The art and craft of shaping a surfboard has followed a well-worn tradition for a reason: Learning to build a good surfboard that performs optimally can take years.
Usually, the path to becoming a surfboard shaper requires an apprenticeship with a master craftsman who is open to helping a budding builder learn the ropes, supporting him or her as the inevitable shoddy blanks pile up. That proposition has always been a time-consuming, costly and expensive endeavor, both for student and mentor.
But Mat Wyatt, who owns Rise Surf Company in Texas City, is helping aspiring surfboard shapers take a different approach.
When he renovated the location of his new shop at 1201 6th St. last year, Wyatt included two shaping rooms where his customers could learn in a space specially built for the purpose. Because Rise Surf already sells custom-shaped boards for customers — and thus has access to numerous variations of Marko foam blanks — Wyatt helps these new shapers select the foam core and guides them patiently through the process of getting their creation from the shaping room to the water.
“I think every surfer who has been doing this for a while wants to shape their own board,” says Wyatt. “There’s a connection you have with your board when it’s built by your own hands. It’s a pride-of-ownership thing but it also goes deeper than that because you’re connecting with Mother Ocean directly. That’s a good feeling.”
Wyatt, who is a captain in the Texas City Fire Department, spent considerable time and money shaping his first 15 boards in his garage, learning through trial-and-error and from YouTube video lessons to build boards properly.
While his own shaping experience has evolved dramatically since then, his passion for sharing the stoke with others who want to shape boards is what sets him apart in the industry. Traditionally, breaking into surfboard shaping has been difficult because shapers are a somewhat closed society, comprised of craftsmen who are protective of secrets and methods gleaned through years of hard work and effort.
Wyatt’s approach is unique because the aspiring shapers he works with are mostly finishing boards that have been pre-cut and shaped by a process where computers are used to control machine tools — referred to as CNC shaping — to get the surfboard to a predetermined design.
“If you have zero experience, a CNC-shaped board gets you a board that’s 80 percent there,” Wyatt says. “My shaping customers focus on finishing their board: turning the rails, rounding the nose, grinding the tail and cutting the rocker where they want it. We’ve taken this approach because you can finish a quality board that’s pretty hard to mess up.”
While it’s true that finishing a CNC-shaped board isn’t the same as shaping one from an untouched foam blank (something that most local hand shapers still do), it is a good introduction for a surfer who wants to have a more intimate familiarity with their watercraft.
Wyatt, 34, was a young grom, enthralled by the smells and sights of the now-closed island surf shop Underground Surf Depot when he got the idea to open a shop of his own one day.
At 18, he started Rise as a clothing company, selling branded T-shirts to surfers and skateboarders in the community, and he opened his first retail location in Texas City in 2008. Today, Rise sells its surfboards, skateboards and a wide variety of surf- and skate-related apparel, including creative works from local artists on display on a rotating basis in his shop.
Wyatt says he’s focused on supporting local brands who are just getting a foothold in the local scene.
“Everyone knows that the West Coast, East Coast and Hawaii have their own surf cultures,” he says. “But Texas has a strong culture that doesn’t get much publicity. We’re dedicated surfers here, whether we’re chasing tankers in the bay or spending days on secluded beaches down south. I want to do my part to support our surf culture and help it grow.”
That includes teaching others how to bring their surf craft creations to life.