Lauren Garnett | Mustang News

It took Drake Abrahamsson 16 hours to shape his first surfboard.  

He was at a friend’s house in San Clemente, California, in 2016 when he saw a clip of pro surfer Ryan Birch on a board that Abrahamsson did not recognize. 

“He was in this super cold looking water on this rainbow fish, and it was pretty iconic,” Abrahamsson said. “We were all just like, oh my God, we need to do that. There were some clips of him shaping and sanding the board in that video. And we were like, oh, he made that board. Why don’t we make our boards?”

He asked his boss if he could get some insight on trying his hand at shaping. Abrahamsson and his crew were not allowed to enter the shaping bay, but were more than welcome to watch and take note. Feeling inspired, Abrahamsson and friends promptly got to work constructing their own makeshift shaping bay.

Once he got started working with that first blank, he was hooked.

“I didn’t want to stop shaping that first board, because that meant I was done,” he said. “I’d just spent hours with the screen just running down the rails of the board.”

Hundreds of blanks later, Abrahamsson is now a Cal Poly graduate student who teaches other students how to shape boards. In addition to studying environmental engineering, he teaches board shaping at the ASI Craft Center two days a week.

Every surfer needs a longboard to take out on those smaller days. Many students who take Abrahamsson’s course opt for something on the longer side for their first creation. For Abrahamsson, this meant a board almost twice his size.

“I’m still just scratching the surface,” Abrahamsson said. “I encourage my students, if they find a real fire inside them about it, then please pursue it more.”

Growing up in San Clemente, Abrahamsson was surrounded by surf culture. He caught his first wave when he was just a toddler, and he refused to surf without his goggles on. He has been hooked since and has moved on from his goggle phase, but the constant pressure to perform in the surf capital of California presented its challenges due to the competitive nature of the scene. 

“The whole reason I shape is to chase after unfamiliar sensations, to tweak one thing about my rail or nose and to feel it change the entire performance profile of the board.”

Looking for another way to engage in surf culture outside the water, Abrahamsson found his niche in the shaping bay. Hand shaping culture was, and at times still is, very elusive. It takes time, patience, and a lot of practice, and the community takes a lot of pride in tradition while still looking to push the envelope and exploring techniques such as finless surfing and asymmetrical shapes. 

“The fact that all these people have made a career out of shaping is really cool. Because it shows you that every little experiment that shapers do and are interested in is worthwhile and people are paying attention, which is just a really nice indicator of a healthy sort of community that wants to expand their sensations riding waves,” Abrahamsson said.

When he started shaping, he sought advice from local shapers such as Ryan Engle of Nation Surfboards and Hamish Graham of Superstix.

“A lot more people were easier to reach out to than I thought,” Abrahamsson said. “I feel like the surf industry, especially hand shaping, has opened up their secret doors because they realized that like if we don’t tell people, hand shaping could definitely disappear, but it’s just an art that doesn’t want to be lost.”

When other surfers in the lineup started to notice Abrahamsson’s abundance of new boards, they started asking him for a custom of their own. 

“I was riding one of my boards and someone asked me what I was riding,” he says. “I told him that I shaped it. He was in disbelief and asked to try it. They tried it and got really excited about it and asked ifI would shape them one. I was like,‘oh, I didn’t even think about that.Yeah, sure. I’ll shape you a board.’ I think I charged less than $200 for the whole thing. I definitely lost money, but I was so excited that someone would want to even ride one of my boards.”

With that, his very own shaping label was born. Passes Surfboards launched in 2018 and now produces about 30 boards a year.

Soon after opening up his shapes to the public, Abrahamsson got a job at Stewart Surfboards, the birthplace of the modern longboard. 

Logging hundreds of hours in the shaping bay, Abrahamsson came to a place of comfort in his own creative abilities and skill with the heavy machinery involved with shaping. His sense of imposter syndrome washed away after an interaction with one of his coworkers.

After graduating high school in 2018, Abrahamsson started Cal Poly as a civil engineering major. His freshman year he was approached by a senior who had heard of Passes Surfboards and suggested that he apply to teach at the Craft Center. 

“I was so scared I wasn’t gonna get the job,” he said. “I made this whole portfolio of all the boards I’ve shaped and brought it in and they were really excited, and I guess we didn’t have that much to discuss.” 

After asking a fellow instructor how many boards they had shaped, Drake was surprised to know that his peers had only five boards under their belt as compared to Drake’s 100 plus custom shapes since the beginning of his career.

“I’ve just been working there since,” he said.

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Video by Presley Allen

Hoping her board wouldn’t “turnout terrible,” Craft Center student and business junior Ellie Jensen said Abrahamsson’s method of teaching ensured she would be successful in the shaping class.

“The class is very hands-on,” Jensen said. “Like he does, whatever he’s teaching us, he’ll do on someone’s board, not a ton, but enough where you can sort of take mental notes about all the different things that he’s doing. And so it helps build your confidence and you can do it on your own.”

Having known about the shaping class before coming to Cal Poly and wanting to take it ever since, civil engineering senior Josh Rowe finally found the opportunity in his second to last quarter.

“When I visited before I accepted the offer to come to Cal Poly, I noticed that we’d have a shaping class,” Rowe said. “I was amazed because I haven’t seen any schools that have that.” 

Despite his excitement about the class, Rowe said he was hesitant about his skills.

As far as Abrahamsson’s teaching style, Rowe says he has been guiding the class “gently.” 

“Not like pushing us, but also holding us in the right direction,” he said.

When asked what Rowe thought made Drake a qualified teacher he explained that he believes a good teacher “listens to [their] students” but also “uses their expertise to make sure that the students are gonna end up with something they like.”

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Video by Presley Allen

When Abrahamsson graduates this spring, his days of teaching shaping at the ASI Craft Center will end. 

“Shaping will always be something that I intensely enjoy and just know will never leave my life. But there are so many things I like to do, so shaping is just a degree of it,” Abrahamsson said. “I want it to be a big portion of my life, but I’m not sure if I’ll be doing it full time. So I guess we’ll just see what opportunities arise. I never wanna force anything, but I would love to be able to do that every day.”

Credit: Lauren Garnett | Mustang News