Credit Photo: Ravean Kretowicz
I first moved to Vancouver thinking about surfing. Anyone that ever went or lived there will know that hell no, you can’t surf there. You need to pay the ferry, then the bus or your car and your gas to go to the island and surf some good swells. That’s when they are good, which is mainly during winter time. Most surfers just give up that amount of money and prefer to go spend it in Mexico instead. I understand that. The surprising thing is that most people that are surfing on the West Coast of Canada doesn’t live on the island watching patiently the waves. They live in the city. Walk around the buildings while thinking about some salty ocean somewhere. Thinking about their next vacation. Once they are done wandering around and start feeling homesick for a place they never knew, they go to Shapers Studio. As the founder/shaper of Shaper Studios Vancouver told us, ‘’We also call that place the community center of surfing, you know, there are a lot of surfers that just come here and hang out. They plan a surf trip so we talk about surfing and drink beers!’’
I know. You found your home.
During our last trip in the city, we stopped by the shop to talk with Nate Batara about how Learning Curves changed his name in Shaper Studios Vancouver and to know a little bit more about learning to shape a board. You will see, we talk a lot about beers. Maybe you should wait until tonight before reading the article, you know, just to avoid the temptation.
-How did you get involved with teaching how to shape boards?
Me and my friend started it together. We just started shaping boards for fun and all our friends were like ‘’eh can I come to shape, can you teach me how to shape?’’ and we always refused. Then, people kept coming and asking, so finally we said fine, come on in. After some time, it ends up coming nicely. We started doing our initial lessons and we end up with close to 100 boards in that shop. We had too many boards and the place was too small, so we came here and opened last November under the name Learning Curves. Sometime in December, Shaper Studios San Diego, which I’ve met before, called and said ‘’Hey, we like what you guys are doing up there. We have this idea of partnering up and becoming the same brand, like the same entity, so we can take over the world!’’. They basically said, you know, we are on the same team, we are doing the same thing and we don’t want to fight with anyone, so let’s team up and do this together. I said yes, of course! Because, you know, they are really good at what they do. Our shop is great, but they have a shop that is probably ten times the size, they’ve been doing it for at least ten years older than us. They gave us tips and taught us a lot about the business part along the shaping, so it’s a great partnership to have.
-Being originally from Hawaii, did you learn there or where did you learn?
I self-taught. My first board was just to have fun. I started in a little wood shop in East Van down in Railtown. I started in Vancouver, probably because I was homesick and I just wanted to reconnect with the Hawaiian surfing’s culture. At that point, I wasn’t surfing that much because I was too far, and when I started shaping, I started surfing a lot.
-On the island I guess?
Yeah, in Tofino, Ucluelet…
-I also heard about Shred Talks, are you doing some in Vancouver as well?
They are doing Shred Talks in California and we actually live stream it here. They put us in with a laptop and we can see it here while working and drinking beers. They’ve done a few episodes so far and I think they are coming with another as well. It’s awesome! Daniel Thomson, Donald Brink and Ryan Lovelace are all incredible shapers right now. I think that’s why San Diego choose them. They are good shapers, but they also are passionate and they love what they do. It fits with what we are doing. We are not a surf shop, it fits more with a lifestyle I think. We make a lot of foam boards and fish boards. You can learn how to do it yourself and you can learn how to do alternative shapes. Those who come in usually doesn’t shape a typical short board. It’s good. I think you should surf on whatever you have the most fun with! Pro surfers have the most fun on really small, skinny boards. But, for most of us in the shop, we are not pros, we probably shape way more than what we actually surf, but we are passionate about both. We surf okay!
-Was becoming a shaper/teacher like that was one of your goals while going to UBC and coming to Vancouver?
Hmm, no! I went to UBC to study anthropology, I still work my full time job at UBC actually and I take my evenings and weekends to teach shaping.
-Woah, that’s a lot of work.
Yes and no, it doesn’t feel like work for me. When I come here, I am like ‘’what else I’m going to do on a Tuesday night?’’. Tuesday is the member’s night, we work in the base, but it’s a night where we offer a little bit more than just shop time, that’s why the membership is valuable. It’s actually a great community.
-That’s sounds really a nice place to hang at. I think you are also working with a local beer from here, Postmark?
Yeah! We partnered with them a while ago and we asked them if they could host our party and they told us no. They said that they wanted us to host their parties. So, we pretty much buy only Postmark, but everything is good. It’s a really good cross promotion. They are not just brewers, they are a lifestyle brand and they just fit really well with what we do. They came in here and shaped two boards, then we sent them home with their two boards and they brought us like 10 kegs or something! It was awesome.
-Working in a place where you teach people to shape, did you end up shaping a lot of boards for yourself?
I only make one board here every six months, I’ve been teaching so many lessons! I haven’t shaped that many for myself. It’s ok, it’s good to step back from shaping, I don’t want to be a professional shapers and shape boards for everyone, I just want to teach lessons. It’s a way to connect with people too. When you shape a board with someone, you actually get to know them, when usually you just sell a board to a customer and you never see them again.
-There are so many boards possible to shape, which one is your favourite?
I am getting bored to shape short board, so recently I’ve been doing asymmetrical fish and I like to do Longboard, 8-9ft. I found it’s harder to shape them so it’s like a challenge, and then also, single fin boards.
-If I was a member and I was coming to shape my first board, how much time will it approximately takes?
About 6 to 8 hours for shaping, and glassing is like 3-4 days in a row.
-Surfing is constantly involving, pushing the boundaries of shaping. How do you think it’s going to be in five years?
I think as far as shaping, Donald Brink and Daniel Thomson are at the top front of everything. They have different theories and they think really differently about surfboards and I think asymmetrical surfboards are just going to look more real. I think that’s going to be more normal to see, but you know, a classic short board will never go away. It’s always a good board, it works and with new beginners coming in all the time, I think surfing is growing up in Canada right now.
-Anything else to say to influence our choice in coming here or not?
Just keep surfing. Surfing is awesome. Shaping is awesome. If you are ready to shape a board, you know where to go. And, if you are not ready, it’s cool, just come and drink beers with us.