Surfboard shaping is an art form that is similar to sculpture and boat building. It takes patience, perseverance, skill and a little bit of love to make a successful board.
Jacksonville shaper Mike Whisnant of Whisnant Surfboards knows his craft, and hand shapes and hand glasses all his boards. Considered to be one of Florida’s best shapers, he’s won the Florida Shape Off challenge at Surf Expo the past two years.
When I pulled up to Whisnant’s shop, he was very affable. He shook my hand – which still held remnants of the last board he shaped. He gave me a quick tour of the space he shares with his friend, who is a woodworker. We eventually ended up in his shaping bay, where he creates his surfboards. It smelled like a blend between The Home Depot and a chemical factory – not bad – just distinct.
Pulling out a blank – a piece of surfboard without glass or any shaping done to it – he got his arsenal of weapons ready for battle, and began sawing away at the foam.
Whisnant has been shaping surfboards for 26 years. He originally became interested in making surfboards when one of his friends started shaping and glassing boards out of their garage in Neptune Beach. The friend asked him to be a team rider and he accepted. Eventually he began helping with some of the shaping and glassing as well and then became a freelance glasser of sorts. He worked for several shapers and at one point, decided to shape a board of his own.
“I was completely unhappy with the first board I shaped. And I was like, ‘Well, I don’t think I ever want to shape again,’” he says.
But the next day, he called the main shaper he was working for to check in. His employer said, “I hear you’re shaping now. You’re competition. I can’t have you glass my boards.”
Whisnant couldn’t believe it. “I shaped one board. I wouldn’t call that shaping,” he says. “I shaped a board. Singular. I was blown away. I just got fired. I didn’t have a job.”
It was a fight or flight moment. With the support of his wife, he committed to making a career shaping surfboards. He shaped his first batch of boards for Sunrise Surf Shop. They didn’t have logos, so he just put “Sunrise” stickers on them.
The Sunrise boards didn’t sell particularly well, but on his 15th board he got his first break: Aqua East Surf Shop in Atlantic Beach bought 15 of his boards.
And he was on his way.
Now Whisnant is his own employee, and makes a variety of boards, ranging from longboards to high-performance shortboards. He loves to custom make boards for individual surfers, to fit their needs and style.
“I don’t have a favorite kind of board to work on, because I honestly love making all of them,” he says. “Each shape has its own challenges, and that keeps my work exciting.”