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surfing in Lagos Portugal Better Mondays Junior Fish shaper Lagos Shaper Junior On the Perks of Getting A Custom Board


Porto do Mos, Lagos, on a spring day at dusk. The beaches are almost empty, we overlook the local restaurant Antonio’s on our right and move some boards from the parking lot down to the beach hut. Junior, a 43-year-old, half Sri Lankan, half Scottish, growing up between both places, is a perfect example of an insanely intelligent and talented shaper/artist creating eye-popping boards.
Photo Credit: Better Mondays Creative Agency


Better Mondays Creative Agency _Surfing in lagos Portugal_Surfboard shaper Junior Fish

Photo by: JNR Surfboards

[YST] What drew you to shaping in the first place?
I started wind surfing at the age of 7 in Sri Lanka. I was really into it all through university in Scotland up to the age of 20. I got to a level in wind surfing that was fine, but nothing special. I wanted to be better than I was. But I could never break through this level and it was super frustrating. Wind surfing takes a lot of equipment. Whereas when you go surfing, you grab a board, wetsuit, done.

When you're surfing it's just the energy of the wave that you have to utilize. I kind of like the simplicity of it.


I was really lucky, my brother got me into surfing. Back then, we didn't have all the internet wave modelling that we have now. We used to look at isobaric charts, and try to see if it would be a good day to go or not. And sometimes we would drive a couple hours, only to arrive and see it's shit conditions for windsurfing. But sometimes there were waves instead, so my brother would be like, ok let's just go for a surf. That’s how I got into surfing. And later I started getting into making boards.

[YST] Do technical skills come naturally to you?
[J] Yeah, I studied engineering. I just kind of realized that if I was going to get a job in mechanical engineering, I would be spending most of my days in offices behind a computer screen, designing stuff. Whereas I wanted to be making stuff. I wanted to be designing stuff, yes, but when you're an engineer, you're kind of separate from the building. You're doing the calculations, this piece of metal has this much stress, so it needs to have that much thickness. But you're not the guy welding that piece of metal to the other bit. And I wanted to be involved in that too. Shaping gives me that. I really enjoyed making my first board, and I thought, wow it would be really amazing if I could actually make a living out of this.


Surfing in Lagos Portugal Better Monday Creative Agency Photographer Junior Fish Shaper

Photo Credit: Better Mondays Creative Agency

[YST] How did you learn to shape? Your work is really impressive.
[J] I shaped my first board at a friend's place in Scotland, about 17 years ago. That first one I made was just for fun, with no intention of ever doing it as a job. At the time, I just finished uni and I had an engineering degree that I didn't feel inspired to use. After that first board, there was a gap of about 7 years, during which I worked in Greece, Portugal and Norway, and didn’t work on any of my own boards.

[YST] What kept you busy during those years?
I mainly taught surfing, and worked on building sites, renovating houses in Sagres. I've been in Portugal for 11 years now. I spent a year in Australia working for and learning the craft from Rory, Dan and Neil Oke from OKE Surfboards outside Melbourne. When I returned to Portugal, I started working for ORG Surfboards, as their laminator. That's the person who does the fiber glassing. You have the shaper, who actually shapes, and you have the laminators who put the cloth on the board. The shaper at ORG did most of the graphics because he was amazing. He had worked for Lufi (Legendary shaper, Luis Filipe “Lufi” Bento) as his graphics guy, so working there was a really valuable experience.

[YST] How did you get started again?
It was my friend Billy that got me back into shaping. He’s a big wave surfer and shaper from Porto who used to live in Sagres. Between several temporary jobs in Portugal and Norway I helped him to dismantle his shape room because he was moving up North.

Better Mondays Creative Agency photographer Lagos Portugal Junior Fish shaping

 Photo by: JNR Surfboards

So we're down in his shaping room, taking things down from the wall. And halfway through he asks, 'Junior, why don't you start shaping?’ So we started putting everything back on the wall. He lent me his room when he moved. He really helped me out and got me started with the whole thing. I worked in that shaping room for a couple of years. At the time, I was still teaching surfing part-time and shaping after work. In the beginning I was mainly shaping for my friends to build up experience.

