CONVERSATION, CONTINUED... Todd McFarland

Todd McFarland Surfboard Shaping Bay

I first met surfboard shaper Todd McFarland nearly a year ago at a bar here in Leucadia, CA through our friend Nick.  Nick introduced me to him while I explained that I was starting up a clothing line which automatically got Todd and I talking.  I quickly learned he wasn't your typical shaper.  He spoke with a vocabulary similar to an S.A.T. Prep textbook, and he showed enthusiasm for everything from the evolution of the neighborhood of Encinitas to, of course, hydrodynamics of surfboards.  Immediately, having had the dream of working on my own creation alongside a shaper, I knew Todd was the kind of guy I wanted to partner with. Subsequently, he was quick to agree to work with me on what I wanted to create for quite some time: a twin keel surfboard with a particular fin design.  This came as a pleasant surprise given he typically shaped modern thrusters and quads.  Over the next couple of months, Todd and I had a several meetings, shaping sessions, follow-ups on fin design, and of course, the completion of what finally resulted in the STANDARD H Twin Keel Fish which has been absolutely fantastic to say the least.  The below is our Conversation, Continued...

 

Where are you from (born & raised) and what got you into surfing (how old were you, who introduced you to the sport - dad? Videos?, etc)

I was born and raised in Leucadia. My family have been beachgoers and surfers since the first generation of McFarlands and Wrights took up residency in Mission Beach.  From there, both of my parents would end up being raised in the South Bay of Los Angeles in the 50's and 60's. Being that surfing had been in the DNA of the family since the my grandfather's uncle Charles Wright was one of the first surfers in San Diego, the tradition of board riding was passed down to me.  My dad paddled me out on his board several times when I was pretty young. Two of my long time friends Tyler and Dain would later recruit me into riding down to Beacons nearly every day where a whole mob of us groms practically lived down there.  

 

How'd you get into shaping?  What was the first board you shaped?

Shaping wasn't something I ever planned to do, I was fortunate to get boards from Marlin Bacon in the 90's and always planned on it staying that way until I snapped my only remaining short-board.  It was 2003 and I had been living and working in Santa Barbara after graduating from UCSB.  Marlin got too busy and I needed a board, talked to him a bit over the phone for some advice.  Fiberglass Hawaii was in S.B. back then and you could go in and buy any board building materials that you wanted. My first board was based on what I saw Ozzy Wright riding, he was riding flat looking wide shortboards. They looked fast and fun. I bought a blank and borrowed a planer from Lauren Yater who I barely knew through a friend. I didn't have any templates but I was able to shape a relatively good board in my garage.  I went at  with a mind set that I always try to pass on to anyone who wants to shape; plan on making yourself a good board.  If you take your time you could end up with something useful.  I think the board was 6'1" (long) x 20 1/4" (wide) x 2 1/2" (thick).

 A photo of the first board Todd ever shaped.

A photo of the first board Todd ever shaped.

How has the surf scene here in Encinitas changed over the years?

In a lot of ways I feel like the surf scene is identical to how it was in the 80's.  There have been a lot of summer days in particular where I'm walking down the beach and I feel like the atmosphere and people are interchangeable the days that I can remember from childhood.  I love the simplicity of people taking their families down to enjoy the sand, the weather, the community and the ocean. I guess I hate to admit that the price of admission for such a treasure has gone up with the overall surge in real estate prices and the cost of living. Culturally, America as a whole feels more materialistic than it used to.  I think human beings are generally vibrating at a higher frequency and it does cross into the lineup.  Most individuals have a pretty good sense of awareness out there but I've exchanged words with people more times in the past few years than I would like.  

 

Aside from CI and your own boards, who do you think is doing great work and progressing the industry with regards to board design and function?

As far as shortboard designs go, I generally feel like everyone in the WCT realm is spinning off of designs that were developed for Kelly Slater and the CI team during the late 90's and early 2000's. That being said, I think that Matt Biolos has come up with some really interesting shapes that blend the user-friendly day to day boards with the demands of CT level designs. 

Outside of that realm, I've been really influenced by the local shaping scene in North County since moving back from Santa Barbara in 2009. I think it was the summer of 09 when I first saw what Manny (Mandala Surfboards) was doing with the Mini Simmons concept. His boards are really clean, he has his own aesthetic that is super unique.

After Matt Calvani (Bing Surfboards) moved into the same building in Encinitas with me, I really liked what he had also been doing with the Mini Simmons in particular. The Bing catalogue of longboards and mid lengths have been super influential. My grandfather road a Bing longboard, and my Dad road Velzy's and Jacob's boards. Also within our building in Encinitas, John Wegener has been developing Alaias and Bluegill models that have been blowing my mind! 

