Tool Kit

Surfboard shapers hone the means to catch a perfect wave

The materials for surfboards have expanded from wood to polyurethane, but the artisans known as shapers still customize boards by hand.

This story appears in the August 2019 issue of National Geographic magazine.

Terry Martin carved his first surfboard at age 14, and tens of thousands more during the next 60 years. That put him in the elite ranks of the board artisans known as shapers (Surfing Magazine recognized just 720 of them in the past 100 years). Since Martin’s death in 2012, his son Josh has carried on the tradition. Today’s shapers craft surfboards with modern materials such as polyurethane foam or with wood such as balsa and coast redwood. Josh fashions boards for world-class competitive surfers, using tools that he and his dad once shared.