To all my mates I said 'You want a board? I'll make you one and only charge materials.’ It worked out,[laughs], all of them floated.


[YST] You work in an industry that is inherently overworked and under-appreciated. How do you feel about that?
Shaping as a job is one of those things, it’s a dying art. There is so much machine shaping going on right now, that if you want to make serious money out of making boards, you need a machine and you have to produce at factory level or have real legacy as a shaper. The old fashioned way of shaping boards is by hand. You start with a blank and you shape it down manually, piece by piece, to the type of board you want it to be. But these days, the majority of the shaping is done by machines. It would take me about 3-5 hours to shape a board - a professional shaper with many years of experience wouldn’t take as long - but with a machine a board can be produced within 20 - 40 minutes.There are only a few shapers that are good enough to consistently produce boards of the same quality at a pace that a machine can.

[YST] Machines do it better?
[J] Not necessarily, they're just better at reproducing a design more accurately than most shapers.
But there are shapers so skilled that they can work as fast and as consistently as a machine. For most of us though, you probably have to be on 10.000 or 20.000 boards before you get
to that level.

[YST] How is the industry’s push to the machine shaped boards changing the style of boards that are made?
[J] It's pretty hard to make money with shaping in general, because the mark-ups aren't huge. So for those companies to survive, they need to produce decent numbers that don't take ages to make. All the different resin tints and hand shaped fins that come with hand shaped boards, would lose them money. They have to think profit margins all the time. That’s how you end up with generic boards. Take hand-shaped fins. In custom made boards, hand shaped fins are attached to the board. That almost never happens now. Most boards come with some kind of fin box. So a board manufacturer will make a board, a fin manufacturer will make the fins and then you plug the fins into the board. When hand-shaping a board, the fins can be attached to the board, like this one:

Better Mondays Creative Agency_Surfing in Portugal_Lagos Portugal_Surfboard Shaper Junior Fish

Photo Credit: Better Mondays Creative Agency

With glassed on fins you can customize the fin to fit the surfboard as rider. It is another level of customization. Also you can mix and match colors and come up with really unique beautiful boards. Although the function of the board is paramount, I find the aesthetic side really fun.

[YST] So why drop some serious €€€ on a custom board when you can get a 200E one off the rack?
[J] Take shoes as an example. You can go to a sports store and buy a pair of Nike shoes. And they can be really good. The company is amazing, they have been making shoes for eons and they have all the tech. That shoe is a size 8. But you're foot is a 8.34. And the shoe is made based on the average way of walking. But maybe you walk with a bit of a limp, or you have a flat foot, or whatever makes your foot unique. So when you go to a shoemaker, he's going to take all of that into account and make you a shoe that is the best shoe for you. It's just for you. That’s the concept behind custom boards. You have companies like JS and Al Merrick and they are world class shapers that make great boards. But most of us don’t surf on that level.They have very functional models. If you go to the shop and buy a board there, you’ll have a great board but it's possibly not the best board for you.

I think anyone, any kind of surfer that wants to spend a reasonable amount of time surfing, should have a custom made board.


Portugal Lagos photographer surfing junior fish_Photo credit David Morard

Photo by: JNR Surfboards

[YST] What side of the craft do you enjoy most: shaping or doing the resin?
[J] I enjoy all of it. I like to do the whole process from start to finish. When you work in a factory, you are normally part of a production line. Repeating only one part of the process. This is great for really nailing a skill but it can get repetitive. Making boards from start to finish keeps things fresh all the time, plus you have complete control of the finish product. No passing the buck if things don’t go to plan.

Better Mondays Creative Agency_Surfing in Lagos Portugal_Surfboard shaper Junior Fish

Photo by: JNR Surfboards

It’s funny actually, because when you shape you have to use the tools with a lot of confidence. If you hold back or are timid you will make mistakes. They are brutal tools. You have to use them as if it's the millionth time you use them. Have a beer, put on some good music and you're ready to go.

[YST] Haha, nice! So what album gets you pumped in the shape room right now?
Depends on my mood, something chilled if i have to do a lot of thinking. Something more upbeat if I need to put in a lot of energy.

