Images by AJ Feducia
Wade Tokoro is the go-to guy for professionally-shaped surfboards.
In 2009, Dane Reynolds, often called the best free surfer (non-contest surfer) in the world, did what most would call crazy, taking a hacksaw to a gleaming white 6’1” Channel Islands Al Merrick shortboard and noisily sawing three inches off the back to leave a flat stump where the lovingly crafted tail once was.
After which, he proceeded to connect perfectly timed airs in sweeping lines with the newly mangled equipment. In one fell slice, one of the most followed surfers in the world redefined what was cool in the water.
Surfers across the seas thought, if it’s all about fun anyways, then there’s no reason not to attack your favorite board with a hacksaw. Though technology, and stunts like the one Reynolds pulled, are inciting surfers and would-be shapers to seek out innovative methods of surfboard design, Wade Tokoro’s methods remain constant.
“Guys have been going much shorter lately,” says Tokoro. “I was just out with Sunny Garcia for the last few days at Bowls, and he was digging his new 6’0.”
A lot of these guys are trying to bring their performance up and are bringing boards down to as short as they can to get to that next level. Power surfing is still in, but to be competitive at the professional level, you need to be good all around. That means that I have to compensate by putting more volume in it.”
At his workspace in Kahalu‘u, Tokoro has shaped surfboards ridden by everyone from kook beginners to seasoned professionals and has constantly adapted his shaping to reflect the adaptive demands of his wave-riding customers.
Tokoro has the look of a local Japanese surfer that could place him anywhere between 25 and 65 years old. When he tells me, “I’ve been shaping since 1985,” I think incredulously, That’s just not possible. “Surfing keeps you young, man! And what can I say, I love my job.”
As one of the state’s most popular shapers, Tokoro’s boards are ordered by professionals visiting Hawai‘i that are looking for a local edge. Many of his orders come from guys surfing in the Triple Crown, and many more require him to shape full quivers, often putting in orders of up to eight boards at a time.
The work of shaping boards has become much easier with the advent of digital manipulation, which Tokoro and his crew have been using for over a decade. Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machines have become fully integrated into modern surfboard manufacturing, and have been used to mill exacting dimensions from stock blanks.
The use of milling machines has taken Tokoro to other parts of surfing’s diaspora, like Japan and Brazil, where he’s taught shaping workshops. “It’s pretty easy now,” he says. “I can send some files over to them and get those guys going on how to both use the machine, and do the fine tuning.”
As the software and CNC machines have come down in price in recent years, the ability to make a world-class, highly tuned surfboard has become possible for even the most far-flung shapers.
In spite of the feasibility of crafting perfectly molded boards using the CNC, there are subtle nuances in board design that make Tokoro the best, namely his ability to fine tune boards to meet the exacting standards of his world-class surf clients.
Referring to the “pop-outs” that have recently been introduced into the market, sandwich-constructed, epoxy boards made by dozens of places such as China, Tokoro says, “There’s no magic board for every person. So much depends on the person, skill level, fitness, height, weight and style of riding. Those are good if you’re still learning how to stand up and get down the face. But once you learn how to surf, you’re going to want to talk to a shaper, or get something that’s a better fit for you.”