Surfboard Shaper: Mark Sausen May 30, 2016

Surfboard Shaper: Mark Sausen

Shadow: Mark Sausen
Job: Surfboard Shaper

Surfing is a well-known sport all across the world but in Hawaii it’s more of a lifestyle. Most people wake up every morning in the hopes of riding that perfect wave. Before they go to work they set out into the salty water. It is said that many jobs have been lost on the island due to waiting for the next great wave. However, one job that is born of surfing comes from a man named Mark Sausen AKA Papa Sau.

I was introduced to Papa Sau through one of my local friends named Keola Carreira who I met when trying to catch a wave of my own. Keola is considered a pro surfer and has been riding Papa Sau’s boards since the age of 7. He sees Papa Sau as a true craftsman, waterman, and an overall legend, as do many people on the island.

Papa Sau got into surfing almost 50 years ago and began making surfboards way back when the short board revolution was around in ’67. Everyone started breaking and cutting their long boards to make them smaller. At that time most people were backyard shapers. Papa Sau made his first board in Newport Beach and almost immediately got asked to make another for a surfer who saw his work. He later came over to Kauai in search of good boards from some of the best shapers of that time.

“At first it wasn’t a job it was just fun doing something I had always dreamed of wanting to do. Then when became true I thought, “Is this real?” People really want my boards and I’ve been doing it for about 14 years now.”

Papa Sau was barely getting by when he first arrived in Kauai. He was just trying to make a car payment, turn in his rent money, eat, surf and go to work. He started surfing in the Hawaii Longboard Surfing Association and saw many designs he wanted for his own boards. Eventually Papa Sau got so tired of trying to get shapers to make what he wanted that he decided to make his own boards. Since he couldn’t afford a private shaping room he opened a place available to people who came to Kauai and needed to shape boards. He thought in the process he would benefit from gaining tips and templates from other surfboard shapers.

He gained more than just tips; he gained a following. People Papa Sau had surfed with for years started asking him to make custom boards for them. A surfer's weight, height, body shape, stance and style on the board are all taken into consideration when determining the length, waist width, nose width, tail width, thickness, tail design, and fin setup. He then designs and crafts all of his surfboards by hand, specially made for each customer.

Not only was Papa Sau passionate about surfing but his knowledge on the subject caused me to be captivated by his every word. At the end of my time with him there was a lot of dust in the air and goofy smiles plastered to our faces.

Learned Lessons:

How to make a Surfboard

  1. Visualize the surfboard you want to make
  2. Buy a surfboard blank a little bigger than the desired size
  3. Wear goggles as well as ear and respiratory protection
  4. Cut the board to length
  5. Use a power planer to remove excess foam by moving it from the tail to the nose of the board
  6. Repeat on the other side of the board
  7. Smooth out the bumps on the board by using a grit sanding screen
  8. Center your eyes and the nose of the surfboard to look for shadows to smooth out
  9. Balance out the foil by making the nose to tail symmetrical
  10. Apply surfboard resin over fiberglass cloth beginning in the center of the board
  11. Let resin cure for one day and then repeat on the other side
  12. Add an extra layer of fiberglass on the deck for added strength and let it cure for a day
  13. Mark the front and back fins position
  14. Drill hole for a leash plug
  15. Add leash plug and fins to the board
  16. SURF!

Tips of the Trade:

“I feel so lucky. It’s a fun job but it is a job.”

“When I first started I never considered myself a shaper because you have to get people to want your boards.”

“I can make anything because I‘ve been through all those generations. I’ve seen all those boards through the years and how they work.”

“I’ve always been into why something works. If I’ve got a good board I ask why is this board working for me? I try to figure it out. Maybe it's the fin placement. Maybe it's the thickness of the tail. Maybe it's the width.”

“Being in the water with some of my customers has really helped me decide what they need.”

“If I make a board and the surfer says it’s magic I think, “Oh no I’m going to have to duplicate that magic.” That's not easy to do as a hand shaper.”

“Kauai is me. I’m doing this for the fun of shaping boards for me and my friends. Not to be a big name or try to be a brand that everyone wants.”

Can’t get enough of Papa Sau? Check out some of his stories in Kauai Stories 2 by Pamela Brown.