Making Surfboards in Costa Rica. “If I don’t drown in the water surfing I’ll die here in the shop…”

White foam flakes blast out of the power planer in all directions, coating everything in the workshop in artificial snow. It’s just a few weeks before Christmas, and celebrity board shaper Robert August is like a skinny Santa — but cranking out surfboards instead of toys.

At 68 years young, this prolific board shaper has carved out an impressive 35,000 boards in his lifetime. And he’s showing no signs of slowing down. I”ve always been a surfer and board shaper,” he said. “I still love it after all these years.”

Perhaps best known for his role in the epic surf films Endless Summer and Endless Summer 2, August has spent most of his life in the water. “As a child I lived in Seal Beach, California. I surfed every day and never gave it a second thought. The water was right there. I’d wake up, take a pee, surf and go to school.”

Each board starts as a generic piece of foam with a line of wood going down the center for support. These “blanks” come from Surfoam Central America’s warehouse, just down the street. August shapes them with utmost care and precision. He constantly stops the machine to wipe white dust from his brow and caress the board with his fingertips — assessing both volume and curvature while making sure both sides are exactly even.

Taking into consideration three main elements — the nose, the middle and the tail — August first smooths and draws an outline on the board. He then shapes it with a power planer, then a block plane and a sure-form (“it’s like a cheese grater,” he said) before giving it a final sanding with plain old sandpaper. He tries not to touch the contours until the very end.

The board is then ready for “Che” Juan Diego Evangelista of Cheboards, just a half-mile from August’s workshop. There, this incredibly focused Argentinian takes the tablet to its completion.

Juan Diego has surfed for 26 years, and started glassing at the tender age of 11. Also a shaper, he’s taken over 2,000 boards from tablet to surfboard and glassed another 2,000 on top of that. “If I don’t drown in the water surfing I’ll die here in the shop. But it’s ok, I love it.”

Premium glassing takes roughly 8 hours per board and involves many harsh chemicals. First, Che paints the board (if desired) and covers it with a sheet of fiberglass that he then cuts to fit snugly.

Next he pours gooey, sticky liquid resin over the top to make the foam core waterproof. 

The resin, which is made of either polyester or epoxy, smells like nail polish remover — but far more toxic. Gas masks are an absolute must.

Once that’s dry, two layers of fiberglass reinforce the deck. The board then goes into the oven for about 15 minutes before adding another resin coat on top, this time with strips of carbon fiber. Now comes the glossy “hot coat,” followed by more oven-drying, sanding, installing fins and making a hole for the leash plug.

Juan Diego’s technique, which took over 20 years to develop, is both efficient and effective. He manages to completely cover the entire board with fiberglass — even the very tip. It’s extremely skilled and difficult work.

Each board is about $250-500 in materials alone — that’s not including labor. The final product sells for anywhere between $400-1100+.

“I’m not doing this because it will make me a millionaire,” said Juan Diego. “I do it because it’s what I was born to do.”

Blog by: Genna Marie of Tamarindo Family Photos

Making Surfboards in Costa Rica. “If I don’t drown in the water surfing I’ll die here in the shop…”

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