Shape-off article

from Sunday's Santa Cruz Sentinel:

Leo Maxam, The Green Room: Ward Coffey shapes in Tribute to the Masters Shape-off

On Saturday, Santa Cruz board builder Ward Coffey was locked inside a Southern California shaping bay and asked to replicate a classic 1979 Bill Caster surfboard in an hour and a half.

Sunday, his shape will vie with five others to be declared the winner of the second annual Tribute to the Masters Shape-off at the Sacred Craft Consumer Surfboard Expo in Del Mar. Each of the five boards will have been crafted by an esteemed shaper representing a different surfing region from both the east and west coasts. Last year, San Mateo's Marc Andreini represented Northern California in the shape-off. This year the honor was bestowed upon Coffey.

"I've known Ward for a long time," event producer Scott Bass said. "He came down last year to cheer on Marc Andreini. Santa Cruz has so many facets to its surf culture, but one of the greatest things about the town is there's tons of great shapers up there. [Coffey] is one of them. He's totally into hand-crafted surfboards."

Even if he hadn't been asked to participate in the shape-off, Coffey said he wouldn't miss a gathering like the Sacred Craft surfboard expo. Last year he was one of the few shapers from up north who made the eight-hour drive south to attend the inaugural event.

"From a shaping point of view, and surfing point of view, you can walk into anyone's booth and check out a board and know where to surf it and when to surf it," said Coffey, who made the trip along with fellow Santa Cruz shaper Michel Junod. "You basically want to ride everything. It's like, 'Where's the wax, I'm ready to go! "I got to see Terry Martin [Orange County master shaper of 45 years] shape. I got to talk story with him, discuss new ideas. I came away from the show feeling like I'm walking in the footsteps of the masters."

Coffey shaped his first board in 1979, a year after relocating to Santa Cruz from Alameda. But it wasn't until 1983 that he began his formal introduction to the craft, under the tutelage of Arrow Surfboards' Bob Pearson. Coffey was surfing out at Four Mile when Pearson noticed Coffey's self-shaped board. After admiring the green shaper's work and comparing notes, Pearson invited Coffey to come by his shop and watch him shape some boards. Coffey wound up working in the Arrow surfboard factory for the next 10 years, learning each step of the production process, from shaping to glassing to sanding. "The time I spent at Arrow, I would hang that on the wall as a proud time of my life," Coffey said.

In 1990, he left Arrow to start Ward Coffey Surfboards. Now 48, Coffey continues to shape all his boards by hand. Nearly every one is a custom order from his loyal following of surfers between Big Sur and San Francisco.

The five other shapers competing with Coffey in this year's Tribute to the Masters Shape-off include: Matt Calvani [Los Angeles], Timmy Patterson [Dana Point], Chris Christenson [San Diego], Ned McMahon [San Diego] and defending champion Ricky Carroll [Florida]. Carroll's winning design last year replicated a classic Mike Diffenderfer shape.

This year, the winner receives $1,000 and a full-page ad in Surfing Magazine. Whether or not his shape is selected as the winner today, Coffey said experiencing the camaraderie and new ideas spilling out of the Sacred Craft surfboard expo was the real prize. "In a nutshell, we have a really small industry, and it was started here in California," Coffey said. "The people who have been doing it a long time, we're all craftsmen, we're all artists. When we get together and look at the stuff that's made, you realize how special it is. We make the coolest toys around."

Contact Leo Maxam at 429-2417 or lmaxam@santacruzsentinel.com.

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