Jon Pyzel didn’t begin shaping surfboards until he was 24, but his designs quickly caught a wave of approval from the pros. He focused on high-performance models and ones that could multitask. When fans recently compared Pyzel’s boards to a Lamborghini in a poll, he was tickled and surprised, though that’s what he’d been going for: “high-quality, fast, sleek, ultra-high-performance” surfboards. He’s shaped ones like the Ghost for pros such as John John Florence and a raft of other champion competitors. “It’s one of the first designs in a long time that suits many levels of surfer in many types of waves,” Pyzel explains.
What began as a small operation in 1997 has expanded to two shops, one in Southern California and the other in Hawaii, not far from Oahu’s North Shore and its infamous Banzai Pipeline—where Pyzel boards are known for conquering the mammoth waves. While Pyzel now has retail shops and licensees around the world, he remains very much involved in the creation, making boards by hand and coming up with new designs. His current favorite is the Shadow, a versatile model his surfer daughter likes to borrow from his stash when he’s not out on it riding Hawaii’s long, hollow, tropical reef rollers.
1. Fill in the Blank
All boards, even the finished Ghost with its signature flag (at left), start off as polyurethane foam “blanks.” Most are constructed with a wood stringer in the middle for endurance and strength.
2. The First Cut Is the Deepest
Jon Pyzel’s designs are programmed into a cutting machine, which will then transform the blank into a long board, short board, or other style devised for a particular type of rider or wave. For noncustom boards, this saves the shaper—the artisans who sand, scrub, and carve each board—several hours of work compared to doing the entire process by hand. “Stock boards can be just as good as custom,” Pyzel says. “But there is something very special about getting a board made just for you.”
3. Shape Shifters
Pyzel recruits specialized hand-shapers who fine-tune the newly cut board. They painstakingly sand the foam and make sure the rails—the sides that cut through the water and join the bottom and the deck—are aligned and have either a rounded or sharp edge, as appropriate.
4. Tall Tails
The shaper measures the tail to be sure it is symmetrical from the center.
5. Making the Cut
When the board comes out of machining, the foam’s striations must be smoothed, and the extra nub is removed.
6. Scrubbing the Deck
The shaper “scrubs” the deck and bottom of the board—smoothing out those vertical lines—before it can be painted and logos are added. Color and design choices abound; many customers are inspired by Pyzel’s Instagram posts or something a professional is riding and request similar colors and custom designs—anything from a cartoon great-white shark or camo pattern to a simple solid color.
Before the resin coating is applied, most boards have their fin box carved into the board; the fins will be attached later.
8. Glassed Over
Here the board gets a layer of epoxy or resin in the “glassing” stage. The resin is poured over a cloth, seeping through to the board and sealing it. This stage requires quick, precision action to spread just the right amount of resin fast and evenly to keep the board light and responsive.
9. Ready to Ride
These boards have just passed quality control, where they are meticulously wiped down so any imperfections can be seen. They’re checked carefully to be sure sanding didn’t crack or chip the resin and that fins are aligned correctly. Now they’re ready to hit the surf.