Back in November, we sat down with Shaper Jorge Elias in his backyard shaping bay located just outside of Sooke. We spoke about how Jorge got his start, board shaping as an art form, and the importance of developing your own style.
So Jorge it sounds like you've travelled around a little bit from leaving home in Portugal and ending up here in Sooke. We'd love to hear about that journey and the stops you made along the way.
So it started when I met my wife Jessica in Portugal. She's Canadian and was travelling at the time. We were still young and we wanted to travel and live together. She's a nurse, I'm a surfer and make boards. We decided first to get some money working a little bit in Toronto, then she got a job offer in California so we drove to Cali and lived there for two and a half years. At that point, we wanted to have a family and I wanted to have my own space and things for shaping, so we decided to move back to Canada because it's a much better place to have a family overall. We were on the west coast, so coming north to the island made sense. It’s so beautiful here and the surf is great.
There's no shortage of mass-produced CNC machined boards, but the hand-shaping scene still seems alive and well. Why do you think that is? Are there other benefits to a hand-shaped board?
It's up to the surfer. You know, a hand-shaped board doesn't surf better than a CNC board or vice versa. But I think a board made by hand is more special than one made by a computer. By far, this one's never going to be perfect. If you're gonna go by hairs, you know, one side [of the board] is bigger than the other, you know? But on the water, it doesn't matter. You also see these new boards and fins that they test to a limit that is impossible for humans on a wave to reach. So it's kind of just marketing. So yeah, I'm a big defender of hand-shaping.
You produce a lot of different styles and shapes of boards, but just saw that moon tail blank sitting there. Is the moon tail something you've started doing recently or have you been playing with that for a while?
So when I was in California, one of my favourite shapers and surfers was Ryan Burch and he has one [moon tail board], but his is super small. And then while I was there, I ended up having one of my mentors being one of the first shapers for David Nuuhiwa, who was one of the first nose riders, and he was the first one to work on a moon tail. So I had the chance to look into some of the old models and understand why they made them and I got super interested in it. I decided I wanted to make a moon tail for me to surf and make it one of my main models. So the first time I moved to Canada, I made one for myself. I liked it, but it didn't reach what I wanted. I sold it and made another one which was better. Then I made a few more, and now it’s one of my main designs.
You come from an art and design background, but you also seem to have more of a spiritual connection to shaping. Do you view it more as an art with manufacturing inputs or manufacturing with an artistic approach?
It’s a form of art. Technically, it is a form of sculpture. You have a blank that you're going to remove material from and keep the material that you need to be that piece. So this is sculpture, but unfortunately, they're never going to be sold as a piece of art. It is sold as functional art. Functional art is cheap. It's not like a canvas that’s probably going to sell for 5k easy. But if I ask you to pay 5k for this board, you're gonna like "Woah, you're crazy buddy! I'm gonna go in the water with it..." It’s still a form of art. You start with a blank and have unlimited options for shape, colour, and techniques.
Like anything bespoke or handmade, there is more soul that goes into a hand-shaped board. The option for a surfer to commission a shaper to make a board makes it feel more like a client/artist relationship instead of manufacturing sports goods.
When you sign something that you say you made, to me that means you have to make it [yourself]. It's not the computer that made it, someone else that no one knows glasses it, a kid that needs money sanded it, then in the end it has your logo and you sign it. That doesn't seem fair to me. I'd rather have something where I signed this board and it's fully made by me start to finish. Everything. The good and the bad.
Have you ever gone out on board, maybe you tried something different, and it's just not rideable and it becomes a paperweight?
Yeah, kinda, I don't explore that much. I'm old school with my surf. It depends on where you want to go and how you want to use it. But that's also something very, very, very interesting. I don't think that exists [something that is not rideable]. I think everything is rideable. You see kids, for example, in Africa with pieces of wood.
I was just going to say that. These kids are properly surfing on just a found piece of wood shaped by 30 years of being on a house, on the beach, on a dock and they rip.
Yeah, so I don't think there is anything that is unrideable. Of course, performance-wise, if you want to go on the world tour and use all those high-tech and carbon things, which now is weird because the only thing they do is take the board out of the water and they call it an aerial. That’s another thing that I'm a little bit concerned about – surf means something in contact with the water, using the wave. But yeah, everything is rideable, as long as you are open to exploring.
Do you have any advice for people looking to get into surfing?
I think there are way too many references for new people coming into the sport. If you decide you want to try surfing, the first thing you do is go online, right? Some with very good style and performance, but you can get locked into that and feel the need to be like one of these surfers you see in the videos. In the 70s, 80s, and 90s, if you had no idea how to surf, maybe you saw somebody randomly at the beach surfing. But you see them for a moment and then they’re gone. So when you got the opportunity to grab a board, you barely had references on how to use it. This way you’d end up doing what you do instinctually. We all have different bodies so we all move differently. So you go out and make your own style. Style is when somebody has something new and iconic.
If you want to hear more from Jorge, check him out on Instagram.