Adam Warden, creator/shaper/owner of AJW Surfboards, has been shaping boards since 1997. Now, at just 33 years old, Warden has world-wide distribution, annual features in Surfer Magazine's buyer's guide issue, and a fellow named Cam Richards on his roster. Luckily, I had the chance to steal a few minutes from @AJWbehindthemask only days after he returned from a recent trip to Peru.
Thanks for taking the time, Adam, it appears business is great to say the least. Do you remember the first board you shaped? How old were you?
Yes of course... I was 13 and didn't know you could buy blanks. So, I glued up a bunch of that blue wall insulation u can buy at home depot - the same material those Soloman boards were made out of - shaped it all down, tried to glue in a stringer, but didn't realize I had to use epoxy on that type of foam. Polyester resin ate it. I got discouraged, and then a year later, I found out I could just order a molded blank from Clark Foam with all the bells an whistles: rocker, stringer, and much more user friendly. Those old 6'1R molds were pretty much done. It was a dream come true for a little kid.
Though now living in San Diego, you grew up in Virginia Beach. Smart money says you grew up surfing, but what possessed you to get into shaping? Were you always the tinkering type of kid?
I needed a surfboard, and was over hand-me-down used boards, so I figured I'd give it a go.
Fair enough. Once you started shaping, what was the first step to launching your own business? Or was that even a goal of yours back then?
Never quite 'launched' a business. That was never the idea. It was always to just try and get better boards, and then sell the old ones. That, and to make boards for my friends. In theory, not too much has changed, I just have a little broader spectrum of people we work with.
What was your first board? Do you still have it?
5'9" twin fin... yes, but it eventually broke.
A lot of shapers have other hobbies from surfing. I know you love fishing. What do you typically fish for? Any other hobbies?
I pretty much just dive and surf. We fish for whatever the season or location calls for. Shaping is definitely my hobby, as well. If I'm stressed or frustrated, I actually come in and work late. It's therapeutic.
If you weren't shaping, what do you think you would want to do for a living?
It's all I've ever done in my whole life! I've never had another job. If I weren't shaping? I'd most likely do construction or something physical where I could build something. I've always loved the idea of being a firefighter, as well.
Your focus has traditionally been on shaping "performance" boards. Does that stem for the desire to push the limits of surfing to find new growth in maneuvers, or is it just that those are the shapes you enjoy riding? Why do you shape what you shape, in other words, rather than doing single fins, mid-lengths, etc.?
Any halfway skilled shaper can make any style of boards, but if it's not what they're into riding, then what's the difference? You might as well go buy a board made in Asia. It's the exact same thing. If somebody wants me to shape a longboard, I can easily do it! But, all I would be doing is replicating somebody else's design which is lame. I have many close friends who are phenomenal longboard shapers. I'd rather not copy them and pass the business off. It's much better to specialize in one thing and do it to the best of your ability, and get direct feedback from yourself, than to dabble a little into everything. But that's just me. I like surfing good waves, and would rather go fishing if i need to ride a longboard. I actually build quite a few mid-length boards but they're all for big waves.
Do you feel you're improving at your craft? As a shaper, how does one improve after the crazy number of boards you've shaped?
Absolutely hope to think that I'm improving! It's the type of thing that has many many different tricks, most of which you can only learn from through experience, and working with other shapers. That's why I travel and shape. Every trip I pick up something new: maybe a new technique or new tool or something. It takes years and years and lots of trial and error. I honestly think it takes about 20 years to really understand any type of trade skill. There's just so many variables. It's not something you can just learn in a few years of shaping.
What motivates you/keeps you at it?
Making boards for the groms is always pretty motivating... they're just so stoked on surfing and life in general. It keeps ya young at heart. That's why I got started - just to surf, so it's a good reminder and motivates me to keep at it.
What haven't you done within shaping that you're anxious to accomplish?
For me, it was never about shaping, but surfing and traveling. My goal once I got decent enough at it was to travel the world. To try and surf as many legit spots as I could. J Bay and Mundaka were both waves I always dreamed of, as well as paddling out to all the big wave spots which has become more an obsession that has taught me a lot about myself. One place I've been thinking about for a long time, but definitely very anxious about is Tahiti. Chopes is no doubt one of the most perfect waves in the world, and at size I couldn't imagine anything being more rewarding? Getting a proper wave there on a board I shaped would be way more of a dream come true than any shaping success.
If a kid tells you he or she wants to be a shaper when they grow up - what would you tell them?
Honestly, I don't know. It's very, very different nowadays than when I got started. The whole computer age hadn't really begun, and if you wanted a blank, you had to order from Clark Foam and some backyard kid had the same access to the same blanks that the top brands in the world were using. The playing field was very fair, and the dream was very doable. Ever since Clark Foam closed the doors, the market, as a whole, completely adapted and has become way harder. The overseas mass-production, multiple new technologies, computers and CAD designs have really changed it from a skilled craft to more of a production business...which definitely is not as fun. Yes, one can learn to hand shape and have a good time working with ones hands while learning the whole process of glassing, sanding - it can be very enjoyable. Yet, I don't know if I'd ever recommend a kid to really pursue being a shaper now. I guess I'd say try it for fun, and if you're serious, nowadays the best advice I could give would be: get a job in a legit factory, and start from the bottom up, learning the whole trade. After a while, you'll see it seems a lot more glorified than it actually is... haha
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