I really dig the fact that there's pretty much a school of Skip Frye in San Diego. In particular I'm really impressed with what Chris Christiansen has been up to, especially in the paddle-in big wave developments that have come from his work with Greg Long and his other riders. 

At the end of the day, I appreciate any board builder who can exemplify master of his/her craft, and has the creativity and passion for designing new ways to approach surfing. 

 

What are your favorite shapes to surf?

Right now my favorite shapes to surf is the Jayhawk model with the MTF fiberglass Futures fin system.  The shape is a really simple concept that doesn't have any extreme features, but the board is faster and more versatile than anything I've ridden. The most exciting development is the fact that the board went bonkers as a twin. Initially I thought that my custom quad rig was untouchable with that design, but the twins and the small 3 1/4 rear trailing fin were faster with a more snappy release.  The best part is that I have 3 new twin designs in the works, and this recent development has me really fired up for the possibilities that may arrive with some new revelations in tail designs along with some new fin concepts.  I'm so amped to try my 3 newest twin models that I barely want to surf until they come back from getting glassed.  

 

You're in an interesting position as a ghost shaper for Channel Islands. What year was it and how did you begin working for them?  Was there a recruitment process, or were you more along the lines of a cold call knocking on their door?

The great part about working for CI is that in 2007, I had been shaping for about 4 years when I decided there was too much about board design for me to learn without working for someone else. Through a friend in the industry I found out that they were looking for a shaper to work in the brand new factory in Carpinteria. I filled out an application through Burton, and three interviews later I found myself explaining to the GM of the company that I was pretty much going to walk away from shaping if I didn't get a job. It came down to the fact that I was tired of designing boards that weren't helping me surf better, and the learning curve was too steep for me to attempt on my own.   

 

What models do you work on, or do they prefer we not know?

Almost all of the models that exist make it to my shaping room, especially if they reach a high demand. At this stage, I can get qualified on any model that comes out within a few days if they need me to learn it.  There's a good communication network between us ghosts, so I can always get dialed in on a new model over the phone if they need to send something new to me.  We also operate with telepathy, it's a huge advantage over the competition. 

 

What's the advantage of being a ghost shaper? 

For me, I do like the fact that as a ghost shaper, your like a session musician.  You go in, get the job done, and then you leave. Generally I can be really efficient with my time in the shaping room and I can feed a lot of work to The Lab (glass shop in Oceanside).  The exposure to master designs is really the best education you can get as a shaper in my opinion.  If you can practice and hone the best techniques over and over again, you can expect to grow as a craftsman and a student of the game.  I'm constantly looking for better ways to get from point A to point B.  It's a lot like I would expect mountaineering to be, you're always looking for the cleanest most artistic route to the summit. 

 Todd with the first STANDARD H Twin Keel Fish.

Todd with the first STANDARD H Twin Keel Fish.

How has Channel Islands changed since you've been shaping for them? 

When I started with Channel Islands, I couldn't believe how good the shaping team were.  I was really intimidated because I'd watch these guys go into their rooms and shape all day with only a few quick breaks. I was by Al's designs when I saw them under the lights of a shaping room.  There was a point when I couldn't imagine a better design than the Flyer, The MBM or the MTF....These models still stand on their own to this day, but what blows me away is that models like the Fred Rubble, The Rook 15, or the New Flyer etc. contain subtle refinements that seem drastic to me up close in the shaping room. The big design elements of these boards aren't very extreme, but the sum totals of the combinations are pretty radical. They're also proven to work from team riders to weekend warriors.  In short, I'm really proud of how our team have designed and executed better and better boards in the nine years that I've been with the company. 

 

Are there boards that are necessarily harder to shape than others?  What are they? 

The main challenges in production shaping come from maintaining accuracy and consistency. My job is to know without fail, exactly where the endpoint of each design is. That being said, certain models tend to come with certain challenges but all of them can be figured out after a few times though. I compare them to Rubik's Cubes, there's always a pattern or an order of operations that can be found. You always need to get the colors matched to the proper sides, but if it takes all day you're doing it wrong. 

 

CI is obviously a behemoth as far as production goes, but there are a lot of other companies with a lot of buzz. Hayden Shapes, Tomo with Firewire to name a few.  What are the differences in these boards (broad strokes) and what's your take on their notoriety over the last few years?

