see a pro surfer walk into a shop and buy a board off the rack,” Vecchione says.

It takes some prying, but Vecchione finally lists a few of the biggest names he has shaped boards for through the years: the late Andy Irons, a three-time world champion, and his brother, Bruce; CJ Hobgood, ranked number 19 in May 2011, according to the Association of Surfing Professionals; Victor Rosario, a Dominican native currently surfing waves in Europe; and big-wave surfer Liam McNamara among others. Locally, he has shaped boards for accomplished surfers like Ryan Webb of Nantucket and Dillon and John Murphy of Orleans. Dillon, who had been surfing with Vecchione since he owned the Boarding House, says local surfers were excited to have a shaper on hand who could adapt his craftsmanship to the nuances of Cape Cod’s waves. “Now we had a shaper who lived in town that was a good surfer, who understood what we wanted,” Dillon says. Vecchione caters his designs to advanced surfers. “I may not be as good [as a professional], obviously, but I can understand what he wants when he comes to the top of the wave and tries to launch an air, or if he’s trying to hold in a barrel or surf a big wave,” he says.

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