Master of the craft: Surfboard shaper

In a photo series focusing on master artisans, we look at the hands of the makers. Today we look at a master surfboard shaper.

"As technology becomes capable of creating soulless perfection, so we hunger for imperfection – for the rough beauty that bears the imprint of the fallible human hand." – Dinah Hall

Has luxury lost its shine? Today, so many expensive items are mass-produced in factories that perhaps we need to return to the old ways to rediscover it’s meaning.

In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell claims that it takes roughly 10 000 hours of practice to become a master in any field. For this series we look at the hands of master artisans who have dedicated their lives to particular crafts.

Their material itself has no innate value. The value is in its potential, one that takes insight, skill and complex technique to expose. From crude tools and humble materials a thing of beauty is born, as unique as the thumbprint of its maker.

Shapers are the guardians of surf. Often expert surfers themselves, they have a feel for what the board must be able to do on the waves. Every surf innovation, every revolution has emerged from the shaper’s dust.

Looking calmly at the rough skin on his hands, surfboard shaper Pierre de Villiers said: “I work a lot by feel. I keep going until I feel right about a thing. I wrestle these boards out of their blanks.”

De Villier’s workshop was blanketed in white dust, giving it a deceptive appearance of quiet. The tools – saws, planes and drills – all add their voices to the music of the extraction fan. But through all the noise there is a sense of peace and purpose. The shaper has his own guiding wisdoms, using the strength of his hands in the production of a tangible thing. 

There’s a reason why the watch has become one of the ultimate symbols of luxury: luxury is tied inextricably to time. The time it takes to make something, the time taken to gain the right skills, the time we imagine using or enjoying that thing. Luxury is embedded with our personal dreams and personal experiences of pleasure – moments when we are taken outside our everyday routines. 

This photographic series explores how, no matter the material or how crude the tools, it is skill and time that makes something beautiful. All images courtesy Robin Bernstein.