Born and raised in France, Valerie Duprat is a talented shaper and scientist living in Encinitas, California. Being the mastermind behind Mere-Made Surfboards, it’s surprising to realize that shaping only came into her life a few years ago, but when you see her boards, you couldn’t guess it. At a time surfing was still new to her, Valerie discovered the joy of shaping and it quickly took over her life. Paying attention to every detail, Valerie’s surfboards are hand-shaped with patience in Southern California and the end result is always beautiful.
We asked Valerie a few questions about shaping, the role of surfing in her life and the obstacles she had to face as a woman. An interview that ended up being interesting, but also, gave us a friend along the way.
Where did you grow up and when/how did you get involved with surfing?
I grew up in a Paris suburb (The “Neuf-Trois”) and spent most of my teenage age roller skating in the streets of Paris. Snowboarding was my first love. I was dreaming about white fields of immaculate snow when I met and married an inveterate surfer. However, I only started surfing later when I met my tandem partner in 2003. This is how I learnt how to surf, on a 12-foot tandem surf, becoming an international tandem competitor for five years. When my partner left the US, I started to surf solo.
Who is behind Mere-Made Surfboards and how did you get into shaping?
Behind Mere-Made, there is a challenge to myself, there is an unconditional support from my husband and there is the generous help of my shaping mentor. The triggering factor was an old board I decided to renovate with a new paint job. I had so much fun doing this project that I realized I needed an artsy surf-related activity when not riding the waves. Then, I randomly met with David Charbonnel, owner and shaper from SWOP Surfboards, who convinced me to give shaping a try. My husband, Vincent, offered me some shaping tools and with a kiss on the check he said, “You can do it!” Altogether, I started to build a backyard shaper brand four years ago. I began by shaping some boards for family and friends. And then, for friends of friends. And now, I shape for total strangers who contact me through social media (but we are ending up becoming friends too!).
What aspect of shaping do you like the best?
Creating a sculpture that you can use to ride waves. I consider hand shaping like a useful form of art. I really enjoy spending time by myself, 100% focusing on creating something from my hands.
What kind of board do you prefer to shape and why?
I was forced to specialize myself into performance short boards as my number one customer/team rider is the most competitive short boarder I know: my husband! I enjoy shaping those boards because they are very technical. But every single board I shape is a new challenge for me as I am very hard on myself. Plus, as a young shaper (approaching 100 boards only) I still have plenty of room to improve.
What is it like being a female shaper? Did you have to face any obstacles?
To that question I would say that regardless of the gender, the shaping community is hard to penetrate! Shapers in general either don’t have time and/or are not willing to share their secrets. I was not taken very seriously when I started to shape. Fortunately, I also met very nice shapers who saw my dedication and helped me get started. Now that I am more established, I have less difficulty getting answers/tips when I ask. Although the number of female shapers is on the rise, we are still a minority. However, we usually receive great support from the surfing community. Plus, more and more women are actively surfing and they like to have a woman shaping their board.
Last year, you released your first commercial with the sentence “Made just for YOU.” Do you think people can relate to your brand because of that?
With the development of the surf industry and the need of bigger margins, the vast majority of the surfboards are now pre-shaped by machines. However, most surfers have a very special relationship with their boards and that is why hand shaped boards are becoming a special treat in a quiver. Custom hand shaped board even more. The experience of having a unique board shaped just for you is very different than picking a board on a surf shop rack. You just have to see the sparkles in my customers’ eyes when we sit down to plan the making of their board…
Tell me a little more about the documentary Cody Gless did about you. Was it your idea or his? When can we expect to see it?
Cody Gless was working at NBC News when I shaped him a board. He was so enthusiastic about his whole experience, including some shaping with me in the shaping room, that he wanted to film a story for the news. But then he changed his mind to make it a documentary… When he told me, I was in shock. I felt a bit overwhelmed and unsure that my story was worth a documentary. But I rapidly realized it was a unique opportunity to record my adventure, working with a very talented video-journalist. We are currently finishing the shooting. We still have to shoot a very important piece of the story in spring 2015. The release of the short film is scheduled for 2016.
I’ve been around your blog lately and I noticed that you sometimes write a story about surfers that bought one of your boards. Can you tell me more about that?
This blog is actually a portfolio of all the boards I shaped (but I am at 20 boards behind or so). I use it like an inventory I can search through by keywords. Also, for each board, the format of the blog entry is always the same: it introduces the rider and how/why we decided on this shape/artwork. It is very important for me to write about my customers as we share a bit of a journey together creating their new board.
What advice would you give to people to help them get the best board possible?
The best is to be able to test-drive many different shapes, but I know it is not very easy… My other advice is to go for a surf session with your shaper as he/she can see how you surf. It is so helpful for the shaper to be able to figure out the ideal volume repartition on the board.
What’s your shaping philosophy?
I have two: “If it looks good, it will work good.”
My other one is “Have fun shaping.”
Do you have team riders? Are there specific criteria needed to be involved in the team?
I have three Team riders: Aiden, Nicole and Vincent. Team riders compete in local championships on my boards, of course. If no podium is required, I like my team riders to display a positive attitude and share the stoke.
Who are some of the people you feel are shaping the path of surfing today?
I admire the new generation of competitive female surfers. Those athletes rip like the men. But my real heroes are every day female surfers who are having a blast with a positive energy no matter what the surf conditions are. I hope I belong to that category, because after all, having fun is what surfing is all about.
What are your future plans and goals for 2015?
I am planning on keeping on doing what I do: shaping for fun. Even though the brand is trademarked and soon to be an LLC, I am not ready to transition from a hobby to a full-time job … yet. But, hey, who knows what tomorrow is made of? Enjoying life one day at the time for sure!