Sitting above a craft store on Vancouver’s noisy Main Street is a small studio with creaky wood floors and one very niche objective: making surfboards.
“I didn’t intend to turn it into a full-blown business when I started shaping,” says Shaper Studios Vancouver co-founder and shop manager Nate Batara. “I just wanted to make a few boards for myself, and it caught fire.” Now he has a steady stream of local surfers coming in to shape, as well as people from Seattle, Kelowna, and even Montana. Shaper Studios has a flagship in San Diego, plus a smaller shop in Orange County, and there are plans to open up in Montreal, Chile, and Brazil. The Vancouver location has been open for about a year, and averages 10 to 15 boards per month—not bad for a shop run in the evenings by people who have also carry full-time jobs. Shaper is a passion project for Batara and his partner, and the space develops passion in others, too: at least 60 per cent of Shaper’s customers come back to make another board. It’s exhilarating to know that what lies between you and the deep blue is something you created with your own two hands.
Sandwiched between Mount Pleasant and Olympic Village, Shaper is an unassuming and welcoming little space with Postmark beer on tap and surf art on the walls. Through the main area, where patrons are greeted by a row of boards-in-progress and a selection of clothing for sale, shapers will find two studios: one for turning the “blank” into a board, and the other for adding its glossy fibreglass finish. Shaper offers group classes and one-on-one workshops, the latter of which come complete with a personal wave-ready board at the end. It’s an unpretentious environment designed to bring together a community drawn to the water. “When my partner and I stared shaping, we had an open-door policy, and it’s been cool to meet tons and tons of surfers in Vancouver,” says Batara. “I had no idea how many people surfed around here. Once we realized that the shop was capable of bringing surfers together, we tapped into that to support surfers—and to never be too cool for anyone to come hang out.” It’s the quintessential surfer-dude outlook, sanded and shined.
Born in Hawaii, Batara moved to Vancouver to attend UBC and hasn’t left since. Vancouver Island may not be able to offer the same kind of tropical surf he grew up with, but he is fond of the Pacific’s cold waters and frequently makes his way to Tofino and Ucluelet to test them. “It’s a completely different experience,” he says of surfing in B.C., adding that he does so all year round. “It’s more of an adventure.” And though Shaper began as a way to connect the city’s surfing community, it is also helping educate the greater public about the refined workmanship and skill required to craft each board. “I think what makes the difference between an average surfboard and a really nice one is craftsmanship,” says Batara. “Trying to make better boards comes with the trade. We’re innately more craftsman-oriented.”
Still, he admits, “when we’re making boards, I’m not thinking about craftsmanship—I’m thinking about how fun it’s going to be to ride them.”
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