Ryan Kloostra ’04 has “always wanted to have a hands-on craft.” He didn’t expect to find it on a beach 2,200 miles from home.
In 2005 Kloostra packed his life in his Ford Explorer and drove from Grand Rapids to Sierra Madre, Calif., for a teaching job at Bethany Christian School. Soon after arriving he headed for the ocean.
“I grew up skateboarding, snowboarding and wakeboarding,” Kloostra said, “so I figured the transition to surfing wouldn’t be that difficult.” He pauses. “I underestimated it.”
Though he “got beat up in the water a lot,” Kloostra said, “it was—and is—awesome!”
“From the start I was also really intrigued by ‘shaping,’ which is what the surfboard-making process is called,” he continued. In an issue of The Surfer’s Journal, Kloostra read about Terry Martin, a craftsman who has hand-shaped over 80,000 surfboards for the Hobie Co. since 1963. “The way he talked about shaping mesmerized me,” Kloostra said. “I could tell he really loved it. So I sent him a handwritten letter and told him why I wanted to learn to shape.”
Four days later Terry Martin called Kloostra and said, “Come to the shop and we’ll see what happens.”
What happened was a friendship. Kloostra began to go to Martin’s shaping bay one summer day a week to watch and learn.
A surfboard begins with an elongated oval of high-density foam. Running down its center is a strip of balsa or basswood called the “stringer” that gives a spine to the flexible foam. With woodworking tools the shaper gives the board dimensions and curves custom-fit to an individual surfer. When the shape is right to within one-sixteenth of an inch, the shaper turns the board over to a fiberglasser who coats the foam with pigmented fiberglass.
Kloostra learned more than the manual craft from Martin. “The way he interacts with the board and with the person he’s making it for—there’s a spiritual component to his shaping,” Kloostra said.
Kloostra gives great attention to that spiritual component in the boards he now shapes, too. It starts with getting to know the surfer. “First I ask questions,” he said. “I ask, ‘How long have you been surfing? How often and where do you usually surf?’ That matters a lot because boards have to be tailored to the waves, and every beach has different waves. I also ask, ‘What do you have trouble with?’ Based on everything I hear, I create an outline, a thickness and all the subtleties of shape that put what’s important about that surfer into the board.”
Kloostra’s finishing touch is to put a little something important about himself on a board’s bottom and deck: “Dutch Surfboards.”
“Anybody can buy a machine-made board at Costco,” Kloostra said, “and quite honestly, it might not be a bad board for them. But hand-shaping puts the surfer-shaper relationship into a board and gives it soul, and the soul factor in surfing is huge.”
Fall, winter and spring Kloostra shapes middle school students, an occupation, he said, that he “truly loves.” Shaping surfboards provides him a very different, equally satisfying, summer love: “Shaping is almost like meditation. I’m all alone, and after 15 to 20 hours I have this beautiful thing that’s going to bring someone so much joy. There’s nothing else I need!”
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