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SHAPED︱Catherine Girard

Florida winter blues on my 9’4 pig photo by @zach_guinta

Please introduce yourself, where are you from, when started surfing, and anything else you want to tell us?

My name is Catherine Girard. I am originally from Quebec, Canada but moved to Florida about 8 years ago. I applied for an ocean lifeguard job because I grew up as a competitive swimmer. I was one of the only girls on the patrol. I saw the guys paddle out one morning and was curious so did the same. That’s where it all started. Getting my first wave on a P2P 12-foot rescue board with 10 of my coworkers cheering me on. I had never felt this feeling before. That’s where my surfing journey began. Fueled by finding some decent surf, that's what made me want to move to California for two years.

How did you get started in surfboard shaping, and what inspired you to pursue it as a career?

My journey into shaping surfboards began during my time in Santa Barbara, California. I was working at a local coffee shop, and one regular, a true local legend by the name of Greg Tally, stood out. Greg had a unique habit of being the first customer of the day, always in shorts and sandals, giving the impression that he had just returned from the beach – which, often, he had.

Our conversations naturally gravitated towards surfing, with Greg sharing stories of his time in Hawaii and his upbringing as a surfer in Montecito during the 1970s. It was during one of these discussions that he dropped a bombshell: he had been shaping surfboards since the tender age of 13, right in his parents' garage. As he was preparing to sell his house and move back to Hawaii after half a century, he extended to me an opportunity that would change my path – the chance to learn the art of crafting a surfboard from inception to completion.

It was a love-at-first-sight experience for me. Building a surfboard became not just a process, but a passion. The sheer thrill of testing the board after its creation was nothing short of exhilarating. After crafting two personal boards, which I shared with friends, I began receiving custom orders. Initially, I grappled with imposter syndrome, but with Greg's patient guidance, I gradually found my footing. After shaping a few boards, he'd quietly exit the room, leaving me with the task of finishing the rails on my own. This not only nurtured my independence but also bolstered my self-assurance.

Fast forward four years, and I'm still passionately immersed in the art of surfboard shaping. It's a journey that continues to fuel my love for the craft.

Tell us about machine-shaped versus hand-shaped boards and their environmental impact.

Machine-shaped surfboards and hand-shaped surfboards each have their own environmental impact, and it's essential to consider various factors when evaluating their sustainability.

Machine-Shaped Surfboards

Consistency and Precision: Machine shaping offers consistent and precise results, which can lead to less waste as there are fewer errors or reshaping required. This efficiency can reduce material waste.

Energy Consumption: The production of machine-shaped surfboards involves energy-intensive processes, such as CNC (Computer Numerical Control) milling machines or other automated equipment. This can result in a significant environmental footprint.

Materials: Machine-shaped boards typically use materials like expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam and epoxy resin, which may be less harmful to the environment than traditional polyurethane foam and polyester resin. However, the production of these materials can still have environmental consequences.

Volume Production: Machine shaping allows for large-scale production, which can contribute to resource overuse and increased transportation emissions due to shipping boards worldwide.

Hand-Shaped Surfboards

Artisanal Craftsmanship: Hand-shaped boards are often seen as pieces of art. They are shaped by skilled craftsmen who take great pride in their work, potentially leading to a longer-lasting product.

Local Production: Many hand-shaped surfboards are produced locally, reducing the carbon footprint associated with long-distance shipping.

Materials: Some hand-shapers opt for eco-friendly materials, such as sustainably sourced wood for stringers and more environmentally friendly resins. However, this varies depending on the shaper.

Customization: Hand-shaped boards can be customized to the rider's specifications, potentially leading to a more efficient use of materials.

Low Volume: Hand-shaped boards are typically produced in smaller quantities, which can result in higher costs and potentially less accessibility to surfers.

In summary, both machine-shaped and hand-shaped surfboards have environmental implications. Machine-shaped boards offer consistency and precision but may have higher energy consumption and volume production impacts. Hand-shaped boards often come with artisanal craftsmanship and the potential for eco-friendly materials but can be more costly and less accessible. The overall environmental impact depends on various factors, including the specific materials used, the production methods, and the disposal or recycling processes involved. Surfboard manufacturers and consumers can make more sustainable choices by using eco-friendly materials and production methods and considering the lifecycle of the surfboard.

What was the first or favorite board you’ve ever shaped?

I don't really have a favorite board. My journey began with a 9'4 noserider, a board that holds a special place in my heart. Greg had this old Clark foam longboard blank lying around, adorned with a beautifully weathered T-band stringer, the blank was not white anymore but brown.