The new brands that are making a splash out there are walking a bit of a tight rope in my opinion because they are marketing their designs as if they've developed quantum breakthroughs.  They're packaging "New" and "Different" as if those two terms are synonymous with "Better".  I don't see that these boards have any advantages in their designs or shapes. In the case of Hayden Shapes, I think his strengths lie in his materials.  To his credit, the designs are strong but they are not super flashy or wild (which is still a compliment in my opinion). Great surfboards come from the best possible combinations of design elements along with the construction of the selected materials.  For Hayden, I think the lightweight construction combined with a unique flex pattern have been really effective for some of his designs.   

A lot of board brands are committing what I consider the most egregious of sins through, they put the profits ahead of their integrity. I'm sure that it can make good business sense in the short term, but I have no respect for any manufacturer who can't build their boards in the country they live in and surf in. I believe in maritime traditions too, I don't think that the ocean is a good place for gimmickry. Seaworthiness should be important to anyone who chooses to ride a floating craft in the ocean.  

STANDARD H Todd McFarland Twin Keel Fish

 

When did you start your company, Todd McFarland Surfboards?  What was/is the goal with your company?

I guess I started my company Todd McFarland Surfboards when I moved back to Leucadia in 2009, but really I think it started when I accepted money for a board for the first time in 2004.  I've put about 99.9% of my energy into developing the best possible designs and shapes for the past thirteen or so years though. The branding angle may start to bud in the near future. 

 

What's the story behind the title of your Instagram handle, @shapewhitenoise?

"@shapewhitenoise" comes from  a few ideas that came together pretty suddenly when I set up the account. Mostly, it's the fact that planing or sanding white surfboard blanks generates a lot of noise. Thus, my days are consumed with shaping white noises. 

 

You've been evolving your own line of boards as of late.  Can you offer a little insight into what you've been up to and what the inspiration for these changes have been?

For the past few years I've been adjusting a few combinations of rockers with tail widths and a some other key features. I saw a few developments in deck rockers from CI that go back to 2009,  ultimately I thought I could adapt them into the Mini Simmons concepts and Fish models that I was working on a few years ago. I had also been working on some formulas to cater to heavy footed or back footed, front footed and light footed surfers...as it turns out, the formulas I've come up with opened up an unforeseen realm of potential for specialized equipment and how I match up surfboards for specific people and the waves they surf. These formulas have actually proven to work in mid lengths and longboards as well.

 

You were extremely gracious when we came to you to shape the STANDARD H Twin Keel Fish which we are more than stoked on, as you know. Many shapers would not be as open and selfless with their time. What about our project made you decide to work with us? 

I could detect a single minded approach that I thought we had in common.  It seems like we both aim to find out what makes a product the best, and set about making that product without a single compromise.  I think we both aim for integrity, and there's a philosophy behind making quality gear that encapsulates a well rounded approach to form and function.  

 A closeup of the Twin Keel Fish's tail before glassing.

A closeup of the Twin Keel Fish's tail before glassing.

When working with you on our board, I realized you're unlike many surfers in that you have a hilariously strong distaste for reggae music.  What's going on there?

It's funny that you mention this because I was recently watching a Bob Marley documentary and it inspired me to go through some of his records in my stack.  I couldn't seem to land on very many tolerable songs despite having enjoyed the music when I was younger. I think the overarching issue in my case is that I worked in restaurants for ten years during and after college and they all played the same eighty or so songs on a loop every day.  To this day I have a hard time being forced to listen to music. I think I'd rather be exposed to secondhand smoke than second hand music. 

 

Do you feel you're getting better at your craft? How does one get better after so many boards as opposed to hitting a plateau of sorts. Is there a limit of growth a shaper can reach?

With shaping, I think it's been a rhythm of elevated progress with plateaus in between. I guess back in 2010 I started really trying to push the accuracy and finish quality of my designs so that the boards would function more artistically and craftily in the shaping room. I think there's a symbiotic relationship with the form and the function of most designs, and the key to shaping great boards is to never be fully satisfied.

 

You've willingly said Matt Calvani of Bing Surfboards is an outline genius. What does that mean from a technical aspect, and what do you think he possesses in ability that would command that kind of label? 

Matt Calvani is certainly an outline genius, to be fair I should say that he's also a genius when it comes to rocker, rails, and every other curve of the boards. With most longboard outlines - especially when you get into the 9'6" range, theres a lot of skill that goes into drawing a graceful curve from nose to tail. The radius of a longboard outline is so huge relative to the nose and tail that it can be really tricky to get that curve to come out clean without a few thousand hours shaping room knowledge.

