Tucked away in a corner of Isla Vista, Calif., in one of the most party-heavy square miles along the coast, sits a little blue house. Foam particles often lay scattered across the driveway and a slight stench of resin stagnantly lingers in the air. This is the place that surfboard shaper Cooper Hamilton calls home, and it’s also where his surfboard company, Yafaa Surfboards, operates.
Amadeus sat down with the board-shaper at his part-house, part- creative workspace, to talk surf boards, West Coast culture and more.
How long have you been shaping out of your garage?
I’ve been shaping boards for about six to seven months in the garage. Before that I was just doing a bunch of ding repairs at my old house in the side yard. This was really my first opportunity to have my own actual professional shaping bay where I have a lot of space to work and there’s no hindrances in the way, just where I have full creative control.
Do you have your sights set on getting a different workplace ever? Why stay here?
Down the line yeah, but right now this is a perfect set up. Rent in this town is so expensive that I can only afford one place, so if I can fit it into my garage then that’s ideal. Also I mean I live so close to the beach right now and surf out front almost every day. I know a lot of people who live and surf around here and they know where I live. We have a steady flow of people who stop by that need boards fixed or want to talk boards. I guess eventually if I want to get bigger I will have to move but right now, it’s working just fine.
Does living and surfing here have some sort of influence on the type of boards you make?
For sure. Where I grew up there was a lot of beach breaks, not a lot of long point breaks like up here. I’ve fallen in love with surfing Devro. The way a point breaks, it gives you that nice long line, it’s a different kind of surfing. I’m not really into two hacks to a close out or racing down to huck some big air. I like to flow I guess. More in tune with the wave, with the ocean. I like to feel like I’m connecting with the wave instead of trying to fight it. So I like to make boards that allow you to do that, one that is more approachable to the wave. It lets you open your mind and express the different ways of riding a wave. One of the most inspirational boards I’ve ever ridden was an Alaia. There’s no fins, just a simple piece of wood. You can glide so fast it feels like you’re almost flying.
The scene here in IV is pretty wild, I’m sure you’ve have some crazy nights. What’s your average day like?
Average day without working at my other job consists of an early morning surf check, well maybe not super early but around 7:30 a.m. If there’s waves, get on it, if not come back and see what the tides doing, then make some breakfast. Look at the boards, see what needs to be done, usually stress out about it. If the waves get better later then I’ll surf. Lately it’s been pumping and I’ve been surfing more than working on boards but it should start slowing down going into summer so I’ll be able to get a lot more work done. In the evening I usually take a nap, maybe watch the sunset depending on the length of the nap. Probably go get some pizza and beers with my friends, maybe play some pool.
You don’t go out and get crazy in Isla Vista?
Oh I go out every once and awhile, but I’d definitely say my amount of mellow nights outweigh the amount of raging nights.
You said people are stopping by your place a lot. Do most of your board orders come from word of mouth and people you know?
Yeah definitely. Before I got into shaping I worked for my uncle in the construction industry. He’s a bit of a perfectionist and that definitely rubbed off on me. When he finished a job you knew he put every ounce of energy he could into it and it would show. His whole business is creating from word of mouth, no need for any advertising. Logos on his truck are tiny. I mean he always has jobs and is working but that’s because his work is so good. I kind of got that mentality I want my boards to be like that. Ideally, when someone sees one of my boards I want them to be like, “Oh my God, look at that thing. What is that?” But the way the industry is now I need to get more of a social media presence, my Instagram game is lacking.
There’s a big retro movement going on in surfing right now. People seem to be shaping their own boards a lot lately, coming out with all different kinds of shapes and boards. Can you see this side of surfing blowing up too much – going corporate and maybe putting you out of work?
No, not at all. I like the movement, it’s sick that people are actually opening their minds. There’s just so many different kinds of boards you can make outside the standard 5’11 thruster. Also making those lines for the rails just get so repetitive. I get stoked making boards that are different. When I make boards, I want to make a piece of art. I don’t just want the angles to be flush, and have everything even. But I mean coloring the resin by hand, having complete control of everything about the board. I want the board to work and be fun but also beautiful. There’s a lot of people who do build their own stuff and are getting popular, guys like Ryan Burch and Lovelace and everyone is looking up to them, but I don’t see it getting too big. Because I mean it’s a process, it takes a lot of work to build a surfboard, patience too. I think society moves too fast at this point for a bunch of people to start getting into that.
Photography: Nicole Haun