Rozbern Surf is a New Jersey based surfboard building company owned and operated by John Oppito and Kevin Strickland. The company is dedicated to making the highest quality surfboards with a unique, artistic touch. Check out the interview below for a glimpse into John's shaping life which started at age 17 on Rozbern Drive.
How long have you been shaping?
I made my first board around 2004, but it was just a handful of boards for the first couple years. I started taking it a little more serious around 2009.
What got you into it?
I’ve always enjoyed making things and working with my hands, so as I started to get more serious about surfing and I wanted new boards, it was a pretty natural progression. I ordered materials, gathered all the tools I could find, and took over my parents backyard shed on Rozbern Drive. I didn’t have anyone to show me how to shape or glass, so my first board was pretty rough, but I got some waves on it and it was such a rush to ride a board I made.
Did anyone mentor your or are you more self taught?
I’m pretty much self taught. There weren’t a ton of people building boards in the NE when I was getting started, so in the beginning I learned a lot through trial and error. Most of the information I could find was on message boards like Swaylocks. I didn’t post much, but I read through for hours and hours about the boards people were building, their shaping and glassing set ups, what tools they were using, etc. It was such a wealth of knowledge, I did my best to absorb everything I could.
Whats it like building surfboards in an area that gets so cold?
It has its challenges, but its normal for us. The cold can make the resin can take longer to go off, so there are some tricks in the glassing process to make sure the boards are coming out how they’re intended to in terms of strength and weight. I went years without more than a space heater in a garage, so back then finding the motivation to get out there and get started was sometimes a challenge!
What inspires you most about building boards?
There are a ton of things that inspire me about building boards. I am inspired daily by the process of trying to achieve ‘perfection’ in the shape, glass and finish of every board. Each step needs to be cleaner than the last, and I’m still trying to learn new ways to do that. But in the bigger picture, a lot my inspiration comes the problem solving aspect of board design. I love the challenge of trying to match a surfer and their approach/ abilities with the waves they are riding. There are an infinite number of variables, so it’s definitely not easy, but there’s no better feeling when everything aligns and you get that magic board.
Are there any major differences about building boards in North East than anywhere else in the world?
The NE is a pretty difficult place to build boards. For one the climate can be tricky with the hot summers and cold winters. It’s also not a big industry here, so it’s a bit harder to source materials. I used to get jealous of shapers in San Diego that could grab a blank, rent a shaping room for an hour or 2, and then leave it at the glass shop to get finished. But the fact that it wasn’t easy meant you really had to want it.
New Jersey gets pretty heavy in the winter when the waves are good. Are you shaping anything specific for those waves?
I have a couple models geared towards the heavy winter waves we get here in NJ. Its usually not that big, but it gets really heavy for the size. You generally want a board with good paddle power, but still needs to be foiled enough to knife in on the steeper walls. Since the waves have so much curve and are generally pretty fast, smaller boards tend to work best to fit the curve of the drop and allow you to pump inside the barrel. The ‘Hound’ is just that. Its a deign that that Mark Gilmartin, one of NJ’s best tube riders, and I have been working on for the last couple years.
You are the shaper for all Trimcraft surfboards on the East Coast. Can you tell us how that came about?
I’ve shared a glass shop, The Heavens’ with Phil Browne from Glide Surf Co for the past few years. Phil has been bringing Ryan Lovelace out to NJ a couple times a year to shape boards for his shop. When Ryan came up with the idea to start Trimcraft, he asked me if I’d be interested in shaping some. With Phil being the East Coast distributor for Trimcraft, we do everything start to finish for all the East Coast Trimcraft boards through our glass shop.
Favorite model to shape/ride?
Recently, I’ve been having fun trying a bunch of different boards, but in hollow waves my ‘Hound’ has been the go to. If its lined up and playful, the ’S-Curve’ twin fin has been super fun.
Photos by Andrew Fisher and Kevin Strickland