Full Disclosure: After having spent three months working at Surf the Greats, I made the decision to buy a custom board from Haynes at Whit Surf. This decision has made writing this article quite personal and colours my perspective significantly. Just as a disclaimer, this personal touch will probably manifest in an exploration strewn with ‘a lot’ of positive bias. I am growing to understand the value a custom board holds that influences that spark I have come to recognize on each new owner’s face. I look forward to the incredible, incomparable, and absolutely infatuating feeling they are overrun with when the finished custom board first finds its way under their shoulders and tucked tenderly at their side.
Surf the Greats attracts a multitude of characters through its doors. I’ve noticed that every pair of eyes are directed towards a different part of the shop. Some eyes focus immediately on the beautiful and somewhat contradicting rack of neon Catch Surf foamies paired with elegant handcrafted Aftanas longboards. Others don’t use their eyes as their primary mode of interaction. A deep inhalation or the passing of fingers over the racks reminds me that the experience is there for all of the senses. Subtlety, comments of how the space brings warmth to cold winter days works its way into a conversation over coffee. Our community also sometimes speaks of the aura or ‘vibe’ the space exudes. While there are many similarities, it is the individual opinions and perceptions of the shop that leads to unique and intriguing stories.
Tucked away, in the northwest corner of the shop, the keen observer will find the shaping bay of Whit Surf. Whit Surf, put quite simply, is a company devoted to surfboard design, experience and production. Currently, Whit Surf is a one man operation lead by Haynes Kent who acts as the shaper and owner. Haynes has many aspirational hopes for Whit Surf, but central to all is the commitment to elevate the experience of surfing for the Great Lakes community. The devotion to act as the catalyst behind paradigm shifting action, and inspire changing mindsets is something that we at Surf the Greats strive for and firmly believe in. We continually aim to grow our community of surfers whether on the lakes or beyond; physically and mentally. This growth elevates us, leading our tribe continually to new experiences. It is through this shared ethos that makes the partnership between Surf the Greats and Whit Surf truly synergistic and symbiotic. Throughout my custom board experience, I’ve asked myself — How does Haynes achieve this “elevation of experience?”
While observing Haynes in action shaping, I’m reminded of another young shaper Taz Yassin, (an innovative shaper currently working under Pukas surfboards). I note that both retain a similar foundational quality — courage. Taz, at a young age has managed to develop a keen understanding of shaping. This understanding, coupled with courage has lead to ambitious, innovative shapes that move surfing into new paradigms. On the other hand Haynes has expressed courage by stepping forward as a foundational part of a new generation of Great Lakes surfers.
Lake surfing alone takes courage. Having grown up on the lakes, Haynes understands these unique challenges and has transformed them into unbridled appreciation and knowledge. He has undertaken to become one of a handful of full time shapers within Canada. He infuses his experiences and lessons learned through lake surfing into the creation of each board. I believe this is what Haynes provides — through his shapes he instills a sense of courageous growth and dedication in the surfer riding his board. Custom boards are by their very nature unique — no two are the same physically and each hold their own story. This is a story molded by the initial concept and iterative communication between the rider and the shaper. This shared dialogue infuses the diverse stories of both parties and their respective backgrounds and communities.
Similar to a blank canvas, a foam blank starts as non-descript and non-specific. Juxtaposed against its lack of specificity is truly limitless potential. It is this potential that is harnessed and manipulated through deep reflection and communication transforming an idea into the physical realm. The blank is given a general outline and as time progresses and thoughts are sharpened the outline is cut to suit the intent of the idea. Through decisive and meaningful maneuvers the idea is matured, subtle changes such as concaves, channels or rockers are created in response to the idea’s growth. The board is nearing completion, but only the shaper knows when it is ready. Painstaking attention is paid to symmetry, contour and overall aesthetic. Only when truly ready — the board is glassed — a process with it’s own intricacies and nuances. The completed board serves as the announcement that the idea has come to fruition, a once purely mental ideal is brought into the water and physically experienced. This journey is exciting, requires constant communication and takes patience. It is an elation tied to wonder and the passage of time. It is the end of one journey, and the beginning of so many others.
My personal custom experience created a beautiful 5’6, 2+1, pulled in diamond tail pod. The shape holds a timeless homage to traditional twin fins and diamond tails while still looking to the future. On the other hand, the shape is coupled with modern deep channels and full outlines and a round nose. To top it off a multi-coloured, almost marbled resin tint will keep it’s aesthetic relevant wherever I go, whenever I go. My reaction upon seeing the shape for the first time was many things, all positive. At the moment I remember being elated with the state of the shape and how well it was done. Afterwards, I reflected on why I reacted the way I did in that moment. I think I was firstly proud in seeing a friend of mine excel professionally, and further develop his skill and trade. Moreover, I feel as though now that I have this tool in my belt it will change the way I craft and shape my own future. My mushy, grovely, slower days in summer or on point breaks in California won't be the same. Why? Because the ground under my feet has changed, what binds me to the water changes. This is something I think many boards can capture, but a custom board does best.
In conclusion, I didn’t write this article to try and convince you to buy a new custom surfboard. Everyone on their own time, or not at all! It took me nine years to decide I would. For me — it was a transformative process and one I look forward to revisiting in the future. While all the boards on the rack all hold their own value, I know that none of them are quite like the one I have. Experiencing new sensations and journeys like this in surfing can stoke enough fire in a surfer to drive them to new horizons. Sometimes, we get too accustomed to the home break and we have two choices; hit the road and change the water under our feet, or get crafting and change the stick that helps us fly.