It took Drake Abrahamson 16 hours to shape his first surfboard.
Hundreds of blanks later, Abrahamson is now a Cal Poly graduate student who teaches other students how to shape boards. In addition to studying environmental engineering, he teaches board shaping at the ASI Craft Center two days a week.
“I think my favorite takeaway at the end of every class is, hey, I know I’m teaching this class, but I feel weird even because there’s so many people that know so much more than me,” he said. “I’m still just scratching the surface. I encourage my students, if they find a real fire inside them about it, then please pursue it more.”
Growing up in San Clemente, Abrahamson was surrounded by surf culture. He caught his first wave when he was just a toddler, and he refused to surf without his goggles on. He has been hooked since and has moved on from his goggle phase, but the constant pressure to perform in the surf capital of California presented its challenges due to the competitive nature of the scene.
Looking for another way to engage in surf culture outside the water, Abrahamson found his niche in the shaping bay. Hand shaping culture was, and at times still is, very elusive. It takes time, patience, and a lot of practice, and the community takes a lot of pride in tradition while still looking to push the envelope and exploring techniques such as finless surfing and asymmetrical shapes.
“The fact that all these people have made a career out of shaping is really cool. Because it shows you that every little experiment that shapers do and are interested in is worthwhile and people are paying attention, which is just a really nice indicator of a healthy sort of community that wants to expand their sensations riding waves,” Abrahamson said.
His freshman year he was approached by a senior who had heard of Passes Surfboards and suggested that he apply to teach at the Craft Center.
“I was so scared I wasn’t gonna get the job,” he said. “I made this whole portfolio of all the boards I’ve shaped and brought it in and they were really excited, and I guess we didn’t have that much to discuss.”
After asking a fellow instructor how many boards they had shaped, Drake was surprised to know that his peers had only five boards under their belt as compared to Drake’s 100 plus custom shapes since the beginning of his career. “It was just one of those oops moments, I guess,” he said. “And I didn’t have anything to worry about, and I’ve just been working there since.”
Hoping her board won’t “turn out terrible,” Junior business major Ellie Jensen believes Abrahamson’s method of teaching will ensure she will be successful in the shaping class.
“I think he’ll make sure it doesn’t turn out terrible,” she said. “The class is very hands-on. Like he does, whatever he’s teaching us, he’ll do on someone’s board, not a ton, but enough where you can sort of take mental notes about all the different things that he’s doing. And then he actually helps you, like do it the first time. And so it helps build your confidence and you can do it on your own.”
Having known about the shaping class before coming to Cal Poly and wanting to take it ever since, Senior civil engineering major Josh Rowe finally found the opportunity in his second to last quarter.
“When I visited before I accepted the offer to come to Cal Poly, I noticed that we’d have a shaping class,” Rowe said. “I was amazed because I haven’t seen any schools that have that.”
Despite his excitement about the class, Rowe said, he was hesitant about his skills.
“I’ve been really trying to hold my nerves at bay,” he said. “I’m worried that I’m gonna be just naturally terrible at shaping and end up with a lump of foam that I can’t surf.”
As far as Abrahamson’s teaching style, Rowe says he has been guiding the class “gently.”
“Not like pushing us, but also holding us in the right direction,” he says.
Surfboard shaping classes are offered every quarter in the cal poly craft center.
Classes are on weekdays, but the craft center also offers surfboard shaping weekends.
When Abrahamson graduates this spring, his days of teaching shaping at the ASI Craft Center will end.
“Shaping will always be something that I intensely enjoy and just know will never leave my life. But there are so many things I like to do, so shaping is just a degree of it,” Abrahamson said. “I want it to be a big portion of my life, but I’m not sure if I’ll be doing it full time. So I guess we’ll just see what opportunities arise. I never wanna force anything, but I would love to be able to do that every day.”