Brett Bender’s Shaping Life

Brett Bender at work at the TNT factory in Imperial Beach.

From my Imperial Beach and Coronado Patch surfing column of Nov 15.

Brett Bender can be found most mornings surfing his modern longboard south of the Imperial Beach Pier. Brett’s son Noah is one the key members of the Imperial Beach Grom Squad, most of whom surf Brett’s ultra-modern and progressive Natural Selection custom shortboards.

Q: Why did you start shaping surfboards and when

A: I started shaping surfboards at the age of 14 in my mom’s garage, because the whole process fascinated me and I thought it would be fun to make money at something you love to do. At 19 I got a job airbrushing and shaping for Mitch’s in La Jolla, manufacturing them at Star Glassing at Brown Field.

I shaped for labels like Iron Cross, Dove, Airwaves and World Motion, Ezera, Marbella, Tony Staples, Bear, Gordon and Smith, Blue Water and others. The whole time I evolved my own Natural Selection Surfboards designs. I am also airbrushing at TNT and creating retro and 60’s style longboards in Japan. I airbrushed for shapers such as Rusty, Mike Hynson, Skip Frye, Nev Hyman and too many more to mention.

The heyday of surfboards for me was in the late 80s, early 90s when it seemed like everyone had lots of work before cheap imports from China and elsewhere and computer shaping machines.

Q: What shapers influenced you starting out and today?

A: When I started shaping I was interested in Ben Aipa’s shapes until Simon Anderson’s three-fin thruster came out. Simon was the man. I had the opportunity to work and learn from international shapers in the 80s and 90s including Almir Salazar, Paulo Cabral and Geraldo Rinaldi in Brazil, Grant Miller from Australia, Kim Purington and Steve Elliot from Hawaii. I learned their techniques and tricks of the trade.

Most of all, David Craig has influenced me the most because I have been watching him shape since I was a teenager and he is a true master of his craft.

Q: Where are you favorite places to surf?

A: I love surfing here at home in Imperial Beach. My favorite spots are point breaks like Byron Bay and Noosa Heads in Australia or Scorpion Bay, Mexico.

Q: What designs that you are working on?

A: Currently the boards I have been working on that have received excellent feedback have been shorter, wider and thicker using a modern version of the old fish blanks allowing for the extra volume with dialed-in modern rocker.

Q: What is happening with surfboard materials that are new and exciting?

A: All different board designs are being ordered in the epoxy medium, since they are lighter and more buoyant. Epoxy seems to be what a lot of people need because they love them. My favorite boards to make are actually 60s style with resin tints, traditional outlines and rails with modern high performance hidden in with lightness, bottom contours, step decks and a really good fin.

Q: Where did the collapse of Clark Foam leave the surfboard industry?

A: The collapse of Clark foam was devastating. Almost 50 years of experience gone, 100’s of rocker combinations, the special stringers, the famous molds all gone which were irreplaceable. Personally it was difficult because I do mostly handshapes. Dozens of blank companies popped-up only to quickly go out of business. A few good companies remain over five years later already.

Q: Is there a future for the small “handcrafted” surfboard shaper/manufacturer?

A: There is always a place for handshaped boards, the personalized custom board. But there will always be a place for the computer board, the highly evolved high performance shape that takes hours to achieve by hand and only takes minutes by computer.

Q: What it is about shaping that keeps you motivated?

A: The most rewarding thing about making surfboards is creating and surfing them with my son Noah whose love for the sport and interest in surfboard design has inspired me.

Serge Dedina is the Executive Director of WiLDCOAST and the author of Wild Sea: Eco-Wars and Surf Stories from the Coast of the Californias.

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