Craft production is only similar to mass production in that they both end up making a final product. A handmade product, created by a craftsperson, gets from point A (the start of the product creation) to point B (the end of the product creation) not in a straight line (like manufactured goods), but as a winding path. The decisions made during each step of the product creation changes with each individual product. The end result is a one-of-a-kind creation that is similar to other products, but always unique. Chris Williams and Jeffrey Schroeder, founders of Union Surfboards in Brooklyn, have decided to take that winding path by hand-shaping and customizing surfboards.
Deep in a subdivided brick warehouse in Greenpoint is the Union Surfboards shaping studio. It is a bare room, stocked sparsely with the tools, materials, and basic furniture required to create custom surfboards, all covered in the fine white dust of surfboard-making. Jeff and Chris recently moved from California (Chris shaped boards as a hobby in San Francisco) and realized that the New York surf community, although small, was passionate and underserved. “Shaping on the East Coast allowed us to create custom outlines for the waves here,” said Chris. “We experimented with different designs, shapes and styles of boards that work best for variable surf condition found on here.”
The process of hand shaping is slow and intense, taking up to eight hours for just one surfboard. Then the board needs to be finished with design, which adds additional time. “It’s labor-intensive, but it’s more dynamic and flexible,” said Chris. “It’s not committing to the shape, but rather letting the design speak to you.” Each surfboard they showed us was unique in design and shape. Each took different inspirations into the design and ended up with an intriguing marriage between the board shape and the artwork. It was stunning to see the variety of designs and styles created by such a small team. But as they continue to grow, it may no longer be tenable for them to shape their boards by hand. But, as Chris said, “We will always have a hand aspect, even when machines do some of the work.”
The path of handmade takes longer to walk, but the end product speaks more to the place it was made, the person that made it, and the people it is intended to serve. For Union Surfboards, this means making surfboards by surfers for surfers in New York City.
Learn more about Chris & Jeff’s work at Union Surfboards here.