Industrial Profile 3/1/2007

Mike Estrada - Shaper & Owner, Estrada Board Design and Estrats Board Mfg. Co.

Mike Estrada - Shaper & Owner, Estrada Board Design and Estrats Board Mfg. Co.
Companies and people who produce hardgoods are the back bone of this industry – and many other industries.  If Maytag didn’t make washing machines, then Procter & Gamble couldn’t sell Tide!  Mike Estrada has been making surfboards for close to 20 years out of his shop up the street from the Newport River Jetties.  Enjoy this interview with a key contributor to this industry, a guy who enables people to surf!  (All images provided by David Levin)

When did you get into shaping surfboards?
I messed around with it when I was in 9th grade for Plastics class.  I stripped the glass off of an old board.  I started consistently shaping boards for myself and my brothers in 1989, when I was about 22 or 23.  Then about a year later in 1990 I started my company.

What made you decide to turn it into a profession?
I grew up surfing and competing and loved to surf.  Back then I hung out with Richie Collins a little bit and he was shaping a little bit over at Wave Tools and being around the shop along with surfing itself is what sparked my interest in it.

When did you realize you had talent to shape well enough for people to buy boards from you?
My brothers and I were riding them, and they worked well for us.  I started getting orders from friends and it just kind of snowballed.  I figured out how to improve my shaping, make the boards work better and that kept translating to more boards.

How long did it take to be self-sustaining?
About a year and a half to two years, maybe a little less.  My cousin was already shaping and he was well along into it so we opened a glassing factory along with 4 shaping rooms.  I wasn’t doing that many boards myself but collectively we had enough to make it work.  To this day, we still do some glassing for other shapers but my shaper label Estrada Board Design is seperate from the glass factory which Estrats Board Mfg. Co.  You don’t get rich in this business but I love surfing and I love to make surfboards.

Currently I’m shaping boards for T&C in California as well.   

What was the experience like shaping your first board?
It was time consuming.  The first board took about 4 ½ hours.  Actually, the first several boards took that long.  The biggest thing was learning how to use a planer without damaging the foam so you can still make a surfboard.  As you progress your hand-eye coordination starts to get better because you know what you’re looking at and what needs to be done.  As you develop your own system and way of doing things everything comes together. 

What’s your favorite part of shaping a board?
Fine tuning it.  Surfboards have come along way.  We have computers that cut blanks for us, so we’re able to spend more time fine tuning a board.  Back when I started shaping you had to spend a lot of time gunning out blanks with a planer but now you have close-tolerance blanks and computer pre-shape blanks to help with that.  We’ve been working with ProCam in Huntington Beach for years to get our pre-shapes, and they’re great as far as quality goes. 

How long have 3rd party companies been providing this service?
Before shapers started buying their own shaping machines there were only two or three computer operators up and down the coast.  One of the original ones was KKL out of San Diego, along with ProCam.  

How many shapers do companies such as ProCam work with?
Quite a few, at least a dozen from small operations to the biggest names in the business.  ProCam in particular has a great reputation.  There is a certain way to use these machines, it takes a lot to make sure that blanks are lined up properly and cut right.  You can mess up blanks, and mess up the machinery.  Neither one is a cheap mistake.

What are current trends in shaping?
As far as trends go, since Clark Foam closed people are really looking into materials.  In the past I would shape epoxy blanks but not glass them.  Now our glass shop is about 50% epoxy and 50% polyester blanks.

We’ve also been doing a lot of quad fins.  The quad seemed to get lost between twin and tri-fin.  We’re working on perfecting it.  The quad is not going to replace the tri-fin but it does let people go out and have fun when the surf is too junky for a standard tri-fin.

People having a true quiver are also affecting the trends.  Now you have a board for different conditions - grab your quad and go. 

Do you think there are more people with quivers than there were in the past?
I’d have to say yeah.  Look at what surfboard companies’ offer in terms of board shapes.  If surfers want to get in the water more than once a week building a quiver is a good thing to do.

Do you think quivers are becoming more popular because surfers are getting richer or something else?
It could be a combination of surfers having a little more money to spend and the fact that the options are out there and maybe they’re keeping an open mind to trying those out.

What will the “average surfboard” be like 10 years from now?
I’d have to say that the average surfboard will be a stronger, more durable surfboard because everyone’s keeping an open mind with the different constructions.  I think we’re going to see a light, strong surfboard.

Is there a point where it’s too light?
Definitely for bigger surf.  I have a board right now that’s 4.5 pounds.  It’s good in small surf, but not in big surf.  I don’t know where the point of too light is yet because I haven’t made one yet that doesn’t work in conditions it’s made for.

What’s the daily routine?
Check the surf in the morning.  If it’s ride-able I’ll go out for a little bit.  If I don’t surf I’ll come in here and work for a while and then surf.  Afternoon’s customers come in and order boards / pick up boards.

Can someone come to your shop and order a board?
We do custom orders and that’s sort of word of mount.

Do you ever think about making Estrats Surfboards into one of the biggest?
I kind of like keeping it simple.  It’s less stress.  We have the capability to do more boards; we do about 1000 a year now but I still like to surf and I don’t want to spend every waking hour working.  I’m not opposed to making it bigger but I want to live life.

What affect does the improved ability for the big guys / giants to sell more boards have on your business?
Maybe it has an affect  to a certain extent, but I think more than anything else it’s just another option.  I have customers that try it and like it but it doesn’t keep them from ordering a custom surfboard.  I don’t think the custom surfboard will ever go away.

What do you find challenging about what you do?
Trying to get work done when the surf’s good.

What’s the best part of the job?
The best part of the job is working with a great crew of guys and the boards come out killer and you see the customers are stoked - - that’s probably the best part of the job.  Everyone that works in our factory is really conscientious about the surf board process.  These guys have been doing it for years.

Is there anything you can tell the readers about working or succeeding in the industry (a piece of advice)?
It takes hard work.  Anybody who’s started a business or started down a certain road knows you hit a point that’s hard, but if you’re dedicated and a hard worker you’ll succeed and that goes for anything you put your mind to.  You also got to enjoy what you do.  Don’t get to the point where you don’t enjoy doing it.  Because I build surfboards, surfing also a part of the work and it refreshes you. 

How can someone find the opportunity to shape a board?
Most people would go purchase a blank, and then go back home and mow away!  Some of them end up being shapers and part of this industry.