Surfing in lagos Portugal, Surfboard shaper Junior Fish, Better mondays creative agency

Photo by: JNR Surfboards

[YST] Own favourite board to surf?
It depends on the conditions, one of the advantages of being a shaper is having a quiver of boards to choose from. The right board on the right day normally results in a great surf.

Surfen in Portugal_Better Mondays Creative Agency_Surfboard shaper Junior Fish

Photo Credit: Better Mondays Creative Agency

[YST] Best part of the job?
[J] Best thing about shaping is seeing people have fun on your boards. It’s amazing when someone that rips asks you to make a board it gives you a different kind of confidence but just having happy customers is the greatest reward.

[YST] Any shaper you'd want to work with?
[J] Al Merrick , Rusty, Kasuma, Ryan Lovelace. They didn't get to the pinnacle of their craft just overnight. That's thousands upon thousands of shapes and working with the best surfers in the world. A day with them, a week or just an hour [laughs]. But actually the Campbell brothers as well, they make a bonzer shape, it's a really unique design and it's a pain to make. It has 5 fins instead of the usual 3 or 4. And the concaves, the bottom shape of the board is quite complex, and it fits in their design. And they hand shape. There's one guy in Portugal that is licensed to shape their boards. They come up to Portugal once a year and they shape there.

Better Mondays Creative Agency Junior Fish shaping lagos portugal

Photo Credit: Better Mondays Creative Agency

[YST]: What boards should people come to you for?
J: Hit me up if you want a semi-performance board up to a longboard. I steer away from full performance boards because there are people who will always do them better than me. I'm into doing interesting designs, like twin-fins, different tail shapes, more unique stuff.. My biggest client is Jan, a surfer from Norway. He has about 7 of my boards. Every time he comes to Portugal, I make him a new one. That’s a huge compliment to me.

Better Mondays Creative Agency_Surfboard shaper Junior Fish_Surfing in lagos Portugal

Better Mondays Creative Agency_Surfboard shaper Junior Fish_Surfing in lagos Portugal

 Photo Credit: [top] Better Mondays Creative Agency [bottom] JNR surfboards

[YST] Do customers often ask for a specific look? Or do they trust you to deliver something they’ll love?
[J] Sure your customer’s input is super important. It’s about balancing what they want with what your experience tells you they need. My girlfriend for example wanted to have a shorter board to ride but I kind of knew she wasn’t quite ready yet. So, I basically made an 8 foot board packed into a 7 foot 2. I crammed extra volume in, changed the rocker lines, the rail and width to make a wave catching machine but in a smaller version. This helped me to get that floatation and that ease of catching a wave that comes with a bigger board. Also customers usually ask for a certain colour choice. To me the look is important but definitely secondary to the function. However when you nail a colour shade that your customer described you can see it in their reaction. When you deliver the board their excitement is contagious.

[YST] Best surf?
J: In Amado. I’ve probably surfed there a 100 times a year, for the last eight years. It’s definitely one of those places that you have to know and read the forecast well to be there at the right time to get this perfect surf.That’s an important thing for every beach that gets surf, you need to be there at the right time. Some beaches in the world are ‘on’ all of the time.. Places like Uluwatu, classic point breaks. But then you're dealing with huge amounts of crowds. We don’t have that here [in the Algarve], you have to read the charts to know where you can go, and with more experience, the better you’ll know when and where to be.

[YST] Advice to starting shapers?
[J] Study engineering. Nah, seriously, I'd say invest a good amount of time in learning hand shaping. But invest an equal amount of time in modern design programs.
I think if you're going to be a modern shaper, you need the digital design and production skills as well.

Porto do Mos lagos portugal better mondays creative agency surf board shaper junior fish

Photo Credit: Better Mondays Creative Agency

[YST] If someone wants one of your boards for their next trip, how do they go about that?
Best way is to send me a message on my facebook page JNR Custom Surfboards, on Instagram @jnrfish or on my website www.jnrsurfboards.com



Interview by: Better Mondays Creative Agency



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