Simon Anderson, one of the greatest surfboard shapers in history and a visionary in design was once quoted as saying that “if you don’t have a relationship with a shaper where you can still get what you want, then that’s more of an issue of not fostering relationships,” than it is an issue of finding the right equipment.  As a surfer, these are words that I have recently taken to heart.  I have begun my quest to build these relationships that will allow my surfing to progress while keeping it local. 

But where to begin?  Well, I once fell in love with a girl from Toronto.  I told my father about this “relationship” and he laughed in my face.  I said, “pops, what are you laughing at.  This is the real thing.”  He laughed even harder.  

He said son, “that girl is a GUD.”  I thought, ok old man, now I know you are crazy.  What the hell is a GUD?  “Son” he said, “that girl is geographically undesirable.”  And wouldn’t you know it, as much as I hate to admit it, he was right. 

Using this philosophy, I decided that my relationship with a shaper should be geographically sound.  No GUD needed here.  I am no longer a giddy teenager, and my last relationship with a faceless Hawaiian shaper did nothing for me.  I am a Jersey surfer and I need a Jersey shaper. 

Enter in Gene Wahl, owner and lead shaper for Essence Surf.  Now, anyone from Jersey knows that while the beach may be the soul of the place, Dirty Jersey has a steel drum industrial heart.  With this fact in place, it could not have been more appropriate that I slug it out in rush hour traffic to get to his shaping shop in the gritty teeth of the northern part of the state. 

The shop was what one might expect.  When I arrived the two bays were lit with florescent lights, moths circled at the mouth of the garage doors as the sun set; there was dust, power tools and the steady hum of work. 

Every Artist Needs a Muse

I had arranged to meet Gene through one of his former students and mutual friend, Tim Bourne.  Tim was there working on a shortborad for his fledgling label Identity Surf. It was in the glassing bay however that I met Gene Wahl, working with a student Dylan Jones.  Jones was taping off his board in preparation for airbrushing and Gene was there guiding his every step. 

Tim Bourne in the Shaper's Bay

When I finally interrupted their artistic meditation, Gene looked up, cigarette hanging from his lips, and he eyed me with curiosity.  He was immediately gregarious and welcoming.  Introductions were complete, and he dove back in with Jones headlong to the shaping process.  Gene, while not being disinterested in me, was knee-deep in teaching his craft to his student.  This is something that Wahl takes very seriously, as he later told me.  “At every stage, a new shaper needs guidance and encouragement.  When a student takes a class with me I want them to build a board that represents them as surfer and as a person.” 

Wahl (L) Works With Jones (R)

According to Dylan, he decided that he wanted to learn how to shape as a means to inspire him to surf more.  He has only been in the water for several sporadic weeks, but he “wants to make surfing a part of his life.”  One of the great aspects of his work with Gene and Essence Surf has been getting the chance to meet people who are as stoked about surfing as he is.  “My friends don’t really get it.  They thought I was crazy when I told them I was going to spend several weeks learning how to shape a board.  By coming to the shaping bay and working with Gene and the other people in the shop, I have found a group of people who identify with my passion for the sport.  I am just getting excited to christen the 7’2” funshape I have created.  At this point I just want to get in the water.” 

From Inception to Creation

As for Gene, he has been surfing for 20 years and has been shaping for 10.  After Dylan had applied the slick green color he concocted to the bottom of his masterpiece, Gene was able to turn his attention to me.  We talked about my favorite wave types and about boards that I have in my quiver.  He sized me up taking into account my build and years of experience telling me, “yeah dude, you are a stick with some gray hair, but that experience is an advantage.” 

I had expected that he would try to sell me on a standard shortboard.  Something with a fair amount of rocker, three fins and some pinched in rails.   We did discuss the advantages that a board like that might bring, but when taking inventory of my current quiver he noted that one of my boards, the 6’4’’ Local Motion can serve that purpose on the occasional hollow day. 

Take Me to Planet Quasar

In the end Gene suggested that I go for a pod shape that he has been experimenting with.  The board is appropriately named the Quasar and it borrows from the success of the other shapers like Rusty Preisendorfer.  “The Quasar is a mix between the Dwart and the Pod.”  Gene showed me a prototype and I was immediately sold.  He explained that I should ride the board 8 inches shorter than my standard shape.  “We will leave a little extra volume in the tail to make catching waves easier and the rails will allow you to make long arching carves and hold tight in the pocket in conditions up to head high.  The board will be fast and fun.”  He also suggested that I go with a 5 fin set up so that I can experiment as much as I want with fin placement. 

Gene explained the Essence Surf philosophy further to both Dylan and I as the last of the paint dried on Jones’ board.  “Not enough surfers pay attention to their boards.  Most people get a board off of the rack and ride it for a long time and then wake up one day and say ‘wow, you mean I have a choice.’  It is important that a surfer understand the benefits of having multiple boards in their quiver to meet the conditions, especially on the east coast where wave quality can be so varied.” 

A Sample of a Locally Grown Quiver

As with most relationships there was an open-ended quality to our meeting, but there were a few unique aspects regarding this entering into a surfer/shaper discussion in my back yard so to speak.  The first is that Gene sent me away with a board to experiment with, so I was immediately stoked by the generosity.  Secondly, he gave me an idea of when he will order my blank and promised a future discussion about the particulars of my board.  Neither of these things are going to happen over the internet or via a phone call. 

With all of that in place, the darkness of a late Jersey night settled in.  Dylan was ready to airbrush the other side of his board and Gene was more than prepared to walk him through the steps.  As he explained, “after a student takes my class they are always welcomed to come back and work in the shaping bay on their next project.  I just want people to be excited to surf and find equipment that enhances their surfing experience.”  As I piled in the car and cranked the windows down I heard the generator kick up with its manic whirl and the airbrush gun hiss.  Dylan was immersed in his new found craft again and Gene Wahl was passing on the stoke that is the foundation of Essence Surf. 

The Essence of Essence Surf

As a note, I will post throughout the process of watching the Quasar go from blank to board, and I will review how it performs in the water.  Thanks to Gene for opening up the shaper’s bay at Essence Surf and letting me in.  Anyone interested in boards or learning to shape should contact Gene via the Essence Surf website.

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Comments
  1. Pat says:

    AWESOME!!!!!Great story!!!!

  2. bill says:

    Love the GUD comment. It’s all too damn true.

  3. Jerseyfresh says:

    Would that chick recommend ‘something shorter”‘ too?

    So, there is a custom order going on? What’s the progress?

    Can’t wait to see this in action.

    -indie

  4. Lauren W says:

    I am so amazed and proud of you Gene!!! I knew 10 years ago, sitting at work, when we discussed this idea of a “school” that one day you would get recognized! Again, I am so proud of you!

  5. Rich says:

    That is actually my board that is getting shaped. It came out great for any one wondering.

    I learned to shape with Gene in 2007 and have been shaping and going back to him since then. His boards are great and he helps you with any board you bring in to clean it up.

    M I met you the other night at his shop when i stopped by to pick up a board for a friend of mine. I was the guy with the t-shirt company. Love the blog

    Ill post again after I get to surf the Quasar this weekend

    • M says:

      Shout us out. Can’t wait to get a Quasar of my own. Let me know if I should consider a slight swallow tail…

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