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Surfboard shaping classes now in session at LCC High

Matt Hissong and Sydney Spence put the finishing touches on handplanes in a new La Costa Canyon High School surfboard shaping class. Students’ next challenge is to design and produce full surfboards.
(Photo by Jared Whitlock)

Most creations that come out of shop class don’t float. Or glide across waves. It’s a different story at La Costa Canyon High School.

In a pilot program that’s the brainchild of art teacher Ron Lenc, 60 students are designing and making surfboards for credit. The goal is to give would-be shapers a head start in the industry. But even if students don’t plan to be professional shapers, they’ll learn skills that translate into other industries.

Pointing to old surfboards in his classroom, Lenc explained that inventors, builders and designers must understand how form relates to function. What better way to teach this than shaping? Adding only a quarter-inch of thickness to a board, for instance, greatly affects its performance.

Also, many fields work with composite materials that make up surfboards, like foam and fiberglass.

The La Costa Canyon class poses with surfboard blanks, the building blocks of surfboards.
(Photo by Jared Whitlock)

“It’s not just a shaping class,” Lenc said. “It’s a composite fabrication class. The applications of epoxies and carbon fiber — that transfers to the building of drones, robotics or even aerospace.”

Agreeing on this point was San Diego surfboard shaper Carl Ekstrom, who has applied his board-making abilities to furniture and other areas.

“Knowing composite materials can open doors,” said Ekstrom in a phone interview. He added that the classes sound like a great idea.

Lenc’s inspiration for the program came while perusing surfboards at the recent Surf Craft exhibit at the Mingei International Museum in Balboa Park. The ingenuity that went into each board blew him away.

“I walked away thinking I needed to shake things up at LCC with a program that will interest kids,” said Lenc, who grew up riding waves at Huntington Beach and shaped surfboards in his teens.

Years of teaching sculpting also prepared him to lead the program. “There’s a lot of crossover between shaping and sculpting,” he said.

For students who are serious about entering the industry, the program aims to help them break in.

“In the past, teens got into the surfboard industry by sweeping the shaping bays of a shop, and then eventually they’d get their hands on the tools. Or they would try a few boards on their own and make big mistakes. I’m trying to give them some entry-level skills to get them going.”

Lenc said as far as he knows, it’s only the second school program in the country offering surfboard shaping for class credit — and the first west of the Mississippi. A high school in Michigan a few years ago launched an action sports board-making class, resulting in a partnership with Burton Snowboards.

“I talked with them as part of my research,” Lenc said.

As a trial run, students last month built handplanes — miniature boards that bodysurfers strap onto one hand to gain extra speed. Now they face the challenge of coming up with a full surfboard design and producing it. Alternately, they could also make a skateboard or snowboard.

To give them ideas, Lenc has been walking them through the history of various designs, from single-fin surfboards to fish-style surfboards.

The program, which launched this fall with two class sections, has a high degree of freedom. During a recent class, for instance, some students viewed YouTube videos on how to construct a surfboard fin. Others were tracing fin outlines on cardboard. Still others were looking for inspiration in a shaping book.

Student Nathan Gutierrez said he enrolled in the class because he’s interested in following in the footsteps of his grandpa Eddie Gutierrez, a surfboard shaper. If nothing else, he wants to make a board for his grandpa.

“He’s made me boards my whole life, so I want to return the favor,” he said.

Students Matt Hissong, Calvin Rice and Stihl Coleman said they probably won’t become shapers, but they believe what they’re learning could come in handy in future careers.

Principal Bryan Marcus said the school offers a number of classes for students who want to explore different career paths. He cited a fashion design class as another example.

“This could be a career opportunity for a kid still in high school and who’s working for a shaping business,” Marcus said, adding that he could see the pilot program becoming permanent.

One difficulty of the program is that materials and equipment are more expensive than the average shop class, so donations are welcome. In particular, the class needs money to convert a storage room into a shaping lab.

Thus far, Marko Foam has donated surfboard blanks — the building blocks of surfboards. Also, the nonprofit Surfing Madonna Oceans Project and La Costa Canyon High School Foundation have kicked in funds.

When students are finished with their boards at the end of the school year, they’ll then have to come up with a plan to enter the marketplace.

“I’m running the class as if they’re starting a backyard board business,” Lenc said.

Lenc, a teacher at La Costa Canyon for nearly 20 years, has been a huge proponent of students using their hands. He believes the shaping program is a way to continue that legacy.

“We know math, science and English are important. But also knowing tools and materials can lead to big things.”

Those interested in donating to the program can email lcfoundation@sduhsd.net.


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