It's worth mentioning that, back in the '90s, Greg had firmly declared he'd never shape another longboard. Due to this, and his spacious shaping bay with an extra five inches of clearance around the blank, we embarked on the challenging task. Looking back, we still chuckle about those early days.

At the outset, everything was unfamiliar territory for me, and I was navigating in uncharted waters. Fortunately, Greg's patience was unwavering as he painstakingly walked me through each step, making sure I comprehended the 'why' behind every decision.

I must have made quite an impression on that first board because, at its completion, Greg offered me the honor of placing the White Owl decal on it. When the time came to glass the board, I was exploding with ideas, overwhelmed by the possibilities. Ultimately, I settled on the idea of adding lavender resin panels on each side to accentuate the stringer. Greg, ever the pragmatist, suggested keeping it simple, but my stubborn streak won out, and we went with my vision.

To my amazement and, I think, a bit of Greg's, the result was stunning. I remember him saying, "That board looks “bitchin" – or some variation of that phrase. I was stoked. To this day, that board holds a special place in my heart. I entrusted it to some friends who reside in Malibu, and it now carries with it a history of dings and stories, making it exceptionally precious to me.

What unique perspectives or design elements do you believe you bring to your surfboard shaping that may differ from your counterparts?

I think that my adaptability and open mindedness bring a lot to the table when shaping to collaborate with different ideas and concepts and make them my own. I like to make boards specific to the customer. That's why I try to have a discussion with them that isn’t just about the dimensions they are thinking of for their board.

Walk us through your creative process when designing and shaping a surfboard. What are things to consider if someone wants a board hand shaped?

My creative journey commences in the water and is deeply rooted in my personal emotions. When I'm out in the water, I enjoy swapping boards with friends, feeling the intricacies of their boards, and examining the contours beneath. There's an unparalleled joy in riding a board that resonates with you, creating a unique connection and sensation. This excitement fuels my desire to craft my own boards and bring my insights to the bay.

During the shaping process, I not only rely on precise measurements but also trust my intuition, ensuring symmetry as I work. I draw inspiration from different art mediums such as museums, clothing and music to explore various color combinations. Before embarking on this path, I spent some time oil painting, which instilled in me a passion for mixing my distinct hues, whether it's for a canvas or a surfboard. I view both as analogous forms of artistic expression, which is why I've taken to glassing my own boards for the past three years. This allows me to not only grasp the technique but also experiment with tints and pigments.

When I receive a custom board order, I'm particularly interested in the customer's location, preferred surf spot and wave type, as well as their envisioned board dimensions. Additionally, I will inquire about their objectives and intentions for the board. These questions often provide valuable insights into the ideal board shape. To further enhance the design process, I prefer to engage in a conversation with the customer, facilitating a more comprehensive understanding of their preferences and making the decision-making process easier in a world filled with countless possibilities.

What aspects of surfboard shaping do you find most fulfilling and why?

The most gratifying aspect of crafting surfboards is the opportunity to connect with those for whom I've created a board, especially when we meet in the water. A recent encounter in South Carolina stands out in my mind. I met a fellow surfer who was riding a board I had personally shaped for her three years ago. It's always a special moment to engage with people, share their travel tales, hear their stories, and receive their valuable feedback on the boards I designed exclusively for them.

Are there any specific types of surfboards that you specialize in? If so, what drew you to focus on those particular styles?

I love shaping more alternative boards with traditional bottom contours and usually with a single fin. I make these kinds of boards because they’re what I usually like to ride. I love the history behind each of these shapes. I’ve been into making a single fin fish. I tested my first one back in Santa Barbara and really liked the feeling of it. I’ve made 4 more of those in different sizes and tweaked it every time to improve sensations.

Let's review the materials that go into making a board and moving to working with ecologically safe products. What is available? What are some of the problems you are facing to bring these materials to your practice in Florida and how are you resolving them?

I've been actively engaged in sustainability conversations within the industry, fueled by my immersion in various podcasts and insightful discussions with industry professionals who share a common goal: enhancing the ecological impact of their work. During my exploration, I stumbled upon Polyola, a noteworthy company that manufactures foam that boasts an impressive 70% recyclability rate. The primary challenge, however, is its limited availability in many shapers' regions. Currently, Polyola is headquartered in France and is gradually opening up orders to shapers along the east and west coasts of the United States, aiming to expand their user base.

