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Out of Office: a Day in the Life of a Surfboard Shaper in Laguna Beach


Dana Point native Gary Larson has shaped surfboards since the late 1990s. You can find him most days at the legendary Hobie Surf Shop where he creates boards from an on-site shaping room at the Dana Point store. 

With an increased interest in travelers who want to spend more on travel experiences over material goods and unique cultural experiences, an exclusive new activity with Larson and the legendary surf shop debuted at The Ranch at Laguna Beach recently. 

Larsen at Hobie Surf Shop

The once-in-a-lifetime experience, The Shaper, connects guests to the heart and soul of Laguna Beach, surfing. The half-day experience starts at Hobie Surf Shop where Laguna’s surf culture was born in 1950 when local waterman Hobie Alter created the very first foam surfboard. 

Guests will design and carve their own custom surfboard while working alongside Larson, who is world renowned surfboard shaper and has worked at the shop for over two decades. Under his tutelage, they will choose the right blank to teaching them all they need to know about contours, rail, color, and design. 

Larson at work

The board will then be shipped to the guests’ doorstep – either to be displayed as an art piece in their home or used on their next surf trip to Laguna Beach where they can surf at the iconic Salt Creek surf break and grab a bite at Young’s Beach Shack. The outdoor beach café pays homage to the surfing history in Laguna, and the original establishment built in the 1930s that use to feed the hungry athletes (and kooks) after shredding for hours.

Beach Day in Laguna

We decided to take a deeper dive into a day in the life of surfboard shaper Gary Larson.

How long have you been a surfboard shaper? And how long have you worked with The Ranch in Laguna Beach? 

I shaped my first surfboard when I was 14 years old, and in 1996, at age 16, I started working as a production surfboard shaper for Infinity Surfboards. I just started working with The Ranch last year, with projects focused on giving their customers unique experiences and opportunities. Being a beach community, The Ranch attracts many guests that have a coastal connection, and offering a surfboard shaping experience seemed like a natural fit. 

Larson shaping a board at Hobie
Tell us what is involved in being a board shaper?

As a surfboard shaper, I am tasked with working with customers to try and understand and craft the best possible board for them. I am very specialized, in the surfboard shaping world, in that I shape boards from start to finish by hand. Shaping, to me, is an art where I can use my creativity and abilities with tools to manufacture surfboards, with the goal of making the surfer stoked in the water. I stay current with changing trends in surfing and adapt my shaping to stay contemporary in the surf culture. 

Larson putting the finishing touches on a board
What does a typical day look like for you? 

I like to start shaping early in the morning, as there are fewer distractions and I can focus on just shaping. As the day progresses, I typically call customers to discuss their board shape to make sure I can get all the little nuances that the customer wants in their board. Luckily, I am usually done shaping in the early afternoon, offering me plenty of time to jump in the water for a surf. 

Larson paddles out in Laguna Beach
Where did you learn to surf and what was the board that changed your life?

I learned to surf at Doheny beach in Dana Point. As a kid, Doheny was just a short 10-minute bike ride away from where I lived, so I spent almost every day in the water. My first surfboard changed my life. It was a 4’11” swallowtail twin-fin. I don’t remember too much about what it looked like, but I do have vivid memories about how that board sounded as it moved through the water. There is a very distinct sound of water slapping against fiberglass, and that sound has always stuck with me. 

Larson riding the waves
Where are some of your favorite spots to surf around the world?

I’ve been lucky enough to have been able to travel to many places in the world to surf, so it is impossible to have a favorite surf spot. Some memorable places are Jeffery’s Bay, in South Africa, due to its machine-like perfection and length of rides; G-Land on the island of Java was where I first really experienced what it was like to get barreled; and Hossegor, France is a great wave, similar to what we have in southern California, but the culture and lifestyle are unforgettable.

Sunset from The Ranch, Laguna Beach

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