Fletcher Chouinard is a California surfboard shaper who also believes in a sustainable future. He builds high performance boards using the strongest and lightest materials for such riders as Chris and Dan Malloy. Fletcher took some time out to talk with us.
What was it like growing up in California?
Great! Most of my childhood, I split my time between Calidoeni and the Tetons, so I was able to avoid the “June gloom” in the spring and summer. There’s nowhere better than the Central Coast in the fall and winter—the surf, the weather, the relatively close proximity of different climates and activities (like skiing and snowboarding). I wish kiteboarding had existed growing up because it really fills out the surf lifestyle during our long flat spells.
When did you get your first surfboard?
My Pop got me on his Greg Liddle hull eggs pretty early on and got me my own. Maybe when I was 10. My first thruster shortboard was when I was a freshman in high school, a Maurice Cole mini gun. We were in France for a season and my eggs just weren’t working in big winter surf.
What was the feeling you had when you first stood on a surfboard?
I can’t remember the first time but the first open, glassy faced wave was pretty unreal. Suddenly quiet, fast, smooth, moving along like magic. It was like being pulled downhill but sideways—unlike anything I had ever felt for sure.
Who did you look up to and admire when you were a young man?
My Pop has always been my biggest hero/influence. He’s always been a bad ass whether surfing, kayaking (whitewater and big waves), rock climbing, mountaineering, fishing, etc. He’s always been the calm, collected guy on expeditions and in the outdoors that survives things that many of his friends haven’t. He loves trudging uphill for days at a time in some sort of zen trance. I have no desire to follow his lead in many things that he’s always enjoyed. I prefer to let gravity and wind do most of the work, and water landings don’t hurt nearly as much.
What was it like to be the son of someone famous?
I suppose its a little weird. I don’t feel like my family is much different than others. I’ve been lucky enough to travel all over my whole life and get into a lot of outdoor interests. Sometimes I get a little self-conscious when people make a big deal out of my family’s (very minor) celebrity. I’m proud of my parents’ accomplishments in business but, in a way, it’s not that big a deal; any good they do for the planet is really just the way all businesses should conduct themselves.
Of all the interesting places you have traveled to, what place in
particular stands out? And why?
I feel like the more you travel, the more you see that everywhere is the same. There’s a lot of places out there that I enjoy and, even among those, there’s lots of things I don’t like too. Nowhere is perfect. It’s really just about moments in the search.
Where were you educated?
I been to school in VTA, Kelly, Wyoming, Ojai, some home schooling, and a few years at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo for graphic design/photo (from which I dropped out). I hated school.
Explain how the idea for FCD came about.
I was shaping boards already for friends and family, and by word of mouth. My Pop wasn’t all that stoked on the overall durability of the industry standard and I like to pull into closeouts. So we just started exploring alternatives that had the potential to not crap out as quick.
Why do you feel it is necessary to explore alternatives to poly foam blanks?
There are materials that last longer, flex better, float better, are better to work with, don’t pollute as much, and are recyclable. Why not?
What inspires the shapes and designs of the boards that you create?
Many of my designs are point break-inspired, tested and proven; they tend to be really fast down the line. I tend to like a little bit wider and flatter boards than some guys. I go by “with speed you can pull it off” rather than making it crazy loose and by being dependent on the surfer to make their own speed.
Who/what inspires you?
I don’t look in one direction for inspiration really. I learn something every single time I shape a board, go to a shop, feel a rail, ride a wave, read an article. Getting feedback from the Malloys or our other team guys or just watching them surf is pretty huge for my shaping development. Kitesurfing has made a big difference in both my R&D and my surfing. I have so much time on my feet riding rather than paddling around for hours for four seconds of surfing at a time.
What is the greatest thing you have learned in your life?
(Laughs) Oh, man … to swim? Always check the water depth?
Do you have any regrets or wish you had done something differently?
I wish I had apprenticed with and/or ghost-shaped for someone. Both Steve Walden and Dave Parmenter schooled me for a while but it’s been pretty much trial and error since ’95.
What are you most proud of?
Being mainly self-taught at shaping and completely self-taught at kitesurfing.
What meaning does surfing hold for you and how has it changed your life?
Shoot, I dunno. It’s my passion. Everyone has to have one or they’re lost and adrift. Not just a hobby or a job, a passion. The thing that you look forward to doing, that you flake on everything else for and feel fine about. The thing that keeps you from getting whacked out and partying too hard because you want to be able to do it. The first thing you think of when you see a map. What you strive to get better at all the time. I’m sure there’s lots of things that fall into that category for people. I happen to have a better one than folks that don’t surf.
What brings you the most happiness in the world?
Friends, family, getting barreled… sushi?
Who are some of the individuals you feel are shaping the path for surfing today?
Man, there are so many good shapers out there—Eric Arakawa, Al, Rusty, Cole, all great craftsmen. Anyone that’s thinking differently about materials than the norm is rad too (like Greg Loher, Stretch and Sam Cammack).
What is in your current quiver? What is your favorite board?
I have so many surfboards in the rotation. I love surfboards but I often don’t get attached to individual boards these days. They have to make way for the freshies so the learning process can continue.
I try to always have something in the following categories or similar: 5’7″ swallowtail quad 19.75″ x 2.43″ for “fishy” conditions or mush; 5’10″ swallowtail quad 19.5″ x 2.31″ for “down-the-line” drive in super fast point surf or every day fun;5’11″ P.E.K.E or DM3 for good performance reef or beach break; three or four fin 6’4″ KMRP as a “step up” for the above conditions; three fin 6’8″ RP and 7’6″ RP forbig/hollow—everything up to a 9’6″ gun; three fin 9’6″ to 9’9″ thrusters, quads, and widowmakers. Then a million different variations of each one in different widths, thicknesses, fins, etc. They all have their day!
What’s your favorite meal?
Sushi or roast lamb with chimichurri.
What are you currently listening to on your iPod?
Tool, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Pantera, Slayer, Waylon, Hank, Johnny, Janis and Ray Wylie Hubbard.
What causes/projects/organizations do you support?
Surfrider, Sea Shepherd, Restore Hetch Hetchy and many others.
What’s next for Fletcher Chouinard?
I’m going to keep working on quads because I think they’re better than thrusters in many situations and for most people. Hopefully, I’ll get some really big clean waves this winter to test my new guns and, if not, kitesurf some big, ugly conditions. That and not catch the swine flu.
More information about Fletcher Chouinard Designs can be found here. Photography courtesy of Patagonia by Jeff Johnson.