The logistical hurdles of acquiring Polyola blanks for surfboard shaping are quite evident. Not only does it involve a lengthy transportation process to get the blanks all the way to South Florida, but it also raises concerns about the carbon footprint associated with driving to, say, New York to retrieve a few blanks. Polyola is actively seeking distributors in the United States to alleviate this issue.

On a parallel note, the disposal of waste generated during the shaping process is a significant concern. According to Polyola's owner, recycling this type of material becomes economically viable when the waste accumulates to a minimum of 2 tons, prompting the need for a more efficient waste management system.

In a positive development, Polyola is developing a bio resin for surfboards, aligning with the growing demand for eco-friendly materials in the industry. The promise of this innovation is promising and may provide a more sustainable alternative in the future.

Throughout my conversations with industry experts, a recurring perspective has emerged: sustainability can be furthered by creating surfboards that endure for generations. In essence, a durable surfboard constructed with strong glass represents a highly eco-friendly choice. This raises the compelling question of how to harmonize eco-conscious practices with the creation of long-lasting, resilient surfboards.

Have you experienced any specific moments or achievements in your career that have been particularly meaningful to you?

Each chance to craft a personalized surfboard remains a significant milestone in my journey. The feeling of accomplishment still lingers with every outreach from a beloved surf shop eager to showcase my boards. Approximately a month ago, I embarked on a trip to South Carolina to deliver a set of boards to McKevlin Surf Shop. The sense of awe and connection I experienced within their surf community was truly remarkable.

Every conversation I engaged in that day felt deeply meaningful, and the unexpected turnout left me pleasantly surprised. What made the experience even more exceptional was the opportunity to share a memorable surf session with such an incredible group of surfers that morning. The weekend left me with a profound sense of gratitude and motivation to keep doing what I am doing.

What advice do you have for people who want to become surfboard shapers?

Whenever people reach out to me on social media or by email, I always try to help them out as much as possible. I always recommend collaborating with a local shaper who is willing to share their knowledge. It helps with the cost of tools and materials and gives you a space to work with surfboards. There are a lot of videos online made by Fiberglass Hawaii. I would start with that.

Are there any other surfboard shapers or mentors who have significantly influenced your work?

A big source of inspiration obviously comes from Greg who has taken the time to share his passion for surfboard building with me.

What do you enjoy most about being part of the surfing community and shaping boards for fellow surfers?

What I find most enjoyable about being a part of the surfing community and shaping boards for fellow surfers is the sense of camaraderie and connection. There's an indescribable bond that forms when you share the passion for riding the waves and creating the tools to do so. Meeting fellow surfers, understanding their needs, and crafting boards tailored to their preferences is incredibly rewarding. It's not just about shaping boards; it's about enhancing someone's surfing experience and being a part of their journey in the water. The shared stories, experiences, and the positive impact these boards have on people's surfing adventures make it a truly fulfilling and inspiring endeavor.

Can you share some memorable customer stories or experiences related to your surfboard shaping?

Back when I was residing in Santa Barbara, I had arranged to meet a friend at a local coffee shop before heading to my shaping workshop. At that point, I had only crafted two boards, both for my own use. Little did I know that this casual meet-up would turn into a pivotal moment in my surfboard shaping journey.

My friend had brought along another acquaintance, a remarkable surfer by the name of Demi. As we chatted, I couldn't contain my enthusiasm about my newfound passion for crafting surfboards. The moment I mentioned my recent work into surfboard shaping, Demi's eyes lit up with excitement. "I want one," she exclaimed. "I've been dreaming of riding a board shaped by a female surfer for ages." Her enthusiasm was infectious, and I was taken aback by her genuine interest.

It was a game-changer for me. The fact that such a talented and skilled surfer as Demi expressed a desire to ride one of my boards was a tremendous confidence booster. It was the first order that truly made me realize the value and uniqueness of what I was creating. It motivated me to keep pushing forward in my surfboard shaping journey. Here are some photos of the board

In your journey as a surfboard shaper, what are the most valuable lessons you've learned?

One of the most profound lessons I've learned through surfboard shaping is the wisdom of "slow is smooth." Deliberately setting intentions and taking one's time in certain aspects of the craft can be remarkably rewarding. Additionally, it has shown me that vulnerability, when shared through one's art, not only brings immense personal gratification but also fosters deep human connections.

Catherine's Playlist for WIG!

Check out this terrific Interview!


Additional Information

All photos courtesy of Catherine Girard :)

Catherine's website

Shaping photos by Jasper De Kloet Website, Instagram


Shaping Her Future, One Board At A Time, By Darien Davies, The Atlantic Current (2022)

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