Xanadu: Looking For A Shaper’s Paradise

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23, Matt Rockhold, Chris Klopf Films

Some people just need one name. Since he started shaping back in 1975 when he was fifteen years old in São Paolo, Brazil, Xanadu has seen all the changes in board design and surfing firsthand. World traveler and master shaper, Xanadu’s boards are ridden by a cadre of pro surfers including Nathan Webster, Asher Nolan, Mike Losness, Austin Ware, Brian Conley, and Matt Rockhold.

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TransWorld SURF Business caught up with Xanadu to pick his brain about the his longevity in the shaping world and what we can expect in the future.

TransWorld SURF Business: When did you start shaping?

Xanadu: In 1975. I was fifteen. In Brazil at the time, maybe there were five to ten shapers — so getting a board was difficult. I remember ordering a board but not getting what I wanted from the shaper. I rode it and I didn’t like it, so I gave it back and told him to make me another board. That one also didn’t come out the way I wanted it. I realized then that I was going to have this problem all my life, so I had better start making my own boards.

If I grew up here in America, I doubt I would’ve become a shaper because in America at that time there were great shapers. In Brazil, I didn’t have a choice. But it’s made my life wonderful. One way that I’m different than other shapers is that I travel around the world a lot, and I love to travel.

TransWorld SURF Business: Who are your teamriders?

Xanadu: My main guy is Nathan Webster, and I have a guy from Brazil who’s number-one on the ‘QS, Rodrigo Dornelles. I have another young kid from Brazil, Danilo Grillo. In the U.S. I have Asher Nolan, Mike Losness, Austin Ware, Brian Conley, Matt Rockhold — and there’s a few other kids around.

TransWorld SURF Business: What makes a good teamrider?

Xanadu: I want to be sure the guy rides my boards because he wants to ride my boards — he believes in my design, and he believes in my boards. That’s my number-one priority. A couple kids here come up and say they want to ride for me and then ask for money. They haven’t even tried my boards! If a guy is more after the money than a good surfboard, I don’t care for the guy at all. It doesn’t matter if he’s Kelly Slater.

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TransWorld SURF Business: Describe the life of a shaper.

Xanadu: It’s a hard-working life. There are other jobs out there that give you more free time. It’s like owning a restaurant where you’re working nonstop. You have to work all the time if you want to be successful.

Computers have had a big effect, though. I helped a friend in Brazil write a surfboard-shaping program. With that you don’t need to shape a board anymore — maybe never even touch the foam. All you have to do is finish the product. His computer can design the whole board on the screen and change the whole design in less than a minute. So if someone is interested in becoming a shaper, maybe they should learn about computers.

It’s the same thing as being an artist. In the 60s and 70s everything was done by hand. Now a kid goes to school, learns about computer graphics, and draws a design in an hour — when it once took days. The same thing is going to happen with surfboards. All these guys from the 60s, 70s, and 80s shape a board by hand. The new generation will do everything on a screen. You can’t fight the computer.

TransWorld SURF Business: What is compromised with computer-shaped boards?

Xanadu: When you’re dealing with a surfer in the top sixteen, your hands and eyes have to be really precise when you’re shaping. A computer won’t give you that. A computer won’t give you the finished product that the top surfers are looking for.

TransWorld SURF Business: If surfboard production turns into a mass-production business, where would that leave you?

Xanadu: I don’t think we’ll see true mass production. The boards that are made from molds don’t have the right flex, and changing the design around is difficult and expensive. So I don’t see board production going that direction, unle someone comes up with a radically new technique. I think through the next five years there’s still going to be a lot of shaping by hand.

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TransWorld SURF Business: What else is changing is world of shaping?

Xanadu: The glassing process will continue to improve. The way you lay out the glass on the board, how much resin you use, and how it’s sanded controls the amount of flex you want on the board. I see a time in a few years when we’re putting more flex on one part of a board and less on another. More shapers are going to be aware of these flex patterns. I’m aware right now — it’s just hard to make my glassers believe.

What we’re seeing in surfing is the same thing that’s happened in motocross, snowboarding, and skating. In those sports, it’s all about what happens in the air. There are two types of surfers: the kids doing aerials and tricks, and the guys surfing real waves and doing radical, powerful maneuvers — like the guys on the ASP tour. So what I’m doing right now is designing one type of board for the guys doing aerials and tricks, and another board for the guys doing the tour.

TransWorld SURF Business: What advances in materials can we expect?

Xanadu: The materials are out there, but it depends upon if people want to pay. Plus, if you make a really strong board for a good surfer, he’s going to want a new board a long time before it wears out. It’s going to get yellow, and he’s going to get bored with it because he’s gotten used to it.

TransWorld SURF Business: How important are fins when it comes to board design?

Xanadu: Anything is important if you put it on a surfboard. Board design is a puzzle, and to finish the puzzle right, every part needs to be there. I have my own fin template that I started to design in 1983 when I first moved to Australia.

So I’ve had those designs for a long time, and they became pretty popular in the early 90s. Lately, I’ve started to play around with different placement, materials, and fin shapes. I used Lok Box, and I used Fin Control FCS. I gave teamriders the freedom to experiment with their fins with the Lok Box system because it allows you to move the placement forward or backward.

But after all the experimenting, my teamriders decided that the best setup was the one I’ve been using all along — the same material and placement. Carbon fiber was a little too stiff, and plastic fins are too flexible. I don’t know whether fiberglass fins are the best material because they have the best flex or if it’s because that’s what we’ve become used to after all those years. That’s one conclusion I haven’t reached yet. In general, though, most guys like the regular fiberglass fins.

I had fiberglass fins made for my teamriders. I design my boards based on my fins, on my own designs, and on fiberglass. If a guy comes in and puts on a set of completely different fins, the board will work differently. The boards I made for Sunny Garcia used my own fins. I didn’t want to take a risk.

Pretty much all the Australians ride with glass-on fins. Most of the top WCT guys are back with glass-on fins. I work a lot with Nathan Webster, Richie Lovett, Jake Paterson, and Taj Burrow. Out of those four guys, Richie Lovett is the only one that uses Fin Control.

I make both types of boards, but if I made a board that’s going to be magic for me — glass on!

TransWorld SURF Business: What can shapers do to see more profits?

Xanadu: Channel Islands is the number-one-selling surfboard in the world. I was talking to Al Merrick, Channel Islands owner a few weeks ago. I told him to raise his prices. If he raised his price by 50 dollars a board, I would raise my price, Rusty would raise his prices — all the leading companies would.

Right now, no one is making money. But Merrick believes that if he raises the price, he’s not going to sell as many boards. What I have to do is prove to him that he’s going to keep selling an unbelievable amount of boards. It could also be better for him if he made 50 to a 100 fewer boards a week but made more money per board. He’d be making the same amount of money, but it would be less work. better for him if he made 50 to a 100 fewer boards a week but made more money per board. He’d be making the same amount of money, but it would be less work.