Written By: Dionne Evans
Photographed By: Dhrumil Desai & Karl Garrison
The Expert: Josh Martin
Credentials: Surfboard Shaper
Josh Martin’s face lights up with a big smile every time he starts to tell a story, and boy does he have plenty to tell. The surfboard shaper and owner of Martin Shapes is clearly a sentimental guy. Though the eye automatically goes to the numerous surfboards located in his ceiling, Martin wants me to focus on other things. As we walk up the stairs in his homey two-story abode in Capistrano Beach, with dog Scout not too far behind, he points out the picture of his wife and two daughters and the picture next to it, an old framed photo of a green van once owned by his father. Martin’s father, Terry Martin, was a well-known surfboard shaper who started Martin Shapes, worked for Hobie Surfboards, and shaped more than 80,000 surfboards in his lifetime. Josh Martin learned the tricks of the trade from his father and now, too, works for Hobie Surfboards in addition to running Martin Shapes and shaping custom boards. Martin has plenty of photographs and newspaper clippings of his father, especially on the wall in his workshop down near his backyard. Before heading into his workspace, he shows me a board “toasting” in his backyard. The board has a cool feature: the tail is made from a block of multi-colored resin (the thick residue left after glassing a board). Also in his backyard are his kiln, a large garden, a coop of chickens, and a colony of bees whose honey he harvests. Martin, a curly-haired blond with a scruffy beard, is very much into the idea of growing his own food and doesn’t like waste of any kind. He keeps his wood and resin scraps for future use, and has a habit of picking up things left on the side of the road to make them new again. The skilled surfboard shaper can make anything and everything, and enjoys taking things apart and putting them back together. Most of his time is spent in his workshop, though, in which he says he can spend up to 12 hours a day.
Q: You’re following in your father’s footsteps. How much of your surfboard making knowledge comes from him?
Josh Martin: I would say at least 80 percent. I’m influenced by other shapers and riders, too.
Q: How would you describe the craft of surfboard shaping?
JM: It’s a mix of sculpture and art that’s functional. The art speaks for itself, but to mix that with the functional part of it, which is the idea that people use it in the ocean, that’s really satisfying. You need to be able to create something someone gets out there into the ocean with and enjoys.
Q: What’s your favorite part of the process of creating a surfboard?
JM: Having the person I’m building the surfboard for participate in the process. I can share a little bit of the design with them. I have them a part of that aspect. Not only that, but I get a little sense of their personality. Then they go out and ride and come back and let me know how it rides. The shaper-surfer relationship is probably my favorite part of it aside from the design.
Q: Do you have a favorite board?
JM: I have a lot of favorites, but one favorite I have I’m currently working on. My dad started it in 1942. There was no foam back then, and nature’s foam was balsa wood or redwood, or in Hawaii, it was koa. I was fortunate in that I was taught the traditional method of making boards from balsa wood. This particular board that I’m working on, it’s primo, light balsa wood. It’s hard to find wood that light. I chambered it, so it’s basically like an airplane wing. I built that specifically for someone to ride it. It will be fun to see that happen.
Q: Do you surf?
JM: Yeah. I’ve been surfing since I got my first board when I was 6-years-old. I couldn’t swim. My dad couldn’t swim, and he surfed, too. He said, “If you can dog-paddle, you’ll be alright.”
Q: What makes your boards better than other brands?
JM: I build every board by hand — custom. I’ll ask a customer where they like to surf, and that tells me what kind of wave they like to surf. Then I ask them what kind of wave they want to surf because they might not be in the right place for it. I also ask them what they weigh and what their athletic ability is. I try to make a surfboard that’s not only what they want, but that can actually achieve what they want to do. My boards aren’t necessarily any better than other custom-made boards, but they’re better than what you can get at a big retail store like Costco. They cost the same, but they are custom.
Q: What do your clients usually come in asking for?
JM: Currently, the classic longboards. I build everything, but that’s what’s popular right now. Everybody wants one of those.
Q: What local events do you participate in?
JM: Every year there’s the Boardroom Show, and I’m involved in that. It’s a show for people that actually make boards. Anytime we have an event here locally, like the Battle of the Paddle or Doheny Longboard days, or any of those contests like the Surfboard Builder Hall of Fame, I like to get involved. Anything that Hobie puts on, I’m usually there because I work for Hobie, and I’ll do something like a live shaping demo.
Q: How important is it for you to continue using traditional methods of surfboard shaping?
JM: I have a unique perspective because this is what my father did. This is a part of the legacy he left for me, to continue making that handcrafted product. Big stores, like Costco, a lot of people think they’re going to take it over and say, “I’ll be out of a job.” People who are already surfing, though, aren’t going to go there. The people who go there and buy the Wavestorm and are just getting into surfing will eventually work their way up to me. Most people benefit from having a board made for them. There are computer programs that can create 3-D shaping. I’m not good at that, and I commend those who are, but a lot of those boards aren’t as good as handmade ones. It started with hand shaping, and I don’t think it’s going anywhere.
Q: You have a website where you sell some of your boards. How many online customers do you get? Are those still custom-made?
JM: I probably sell three or four boards a week through the website. Everything is custom and built to order. There are just a few boards already made that are on the site.