Builders Q+A With Jeff McCallum – Vissla AU
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Builders Q+A With Jeff McCallum

When and how did you decide to become a shaper?
My path to surfing and shaping was a bit different than most. I was born in Colorado and didn't start surfing till I was 18. As soon as I started surfing I wanted to shape and started shortly after I got a job at Chris Christenson's factory as a shop rat, cleaning getting lunch, and packing boards. Chris would let me use the factory at night to make my own boards, and they slowly started to progress. This was a far different era, pre social media, pre blogs and forums. You had to put in time and build a name by working hard. By the end of my time at Chris's place, I would take batches of blanks he had shaped and glass them all the way through, doing every step at night alongside some boards I had shaped for myself and friends.

What was the fist board you made?
The First board I shaped was a 5'9" Single fin Egg, I did everything on it start to finish and rode it a ton. I still have it today it looks like a Potato.

Your business model changed over the past few years. I've heard you have your own retail space and don't take any orders?Yeah 2015 was a big year for us. I knew that at some point I would have to make a choice in my shaping career. The demand was growing quick; I can only do so much by hand and on my own. The wait time had exceeded 12 months for a custom, and that didn't make anyone happy. The logistics of that alone was a full time job.

The choice was I could have either blown it up, ramp up production with a bigger factory, and staff to try and feed the demand. Or I could take a step back, focus on quality, and get back to why I started shaping.

I learned a long time ago that I couldn't make everyone happy, and for sure I wasn't gonna make millions of dollars shaping surfboards, so it should be fun. I should be stoked to come to work. But having a 12 month-plus wait wasn't fun for anyone, and answering close to 100 emails every morning wasn't what I wanted to do. For 15 years I consistently owed someone something, had to reply to an "is my board done?" email, or a "can I change this color from a brown tint to a root beer tint" phone call, etc. And I get it for sure. I hate waiting for something probably more than most people.

But for me, I was done dealing with it. I just wanted to shape.

So I closed the books on custom orders and stopped selling to retailers outside of my own space who were attached to the factory in National City. I still take custom orders, but about every 4 months or so. We'll open up the books for 10 spots for customs domestically and 10 for Japan on a first come first serve basis. So far it's worked out pretty well. We try to keep on eye on people, and if you missed a spot on this go, we'll get you on the next one, or have something go through the shop that's really similar to what your looking for. Then every so often we'll open up the books for a particular design that I'm into at the moment, which we recently did with some Tear Drop and a limited run Keel fin fish.

Do you find yourself experimenting much with board designs?
This was also part of shutting down the custom orders. When we were so backed up, I felt guilty making myself something new or making a demo. But now that we're (for the most part) caught up, I make a board or two every month for myself with some sort of design tweak.

What materials do you prefer?
I stick with the classic polyester resin polyurethane blanks. 90% of the blanks I shape are from US Blanks I've tried epoxy and others over the years, but it's hard to get away from the traditional method especially with the color and being so used to how they work.

Did you find it challenging getting started in San Diego?
San Diego was tough for sure. It's a small surf community and super tight. Especially coming form Colorado. I was a total kook, and it took a long time to find a place, but I was very respectful and over time I was welcomed with open arms. I am very fortunate to have landed here. It's the epicenter of surfboard design, throughout history of surfing, as well as today.

Do you have any interest in making traditional thrusters?
I don't at all. I've only owned one thruster, and it's a 7'6" Skip Frye K Model. There are guys that make modern performance shortboard thrusters and that's what they do. They make them far better then I could because it's there thing. So I let them stick to it. You can see some of the bigger ...mall brands have tried to get into the alternative market, but they just can't pull it off. You gotta stick to what you know.

How did you and SuperWolf link up?
I was introduced to Alex through Joel Tudor. He had been bugging me for a few years to call Alex and bring him on board, but my factory wasn't quite set up well enough at the time. But once he started working, I was surprised at how good he was. It's one thing to see a board online or in a photo, but when you look at the details, he's next level. He's the best in the world.

What is your work relationship like with Superwolf?
It's great. He's a classic guy, and he loves surfing and surfboards more than anyone I know. Like I said before, the details are what set Alex apart. Every detail is important from the type of glass he uses to the cut. Everything is on point. He's color palette is a bit different than mine... he's more into lighter subtle tones, where I like darker, richer colors. But typically, I'll fill out the order card and then we'll talk about it before he glasses the board, each putting our own input in to get to the final product.

Any advice for someone who wants to get started as a shaper?
The best advice I can give someone who wants to start shaping is ride what you make, sell it, shape another. Over and over. Keep the logos off until you've made 200 or more, and keep them off the internet. If you want long term success, you'll want to build the skill set before you start getting your name out there. The success will come as long as you work hard.
Instagram / @mccallumsurfboards

Interview and photos by Kenny Hurtado