Watching Rich Shape
by John Lloyd
The Harbour shop held an open house on November 25 to celebrate its expansion. Robert really rolled out the red carpet for everybody, with free food and T-shirts. It was a nice relaxed atmosphere where people could chat with other Harbour owners and talk surf talk.
A special treat was getting to watch Rich shape a board. He worked on a TS that he is making from one of his last Clark blanks. His neck is feeling a little better and, though I could tell it slowed him down a bit, I know it must have felt good for him to get back into the shaping room.
I have great admiration for shapers as craftsmen, and Rich is one of the masters. It was a privilege to watch him work. As he shaped the board, he didn't use any rulers, measuring tape, or calipers. He just used his hands and his experience. The blank had been roughed out by a CNC machine, but it was a very rough planshape and Rich not only had to smooth it out but also make quite a number of alterations. For instance, the machine does not get the nose rocker exactly right, so Rich has to change the curvature by hand. He has done thousands of these boards throughout his long career, and does not need a caliper or ruler to tell him when he has the rocker just right. He peers down the center of the board, then shaves off a little foam a millimeter at a time until it meets his standards. Then it needs to be sanded, and more adjustments made for the rider of this board. It is a long process, but he does not cut corners and pays attention to every detail before he moves on to the next step. I watched in awe as he would run his hands over the foam, find some tiny bump or imperfection that was invisible to the naked eye, and smooth it out with a few swift strokes of the hand planer or sandpaper. The TS is a three-stringer board, with a wood and foam tail block. He meticulously made sure that the edges and corners of the stringers were clean and flush with the foam, so that the entire board was seamless and absolutely smooth.
It makes me think he could do this blindfolded if he had to. The secret was in his hands. As they became covered with a fine coat of foam dust, you realized his hands hold the knowledge of those thousands of boards. They know just how much curve to give the rocker, just how much roll to put in the rails, just how much crown to put on the deck. Then, when at last the blank was finished, he signed his name and numbered it, just like any artist would. A simple declaration that says so much about pride and skill and workmanship that have taken nearly fifty years to perfect: By Rich Harbour. He then inscribed it to its new owner.
He is a true craftsman, and to watch him work is to appreciate the art of shaping a surfboard.
More and more boards are being shaped entirely by machine, or slapped together in factories in China. Surfboard making seems to be going the way of everything else in this industrial society. The economics of the industry are pushing it that direction. But you can’t convince me that a machine can put soul into a board. You can’t tell me that a machine is just as good as the hands, the eye, the mind, and yes, the heart and soul of the human being who shapes a board. As long as I am surfing, I want to know that my board—the thing that puts me in touch with the ocean—has heart and soul. That’s why I ride a Harbour.
By John Loyd
Upcoming events: We're looking forward to Harbour Owner Society t-shirts and jackets in the new year...stay tuned.
Woody's old style surf eatery in Seal Beach has agreed to give Harbour Owner Society members a 10% discount on designated days...stay tuned for dates. And get those ID cards, they are mandatory for discounts. Information on right.
As if the Harbour Surf Day didn't make this November memorable, another great Harbour Event took place, The Harbour Open House.
In late November the Harbour shop in Seal Beach hosted an Open House to give back to their patrons with awesome food and hospitality.
It was a great chance to see the new remodel of the shop. It looks great! Check out the photos.
Pictures by Ron Woolheather (see link on right for his website of great photography), and a short muse by John Lloyd on the experience of watching Rich shape.
More pictures from the day.