Southern California is filled with active people, sunny beaches and killer breaks – the ideal combination for a successful surfing industry. Dan Cobley, a Santa Monica-born surfboard shaper, spent his childhood in the South Bay, surrounded by those three things. His introduction into the surfing community came at the ripe young age of eight when he bought an old board from a friend for $40 and picked up the sport. Nearly 10 years later, he started his career shaping surfboards. In 2003, Dan became a full time shaper for Becker Surfboards in Hermosa Beach. His deep roots in the community as well as his incredible talent and finesse, is what caught our attention. A collaboration ensued, leading Dan to create incredible, custom boards embodying (literally) our West Coast Prep lifestyle.
johnnie-O: Tell me about the day in the life of a board shaper
Dan Cobley: I like to enjoy a simple life. I follow the same routine of drinking coffee, then surfing in the morning if the waves are good, or working out in some form, and then I will work through the afternoon. Every day is similar but not the same.
JO: What was your first job?
DC: The first job I had was as a paperboy for the Daily Breeze newspaper. I was 12 years old. Every day after school I would fold and deliver newspapers, and on the weekends, I would wake up at 5 a.m. to get the heavy weekend editions on doorsteps by 8 a.m.
JO: What does “West Coast Prep” mean to you?
DC: I never gave much thought to West Coast Prep until I was introduced to johnnie-O. I generally subscribe to the surf bum look, but I must admit that slapping on some nice johnnie-O clothes is a comfortable way to sharpen up my image!
JO: If you were going to be stuck on an island for the rest of your life with only three items, what would they be?
DC: I’ll assume it’s a tropical island with waves around it… all I would want would be some tools to be able to build surfboards with. And with those tools, I could build a street corner. And then a Starbucks would pop up, because there’s one on every street corner. And then I would be happy with surfing and coffee.
JO: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
DC: Look both ways.
JO: Tell us about the secret spots you love – anywhere in the world.
DC: The only secret spots I know of are right there out in the open. You can have that perfect wave all to yourself if you’re willing to wake up before dawn to get it.
JO: What (or who) inspires you?
DC: Nature inspires me most, but music is a close second.
JO: If you could have dinner with any three people (dead or alive), who would they be?
DC: Paula Dean (so she can cook the food), Jim Jeffries and Robin Williams, because could you imagine those two together?!
JO: What are three activities you love to do outside of work?
DC: Surfing, eating and surfing.
JO: If you had to pick one: a surfboard, a cheese board or a chess board?
DC: I couldn’t wax a chess board and ride waves on it, so I’d have to go with surfboard.
JO: What’s your favorite meal of the day: breakfast, lunch or dinner?
DC: Sometimes I have breakfast for dinner.
JO: What was the process from start to finish of making the johnnie-O boards, from the fabric to glasser?
DC: The blanks are hand shaped. Then the bottom is painted red, the plaid cloth is cut to shape and applied to the board with resin. We then laminate the board with fiberglass cloth and polyester resin, putting the decals underneath. The board is then covered in a thin layer of resin, which is sanded smooth. Then we paint the rails blue and add pin lines around the fabric inlays. Another layer of special resin that is highly strained is painted over the whole board. Then that is wet-sanded and polished with car wax to shine.
JO: Do you have any good stories from the early days and the evolution of your shaping?
DC: Phil Becker told me that one day he’d shaped 30 boards so I went in the next day and shaped 31 boards! (The average shape time for a professional is about two hours per board. If you’re fast you can do it in an hour. If you’re fast and really motivated you can get it done in 45 minutes.) I started at 6am and didn’t finish until the following day around 8 a.m. When I told Becker what I’d done his response was “one day I shaped 32 boards.”
JO: Is there anything special about the johnnie-O board besides the plaid and logo on it?
DC: I made sure that they floated really well.