If the door’s locked, better luck next time. If you hear the sander going, do not disturb. If it’s silent and unlocked, you might just be able to chat with our in-house shaper (and the ever elusive) Ed Barbera.
He leaves a trail of polyurethane foam when he drops us off a new board, walking barefoot from his shed in the back through our always open shop door. In fact, he pretty much leaves a little trail of foam everywhere he goes, his white hair similarly but barely distinguishably covered in sanded down bits.
Tucked behind our original Northern Light shop in Bodega is Ed’s shed, a rustic red barn from which his infamous boards appear. And what drew him into the business of shaping over 40 years ago is likely what keeps him around: an urge to add value to people’s lives coupled with an equally strong desire to, well, close the door to his workspace and produce something one-of-a-kind.
And that’s where Barbera’s shaping technique comes in—because let’s be honest, not all boards are created equal. And that’s because not all shapers are…
The vast majority of boards made these days are at least preliminarily shaped by machine, but Barbera sticks to his roots, shaping each and every board by hand from start to finish (with extra love, of course). The result: uniquely impressive boards that pretty much exceed expectations all the time and every time.
“It’s a weird thing: sometimes when you’re surfing, you feel something,” says Barbera. “And that’s the thing that I feel is missing with the machine is that, you know, you can make changes on a machine. But you’re not intimately involved in making that board and all the steps of that board.”
The pain-staking process of hand-shaping seems a tall price to pay for a little intimacy, but for Barbera, it’s not just the cherished process that is missing in machine-shaped boards. It’s also the ingenuity. For him, the introduction of machine-shaping has resulted in a sort of stagnancy when it comes to board design. But despite his relative dislike for machines, Barbera is far from smug and nostalgic; after all, he thinks we’re living in the Age of Surf.
“This is the best time of surfing since I’ve been alive,” says Barbera. “The best surfing’s being done. The best things are happening.”
For Barbera, though, the future of surfing and board shaping remains uncertain. After all, surfing is all about continuing to push the boundaries, to dream, design, and create changes—things that he believes can’t be effectively done by a machine.
While he might have some doubts about the future, he seems to have come to terms with his place in it all.
“I realized…your boards are all over the place, boards that people don’t even know that you made,” says Barbera. “You’re bringing happiness and joy…You’ve done something that really brings value to people’s lives.”