Coastal Craft: Where did you get your start and why?
That’s a really interesting question….. My dad grew up in South New Jersey near Long Beach Island in the 1960’s, surfing kind of led him to dropping out of college and to not get drafted into the Army he joined the Navy. The Navy stationed him out on the west coast at NAS Whidbey Island and he fell in love with the PNW. However after Vietnam he became a cabinet maker and went where there was work and surfing was on the back burner for a while, but I grew up looking at pictures of him with his surfboard on LBI and I grew up watching ESPN and just loved everything about surfing. In the late ‘80’s early ‘90’s we ended up in Woodland WA and began skiing and as snowboarding came out the family picked that up too (I am the oldest of 6 kids). When I got my driver’s license I realized that it was about the same distance/time to the coast as it was to the mountains and began heading out to the beach almost every weekend at that point I was mostly boogie boarding since I didn’t have enough money to buy a surfboard, but Memorial Day weekend 1992 we rented some of those old crappy BIC boards and went out at Shorties. I caught my first wave on a surfboard going right on the wave at the south end of the beach and it was mind blowing, a beautiful glassy green wave shouldering up in front of me, framing the gorgeous cliffside there and I was hooked. Just after graduation from high school we did a road trip to Monterrey Bay California to scuba dive and while we were there I bought an old beater board for $125 bucks that I think had crooked fins (they would hum when it really got going) but I was in heaven.
I also was keenly interested in sailboarding, but as you may imagine that if I didn’t have the money to buy a surfboard, I sure didn’t have the money to get into sailboarding, but back then there was a free sailboarding magazine that was being put out in the Gorge and in Portland and in that magazine there was an add for Monterrey Bay Fiberglass advertising that they had surfboard blanks. My buddies and I saw this and talked about building our own boards but before we could do that I left and spent 2 years in Uruguay.
When I got back from Uruguay I got a job working nights at a cold storage warehouse and surfing days. In some ways it was a little out of control but it was a great time. I also got married during this time and my wife and I had a pretty big circle of friends that we were heading out to the beach with. Our gear was getting a little beat up by those friends that thought you could spear a surfboard into the sand and so I decided that it was time to give shaping a go. I figured that if I built a crappy board it wouldn’t matter if they beat it up, at least they wouldn’t be beating up my good gear. By this time (September 1997) I had moved jobs and was working days so I took a day off of work and headed out to Monterrey Bay Fiberglass, which by now had been re-named Fiberglass Supply and picked up the supplies to build a 7’6” funboard. I built the board in the warehouse I was working in after hours and in our apartment (later I converted our 2nd bedroom into a shaping bay). That board was a huge learning experience, from the first glass job with resin running down my arms and curing to the evening we ran it out to the beach with a still curing gloss coat and catching a few waves to realize that it wasn’t a complete piece of crap and that it actually surfed the way I shaped it to.
This completely opened my mind up and I began shaping more boards and as I got into it friends started asking for boards (remember I said I had a pretty large circle of friends) and then another friend introduced me to some guys opening up a surf shop and they wanted boards too. So soon I quit my job and was building boards almost full time, I say almost because at the same time I was going to college. So from 1998 to 2002 I was building boards and going to college, over that time the business was growing and the boards were getting better, and I had a growing family, my wife and I had our first two kids during that time.
Around the end of 2001 start of 2002 I was looking at what I was going to do when college ended and one day I was down in the Gorge buying supplies talking to Doug Austin the previous owner of Fiberglass Supply and he mentioned that he was interested in selling the business and retiring. So every time I went down to pick up supplies I would spend a half day going through his books and looking at the business. At this point it was all paper receipts and financial statements in excel spreadsheets so it was pretty brutal going, keep in mind this was still early days of the internet, they were still getting faxed orders and mail in orders. The opportunity looked good and in October of 2002 I began working at Fiberglass Supply with the intent that we would purchase it. It was a double edged deal though because it was explicit from both Doug and my father (who was financing the purchase) that I would have to quit making boards commercially. That was the 5 year mark of me making boards and business was really taking off. But at the same time we really wanted to support board building in the PNW and ultimately I let my regular customers know that I would not continue building boards for them. In February of 2004 we closed on the deal and became the owners of Fiberglass Supply.
CC: Where are you located/who are your main customers?
We used to be out in Bingen Washington across from Hood River but in 2008 we moved up to Burlington WA near Whidbey Island and the San Juan Islands.
In surf our main customers are NWSD, Murdey, North Pacific, and El Brado’s Fiberglass to name a few. The crazy thing about what we do is that because we sell composite materials we are into a lot of different areas and industries. This is really cool because it allows us to see what technologies are being used in other industries and how they apply to surf and vice versa. A surfboard isn’t just a surfboard, it is an extreme example of a stressed skin structure, where the boundaries of the material properties are pushed to get the lightest product that will work. But back to the question we have customers in paddle sports, motorsports, marine, windsports, aviation, and more.
CC: You are generously donating the blanks to our shapers once again. Last year, you built the mobile shaping units at the inaugural live Coastal Craft event. Tell us what draws you to donate so much?
First I am really passionate about surfing, second I am really passionate about board building. We have some great craftsmen in the PNW that have been toiling away perfecting their craft for decades, for the most part in relative anonymity. These guys are great craftsmen and serious about their craft and when we heard about this opportunity to support them and seeing who all signed up and knowing how stressful it can be to shape in front of a customer, let alone a crowd of people we wanted to be there to support them and provide the best blanks and setup that we could to make this event a success.
It’s not just us though, USBlanks has graciously offered to help out with the blanks. They have an amazing facility in the LA area that is 100% solar powered and meets all of the SoCal environmental requirements. In the last couple years they developed a new foam formulation and pour method that has taken the quality of the blanks to the next level. Most of us don’t think about what is in our boards but the amount of technology and skill that goes into the blank is impressive, it really does matter what is in your board.
We also want surfers in the PNW to know that they have great options to get a custom board built for them by a local shaper. There are so many variables that go into surfing, your physical fitness, size, ability to read waves, ability to catch waves, riding style, etc. and having the wrong board can really screw up your surfing progress. Just because your best friend rides a 5’6” fish doesn’t mean that is the right board for you, maybe they have better positioning and wave reading skills, maybe they grew up surfing and you just started, maybe they are a freakish paddler and they can score ride after ride on a 5’6” fish while you find that on the same board you’re just getting worn out and frustrated not catching any waves, a shaper can work with you to find what the right board will be for where you want to take your surfing. The thing about working with a shaper is that they have experience in what changing the shape of the board will do and how to build a shape that will fit your needs. The good news is that there are a number of shapers to work with so you can find one that resonates with you and work with them. The other crazy thing about board building is that a custom board is about the same price as a board off the rack, think about that, you get what fits you and helps you have more fun and it doesn’t cost you any more money!
CC: What is your go to board in the PNW?
LOL that is a loaded question, especially if you’ve seen my quiver, but if you are going to force me to pick only one it is a 9’8” pintail longboard, 22” wide, 2 7/8” thick. It works in everything from knee high waves to double overhead barrels and is a wave catching machine.
Matthew is graciously donating all the blanks to our participating shapers for this year’s Virtual Coastal Craft!