The last decade has been a bumpy road for the US surfboard industry. From Clark Foam’s shutdown, to the Great Recession, to ever-growing manufacturing moving overseas. In that time, shaper Jason Bennett and marketing/sales director Will Smith have bucked that trend and persevered with Chemistry Surfboards. It’s unique for a few reasons: For one, Bennett is one of the few young US shapers that’s come up in that time. And he’s a rare breed of the surfer/shaper combo, a once common mix that produced a lot of innovation in surfboard design.—Casey Koteen
TransWorld SURF: How did you get started with shaping?
Jason Bennett: We started the label with Michael Baron and Jeremy Heit, and were getting boards shaped by other people. I was trying to run the label, and it was hard to have consistency, so I decided to jump in. I’d lost my sponsorship with Hurley, so the timing was perfect. I thought, ‘Okay, I can do this.’ I was into it and have always been good with my hands, growing up drawing and stuff like that.
It also seems like a way to keep the dream alive and keep surfing.
Yeah, I had a routine I did every day: I’d wake up and wherever the waves were good I’d go surf. When you surf in the morning your day usually goes pretty good. I really didn’t want to lose that.
You’re one of the few young shapers from the US that’s come up in the last 10 years or so. Why are there so few young shapers here?
For one, it’s not that glamorous. I guess some guys would rather get an industry job where there’s more money. There are a lot of reasons why guys wouldn’t. But in California especially, people want to make a lot of money and drive a nice car. Other places like Australia aren’t so much like that, so you see more young shapers over there. If you want to make surfboards, even just decent ones, you’ve got to dedicate your life to it. It’s not something you can do one day and come back three weeks later and do it. You’ve got to do it every day. I’m 10 years into it, and I’m still learning every day. I’m like an apprentice. There’s a lot to learn.
At the same time, there seems to be more interest in shaping from kids in the last year or two.
For sure. Like Ryan Burch shapes here, and sometimes when he’s gone his buddies will come use his room to shape. It’s cool to see. People see Dane [Reynolds] playing around with it, and Ryan’s been getting some exposure with his shaping, so other kids see that and think it’s cool. So now guys are trying to be a bit more rootsy and make their own boards, and glass their own boards.
What’s going on in surfboards, or materials, or anything really that’s got you most excited right now?
Before people mostly rode a standard shortboard, but these days there’s a huge palette of shapes people want to ride, which is cool. If you’re shaping 6’1”s all day, you get bored. A guy might come in wanting a double-wing, veed out, beak-nose fish, or whatever. So that’ll be in the mix and another board with a chopped off tail or something. There’s just way more different shapes going on now, and it keeps shapers and consumers creative.—Casey Koteen