Over the course of 20 years shaping surfboards, humble St. Augustine board builder Ken White’s rubbed elbows with his share of legends. Aside from working closely with San Diego icon and master of the twin fish, Rich Pavel, while working in Southern California White spent time with Dick Brewer, John Holly, Chris Christenson, Steve Stack, and others. In turn, his skills with the planer blossomed, and, as evidenced by his being crowned the 2016 Surf Expo Shape Off Champion, are as sharp as the heavyweight shapers who’ve played such a pivotal role in helping him hone his craft.
As an extension of our semi-regular Know Your Rights column, contributing photog Luke Kothera trained his lens on White and filed the following interview.
When and how did you start shaping?
I started building surfboards in San Diego, California in the early to mid 90’s. I was working in the glass shops trying to hone all of the skills needed to build a surfboard. In those days it was next to near impossible to become a shaper. I met Rich Pavel and it changed the course of history for me. He shaped me a board and I started hanging out at his shop Choice Shaping Studios in Ocean Beach, CA. He let me hang out and watch both himself and John Holly shape. When Dick Brewer would come to the mainland he would shape at Choice. I just kept my mouth shut and soaked it all in. I would sweep up and fix whatever would break. He took me under his wing and taught me how to shape. Since he took the time to teach, I took the time to take notes. I have a big red folder with everything he told me. Through his knowledge and friendship I have had the opportunity to meet and work with some of the best shapers in the world. That red folder is filled with years of information.
What was the first surfboard you ever made? And what was the best one?
The first board I ever shaped was a short board. It started out with a pointy nose and ended up a more rounded nose. I was trying to hone my planer skills right out of the gate. I was using the planer up in the nose area and blew the nose right off. I was screaming my head off when John Holly came in and was like, “What is wrong?” I showed him and he rounded the nose off and was like, “There you go it’s fixed, now get back to work.” I wish I would have kept it for a souvenir.
The best board I ever made myself was a 5-fin Bonzer. I was first taught how to make Bonzers by Rich Pavel. Later on in life I was lucky enough to learn from the inventors themselves, the Campbell Brothers. Malcolm and Duncan are great guys. I always loved the design, but they showed me why the design works. One experience I had surfing a Bonzer I came in from a session and a friend was there when I got out of the water and he was like “That was you? You were ripping!” They work. Believe me.
What is interesting about shaping for Northeast Florida surf?
There is a variety of surfers in North Florida. It allows me to shape all kinds of different boards. One day I could be shaping a old school log. The next day a High Performance, high density foam stringer, carbon fiber, epoxy short board. The list of types of boards is endless. Not to mention having a friend and team rider like Chris Tincher. Whatever he dreams up we make. Oh yeah and he motivates me to get in the water. Never met a more stoked individual. I feel like there is a tight surf culture in North Florida.
“Know Your Rights” is a semi-regular column featuring profiles of and conversations with local surfers whose love for the ocean fuels their passion, in turn inspiring a deeper connection to the Northeast Florida community and making the RIGHT coast the BEST coast on which to live.