Surfboards are like snow flakes; no two are the same (unless they are pop-outs, but we will get to that later). Hand-shaped boards are made with extreme detail to exact specifications. Everything from basic dimensions, to the type of wave that the board is intended for are taken into account, and shaping is just the start of the process. It takes a special type of person to shape surfboards, and fortunately for those of us that love to surf, where there are waves, there is more than likely a shaper in the vicinity to produce quality boards for our pleasure.
We had the opportunity to talk shop with Josh Hoke, one of Charleston’s best surfboard shapers. He gave us some insights into the world of shaping, Charleston's local surf culture, and why supporting your local shaper is better than buying a mass produced board from another country, otherwise known as a pop-out.
Tell us a little about your surfing and board shaping background. How did you get into it?
My family would go on annual summer vacations to New Jersey when I was a kid. I loved watching all the surfers. At around 10-years-old I started standing up on my boogie board because I wanted to surf so badly. When I was 12 I bought a used surfboard and would spend eight hours a day teaching myself to surf using pointers picked up from friendly local surfers. When I got older, I would surf anywhere and anytime I could in the Northeast. After college, I was determined to find a job near the beach. As luck would have it, I ended up in South Carolina five years ago.
I shaped my first board when I was 15. It was for a high school graduation project, but mostly to have an extra surfboard. I always loved building things and working with my hands. I figured it would be more fun and less expensive to build myself a surfboard. I made an 8’0’’ fun board out of a Clark blank, in an attempt to increase my wave count since the spots I surfed were always crowded by longboarders catching just about every wave. After surfing my own board I never looked back; I’ve been making my own surfboards ever since. In college, I got into making hollow wooden boards, and I sold them at a shop in New Jersey. When I moved to Charleston, a lot of people on Folly started asking about my self-shaped boards. That’s when I really started shaping more custom boards for people outside of my group of friends.
Why support your local shaper rather than buy from national or international board companies?
Local shapers know the waves you are surfing. You can actually come hangout in my shop and work out exactly what you are looking for in a shape. Why support a huge business with a shaper who might not ever actually put his hands on a board when you have someone in your community that takes the time and has pride in what they’re doing? I’m so grateful that people want me to make their boards. I have a lot of fun with it. There are other local surfboard shapers, like Grasshopper Surfboards and Long Toe Surfboards, who are making great boards as well.
I think there’s some value to working with a shaper that wants to make your board just right for you and lives close enough to be held accountable. I’m letting people go nuts with their ideas and doing my best to bring what they’re envisioning to life.
Also, I strive to make boards that will last a long time. I’m not glassing boards super light in the hopes that it will snap and you will come buy another one next year. I’d rather people buy another one because the first one surfed as good as it looks and they just want more of my boards in their quiver. There’s no higher compliment to me than repeat customers. It’s a tough job. No one is getting rich making surfboards unless you’re a big name, so you have to just really love making good boards.
What’s your take on Charleston’s surf culture? Is there a strong sense of community among local surfers?
To me, Charleston’s surf culture is friendly and fun. We don’t get big, consistent surf very often so I think most people are just in it to get wet and have a good time surfing. That’s why it gets crowded even if it’s windy and knee high.
I think there is definitely a strong community of local surfers in Charleston. I am fairly new to the Charleston surf scene and I’ve been pretty much welcomed with open arms. The Carolina Surf Brand, Ocean Surf Shop, and especially McKevlins Surf Shop, have been very supportive. I also have a lot of people offering to help me out and expand my business, but right now I’m just enjoying doing a few boards a month for local surfers. It would be impossible for me to do what I’m doing without the support of local surfers. I love getting positive feedback from people after they take their boards out, and I love watching people getting great rides on my boards even more.
Walk us through a day in the life of Josh Hoke.
I start my day with a big cup of coffee in the car on the way to work. I work full time for The South Carolina Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management. This allows me to spend a lot of the day out in the marsh, and on the beach from Folly to Hilton Head, making sure new development complies with the State’s beach front and tideland environmental laws. It’s my way of protecting the beach and wetlands that we all love and enjoy. I usually get out of work around 4:00p.m., and if there are no waves, it’s full-on surfboard manufacturing the rest of the day. Most of the time I have a few boards in various stages of completion being built at one time. If I’m not shaping boards, I’m usually doing some laminating or other glasswork on one side of the garage (the cleaner side), while I’m sanding or installing fin boxes on the other side (the dusty side). It’s a dirty job. I’m constantly covered in dust and resin, or itchy from fiberglass. After working all day and then walking a few miles in surfboard shaped circles around the shaping stand, I’m pretty beat. I try to stop working on surfboards around 8:00 or 9:00p.m. so I still have time to hang out with my fiancé, Emmy, and our dog before I go to sleep. Then I do it all again the next day.
Josh is the founder of Hoke Handcrafted Surfboards. If you're looking for a new shape, or are new to the area and on the hunt for a board for our local waves, give Josh a shout, he will hook it up!