Southern California Surfboard Shaper Wayne Okamoto of Oak Foils Surfboards
Wayne Okamoto of Oak Foils has worked a lot of 14 hour days shaping boards in a quiet industrial park just off Manhattan Beach Blvd. Over the past 13 years, Wayne has coupled hand shaping mastery with true 3-D computer shaping machines to design and produce a broad range of highly coveted shapes. Wayne has “ghost shaped” thousands of boards for the big names while quietly progressing his own private label, Oak Foils, reserved for those seeking custom shapes and one-on-one shaper interaction. Longboards, shortboards, hybrids, SUPs, balsa, EPS, XTR or poly, Wayne has shaped them all by-hand and by-computer.
Who knows… that magic brand-name board you have might be an Oak Foils!
Let’s start with a little background.
I was born in Salt Lake City, Utah. My uncle used to take me on fishing vacations in California where I was introduced to surfing. I moved out to Southern California around 1969.
How has the area changed since then?
[Laughing] The people have changed quite a bit more than the actual venue and landscape.
Favorite surf breaks?
Well, Manhattan and El Porto. I enjoyed traveling to Tavarua – that was probably one of the highlights of my surfing. Also, some mysto breaks around — I won’t name them though, I want to respect them.
Any memorable surf sessions?
I remember more segments of history rather than specific sessions — when I was a grom I had memorable sessions surfing Redondo breakwater, surfing the Hermosa area through my teens and surfing Marine Street in the later years.
How many years have you been shaping?
Probably consistently since 1975 or 1976 – over 30 years – though I started in 1973 stripping and reshaping old logs back in the days.
How did that first board come out?
Pretty bad – I used to hang out with older kids in the garage and we would strip down old logs and reshape them. The first board was a “party shape” where a few of my friends got together and we’d all take turns on it.
How many boards have you shaped over the years?
(Laughing) It never really occurred to me to count. Let’s just say it’s over a few hundred. (now really laughing)
Every board always meant something though – I never became jaded. It didn’t matter who it was for or how many I had shaped before that – every board got my heart and soul.
Do you have any surfing or shaping injuries?
(Laughing) Too many to list. If you’ve been surfing long enough you’ll get
What motivated you to become a shaper?
It goes back to when I was a pre-adolescent kid. Back then, we would make little model surfboards – essentially miniature surfboards – we’d dig through the Etruscans of local surfboard factories for scraps of materials to make them.
One day I was digging through Bing Copeland’s trash can and he said, “hey you guys are making a mess!” We explained and he took us on a tour of his factory. When you are a kid and brought into environment like that: the whole tactile resin smell, the resin sticking to the bottom of your shoes in the laminating room, walking into the shaping room and experiencing that whole thing. That was sensory overload for a young kid. After that, I had to figure out what surfboard manufacturing was really about.
[Laughing] …that and getting a few too many crappy boards from other shapers — I think I got one too many round pins after ordering swallow tails or I thought I ordered 2 1/2” and I’d get 2 3/4” board).
Did you apprentice under any shapers?
No apprenticeship, I’m all self-taught so a lot of my techniques are pretty unique compared to others.
Are there any other shapers that had a major influence on your shapes?
Anybody and everybody that has a sense of a nice balanced shape…a sense of a nice foil. Not any one person.
When did you start getting into computer shaping?
Actually I started in 1988 and it was a long process. It took me about 9 years from inception to actually building the machine. The machine is all custom built in-house, nothing over the counter.
Originally I started out doing it as just a side project and between 1993 and 1994, I started to develop repetitive motion nerve damage in my elbow from years of planning and sanding. I took a year off shaping and that’s when I went into building the machine. At the end of 1996, I eventually had the machine build a board — it was a long road.
Tell me about the computer shaping process
People often think that computer shaping is about someone designing and rendering their surfboard on the computer screen using CAD – which is pretty popular now. My technique is very different – all of my shapes start from hand shaped master boards. I don’t use any type of computerized drawing or rendering of shapes from the 2D slice method.
What do you need to know about someone’s surfing so that you can come up with the right shape that will help them progress?
Starting with their physique, I want to get a feel for where the person surfs, how the person surfs, their style and their general type of board that they prefer. After I have that information, I focus on developing a design and shape for that person as a true custom shape. By the way, I think understanding volume is key. 99% of the people out there are probably on boards that are too small for their ability.
Do you want to be known for specific shape or model like the Bryd Fish or Dyna Glide?
Oh absolutely not, no. I love to shape all different types of boards. That’s one of my paranoia’s– being labeled as only a shortboard shaper or longboard shaper.
How do the South Bay conditions impact the shape of your boards?
For the South Bay, a solid balance of volume and foil is crucial. You need a board that not only paddles well and catches waves well, it also needs to chase down waves due to the crummy sandbar conditions we have out here.
You can generally shape a board that is South Bay specific that will work well outside of the South Bay, but it’s hard to get a board that works ideal designed outside the South Bay area to work well in South Bay beach breaks.
EPS versus poly? What do you recommend for your boards?
Personally I like poly. Poly is a proven performance-oriented material; although EPS is a good alternative for certain types of shapes.
EPS definitely lacks on the finish part [Editor’s note: airbrushing, color consistency, etc]. Once you wax up and start riding a board, though, the finish isn’t normally as important.
Are boards worth what we pay for them?
Absolutely, they’re probably one of the best deals around for something that’s hand crafted and the amount of joy you can get out of them.
Do surfers know more or less about the board manufacturing process these days?
I would say they know less these days. Other than the few people that really seek shapers out, the average consumer only knows what they read in the magazines and 90% Of that is disinformation – its all marketing and hype.
What are some of your other interests?
Besides shaping surfboards? [Laughing] I have no life, dude, this is it!
What is the process to buy an Oak Foils board?
Pick up the phone and give me a call at (310) 643-9887. Oak Foils are sold directly through me. The label Oak Foils is reserved for custom orders where I have worked directly with the customer.
Written by Eric & Jin