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Joe Surf: Shaper puts his own stamp on surfboards

Surfing is something you do alone, but the truth is, there is someone there with you, right beneath your feet.

Behind, or below, every great surfer — and even the weekend ripper — is the surfboard shaper. Shapers, like with any craft, differ in skill and style. There are companies that mass-produce boards and ship them out to surf shops all over the world.

And then there is the local shaper, the guy who works day and night in a little shaping room with foam pieces floating in the air like they're working inside a snow globe.

Tim Stamps, 47, is the local-boy-does-good story, highly regarded around the world for his shaping skills after growing up in Seal Beach and surfing for a couple of national championship teams at Huntington Beach High in the 1980s.

Stamps shapes for big name pros like Brett Simpson and Courtney Conlogue, as well as local up-and-comers Derek Peters and Matt Passaquindici.

But what's cool is you can go to his shop in Westminster and discuss the details of a board you'd like him to make for you, just like he'd do with the many pros he's shaped for over the years.

Shaping for the pros, though, provides some unique challenges.

"A lot of sleepless nights," Stamps said. "You basically find the style of board they like and just refine the heck out of it.

"Everything I do is designed on the computer, so I keep super crazy records and every board has a file. You kind of gravitate toward what they like but you're always throwing some different little change in, trying to make it better. Sometimes it makes it better and sometimes it doesn't. You just keep refining it to what they feel. And after a few years, they get confidence in you."

Simpson, who spent six years on the World Championship Tour and is a two-time winner of the U.S. Open of Surfing, has been riding Stamps' boards full-time for the past three years after "dabbling" before then.

"Well first of all, Tim is a great surfer, so he understands a lot of things on the feeling side when he's shaping a board," Simpson said. "I really enjoy that part of him. But other than that, he's very in-tune to the high performance side of the best in the world and he will always go one step further to make that magic craft. He's a master craftsman and really into his trait."

It is Stamps' attention to detail that has put him among the world's elite shapers.

"For building competition boards, there's a handful of people that are really good," Stamps said. "What we have is we are really precise in what we do. I'm friends with a few of the top guys, and we all have our own personality in how we make the boards.

"But the thing is, at that level you have to be really precise, at an incremental level, getting feedback and watching the boards go through the water. We all see something different but I think it's the diligence of making things really refined."

Stamps was successful in the water himself, surfing for Huntington Beach High and then going on to be ranked as high as No. 11 in the National Scholastic Surfing Assn.'s men's Open division. He also surfed on a local pro tour but a knee injury and surgery to remove his appendix set him back and got him to reassess his career goals.

"I was going to Long Beach State at the time," he said. "I was making it through four or five rounds (in the pro contests) but I wasn't making the semis or the finals so I figured I should just focus on school. I reevaluated how good I really was and where I was going to go with my life as a pro surfer, and it didn't look good."

All the while, Stamps maintained an interest in shaping while working at Harbour Surfboards in Seal Beach, starting when he was a teenager. By 1996, he began his own label (Stamps Surfboards) and had a shaping room at Foam-EZ. Ten years later, he opened his own shop.

"I always did want to shape but I didn't see it as a career," Stamps said. "My dad's a handy guy, he built boats and stuff around the house, so I'm more of a build-it guy, figure it out and make something instead of sit around and have someone do it for me. At the shop (Harbour Surfboards), we kind of did everything. Me, being a surfer, I was always interested in the design and what makes a board better, even at a young age."

He has turned it into a successful business, an artist in his own right.

"I figured I had to do something in life and I'd always been around surfboards so it was 'do what I like to do or go put a tie on and go get a job.' I just kind of figured it was time to really get into it and that's when I really got into shaping. It worked out, here I am and I'm still really into it."

JOE HAAKENSON is a Huntington Beach-based sports writer and editor. He may be reached at joe@juvecreative.com.

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