When watching someone work, it’s rare to be able to feel the passion they have for their craft. But for guys like Jim Dunlop, that passion is not merely evident from conversation, it exudes from within them. Jim Dunlop, owner of Mystic Surfboards, has been making boards since 1976 as a hobbyist, but as a professional, Dunlop has been in the custom shaping business for over 16 years. That experience has led the shaping veteran to a victory in the 7th Annual Florida Shape-Off.
The annual January shape-off contest held in Orlando for the semi-annual Surf Expo is an invite-only event that featured three shapers, all from the North Florida area. Each shaper is given the dimensions of a board and put into a shaping room for a maximum time of two hours, utilizing their own tools. After the two hours, each board is judged based on how closely the dimensions match the original concept.
The board chosen for each shaper to replicate was Yancy Spencer III’s “Mind Machine”. Widely considered as the “Father of Gulf Coast Surfing”, Spencer’s 6-foot board was specifically designed for the Gulf’s slow mushy waves. Each contestant is allowed to study as well as take the board into the plexiglass shaping room on the convention floor, where a crowd gathers to watch as each shaper attempts the design.
“You almost feel like an animal in a cage with everyone around you watching. At one point, Mitch [Kaufmann, local surfing icon] came up and smacked the plexiglass as hard as he could to let me know he was there,” Dunlop said. “I made two major mistakes and spent almost 45 minutes trying to correct the rocker. I thought I was screwed on time and almost gave up. But then I just said screw it and decided to go for it, which seemed to ease my mind a bit. What made my board different from the other two was the bladed tail out at the end with a cork-screw twist. It was risky to attempt, but ultimately, I think that’s what helped me win.”
As stated earlier, each shaper that competited were all from North Florida. Dunlop, along with contest runner-up Ken White and Tony Iannarone, have all been in the shaping business for years, which may come as a surprise to those outside of the region, but not to Dunlop.
“North Florida is treated like the red-headed step child in the surfing community. All three of us [shapers] hail from North Florida. This win is the second in three years for someone from the region. It proves you don’t have to go to California to get a decent board anymore. The talent is here,” Dunlop said of the win.
Unfortunately for Dunlop, he won’t be allowed to compete again after winning until the Surf Expo changes their contest rules. “Winners aren’t invited back but I have heard of some talks of having all of the champions face off against each other in the future,” Dunlop said. Because of the win, Dunlop will get a trophy as well as a free booth at the next Surf Expo, which he admits, will most likely be shared with a buddy due to the hassle of manning a booth by oneself.
When asked what this win means for the future of Mystic Surfboards, Dunlop responded with the following:
“I’m a humble guy so it won’t change much. I have over 40 boards in my garage right now that are all used for different functions and there are times I wake up in the middle of the night with new ideas. But after studying old concepts and shaping for so many years, you get to a certain point where you’re just using modern tools to fine-tune your craft for yourself and your customers. What drives me to keep going is seeing the look on a customer’s face after you create their vision.”