 

Is there anything in shaping you haven't done or accomplished that you're chomping at the bit to create or do? 

Right now there are at least 10 ideas that I have fleshed out in my mind that involve traditional PE/PU construction and a nebula of other possibilities with everything from Balsa and Paulownia to EPS/epoxy and carbon. 

I've been riding three new twin fin designs this year, and they completely blew the creative ceiling apart for me. Probably the funnest thing about shaping is going back to older designs and giving them new life with the what we've learned form new designs. At this stage, I'm seriously thinking that with the right combination of every single design element, there could be a twin-fin takeover coming up. 

 

What motivates you to continue shaping?

Shaping to me has always been about making the perfect surfboard. The perfect board is one that erases any barrier between how one interacts with a given wave. I started shaping because I needed one board, every board that I've made since has been the most important board in my world during the time that I have it in my hands in a shaping room.  I also get a lot of satisfaction in building a product in the US after so many companies have outsourced their manufacturing.  I really like the feeling that I get from sweeping out my room for the last time of each day knowing that there's another row of blanks that received my undivided attention. I wish that more Americans were privy to the opportunities that I've been really lucky to have over the past nine years of shaping full time.  

 

What's your take on Kelly Slater's "wave machine"?  Is it good for the sport? Bad for the sport?  

I find Kelly's wave tank to be pretty bizarre. On one hand the logistics are nuts. For the amount of energy that it requires to generate a wave by pulling a foil through the water I think the cost is going to be a huge factor.  As far as the pro tour is concerned, generally it's probably never going to be a money maker the way it's benefactors would hope. I don't see how a predictable wave pool would change anything. I think at heart, the biggest allure of surfing is being in the ocean.  The ocean offers a lot of rewards in itself even on the most paltry of days. To me, the great allure of surfing is that it's really about hunting. There's a lot of paddling, positioning, planning and getting lucky that goes into lining up on a special wave, and that wave might be the difference between a good week and bad week, or maybe even your month.  I think as far as the WCT viewership is concerned, part of the excitement is when a competitor catches an amazing wave with seconds remaining in a heat. If it becomes to predictable, the actual sport element might be subtracted.  

 

It seems people are riding smaller and smaller boards these days. Why has this been the evolution?  Simply maneuverability & less "swing weight"?

There are few ways of making boards easier to maneuver, making them really short is just one of them. If anything, I've scaled back to slightly longer boards again to provide more functional rail line. You can work with a bit more rocker this way and it opens doors for versatility when you only have one board in your car on a day when the waves might be over head and firing. I'm not talking about going back to the 90's, but I've found that stubby thick boards aren't very versitile. To me, surfboard design is all about opening doors and maximizing freedom. It's important to make boards that can grovel though the meager days, but I think every surfer lives for the days when the waves turn on.  The most important thing about a board is how it performs when the waves get good, those are the days that stick in your memory and keeping you hunting for a lifetime.  

 

Where do you see the future of shaping going? Is there a cliff where the length being shorter is counterproductive? 

I think that we've moved passed the usefulness of super short boards already. Depending on the height and weight of a given surfer, there needs to be a certain amount of rail in the water to make music. If you look at the length and shape of hockey skates compared to speed skates, there are some similar comparisons to be drawn in surfboard design. Never underestimate the glide, even in your shortboards. Surfboard design is a language of curves, and the curves have to work in four dimensional matrix (I employ the 4th detention because surfboards flex). Once a design gets too short, you start running out of room for those curves to coexist. The future of shaping still lies in shaping rooms with the most skilled shapers I think. The guys who are most fluent in this language of curves, and those who possess the craftsmanship to execute their designs at the highest level will always drive innovation.  

 The Twin Keel Fish in its completed state.

The Twin Keel Fish in its completed state.

 

You recently became a father for the first time, so aside from the obvious, what do you think is next for you, personally, as it relates to surfing and professionally making boards?

Shaping surfboards for a living has always been about staying the course in terms of making upwards progress in the pursuit of mastery.  I guess I've approached surfing in the same way but with surfing I know that physics and age will always hold a ceiling over my head. With shaping, I don't think there is a ceiling, or at least the ceiling is higher. The new models I've developed have me more stoked to surf than ever, and I feel like they're opening doors for me. The designs and the surfing seem to be in a symbiotic relationship in that I feel like things are progressing in the shaping room and in the ocean. I'm considering starting a small line of fins this year if my designs prove to offer some improvement on what's currently available. 

 

Awesome, well thanks, again, for taking the time, Todd!

Thank you!