Austin Saunders

by Mary Mills on April 13, 2010 · 23 comments

Austin Saunders is an East Coast surfer/shaper who quite simply, builds beautiful surfboards. Entirely self-taught, he started his own business at the age of sixteen – mastering the arts of designing, shaping and glassing. We spoke with Austin to learn more.

What was your life like growing up?
I was the typical beach kid.  I spent the week practicing for football or playing paintball, and spent the weekends on the beach.  I hated school, but my parents expected me to go to college. I lasted almost two years in college working towards a business degree.  School wasn’t for me, but those two years have helped me run my own business.

When did you get your first surfboard?
I got my first surfboard when I was about 12. I borrowed it from my Uncle Greg.  I guess that first experience is what started my journey to building surfboards.  I grew up playing football and I have always been big, and the board I borrowed definitely didn’t fit me.  Even though it was in the 8 to 9 foot range, it was built with “typical” dimensions … and I’m not your typical surfer. In fact, most people these days aren’t typical.

What was the feeling you had when you first stood on a surfboard?
First I was thinking, “Holy crap! I am standing up?”  Then, all I felt was pain as I faceplanted into the beach.  Everyone teaches you how to stand up, but no one teaches you how to stop before you hit the shore.

Who did you look up to and admire when you were a young man?
I have always admired my family.  All of my family members are hard workers.  We never had a lot of money when I was growing up, but they always showed me that if you work hard at what you love, you are paid back in the end.  I guess you could also say I admired James Brown.  I always joked about how he said, “I am the hardest working man in show business”—I consider myself the hardest working man in the surfboard business.  We have that in common.

Who or what first inspired you?
My first inspiration came in the form of a 1968 Hansen Competitor that I purchased when I was 14.  It made me realize that was the type of surfboard that I wanted to build.  It was old, worn and used, but through the little bit of green pigment it still had intact, I could tell that it was something special.  I still have that board today.

How big is the surf scene in Virginia?
Considering how little of a coastline we have, the surf scene is fairly large.  We have noticed the surf scene growing in the 35 year plus age group and a huge upturn in the over-50 crowd.  The great thing is that this works to my advantage.  From the beginning, all my boards were custom.  The 50-plus crowd needs boards built to their exact needs.  You are not going to buy a board off the shelf that works for you when you are new to the sport, on the East Coast and over 50.  If you want something that is going to work for you, on day one it has to be built for you.

What do you think the surf world should know about the surf scene in the South?
We are the most surf stoked people you could find.  We are used to riding a two foot swell with wind chop, but you should see us when it really starts firing.  A lot of times we are counted out because we are on the East Coast, but we have some fantastic surfers (and let me add shapers) who get very little recognition.

You don’t look like the stereotypical surfer and shaper. Is that to your benefit, detriment or makes no difference?
I was definitely was made for football—not for surfing. But take a look at our society.  Most people aren’t your typical 135 pound California surfer types.  I guess being larger than most shapers works to my benefit.  I learned to adapt my boards to fit my needs and I can translate this knowledge to other body styles and body types.

You are unlike many other shapers in that you make traditional surfboards as well as alternative surf craft.  What prompted you to make these other alternative surf craft?

Someone once said that to find out if someone is really worth their salt, you ask them if they are the best in their business.  If they answer “yes”, chances are they’re not.  If they respond by saying that one day they hope to be and that they learn something new each and every day, then that person most likely is the best in their business.  I try to learn something new each and every day.  Even though alaias, paipos, and hand planes aren’t something new, they have long been forgotten.  They have become a lost art and through learning how they were constructed, my knowledge of how all surf craft work deepens.  But the real reason we should give the attention to these alternative surf craft is because they’re just plain fun!  Have you ridden any yet?

What is the greatest thing you have learned in your life?
I guess balance.  Everything in life and surfboards is about balance.

Do you have any regrets or wish you had done something differently?
Everything that I originally considered regret actually worked out in the end. Every challenging experience deepened my knowledge and taught me valuable life lessons.  Actually, I regret trying to eat a whole dozen Krispy Kreme doughnuts on a bet. The first six goes down easy.  No so for the rest.

What are you most proud of?
I think I am most proud that I did this myself.  I never apprenticed under anyone.  I learned shaping from books and videos.  I learned glassing by trial and error.  I only had the help of my family and friends like my dad, Troy, Uncle Joe and friend Rich. I was 16 when I started my business and, since that time, I started and ran two different glassing and shaping facilities.  Just recently, I opened a surf shop that carries the Austin name.  My new shop represents me.  I didn’t want the Wal-Mart mega outlet of surfing.  I wanted a shop that shows tradition and craftsmanship—the way things use to be.  At my new shop, we specialize in boards, not clothing.

What meaning does surfing hold for you and how has it changed your life?
Surfing is my life.  I work seven days a week, roughly 12 hours a day. When I actually get a day off what else would I do? I go surfing.  While I’m surfing, I think about how I could redesign the board to make it a better noserider, turn better or catch waves quicker.

What brings you the most happiness in the world?
Sunny day with chest high, peeling waves.  English Bulldogs.  The “Hot & Now” sign turning on as you drive past Krispy Kreme. A freshly oiled AR-15.  A 51 shoebox Rat Rod. My fiancée Jamie.

What is your favorite board?  What is your favorite surf spot?
My favorite all-time board is my 10 foot Soul Glide.  That board has been magic since day one.  My favorite local surf spot is called Greens because all you see when you look onshore is all the bright green, million dollar manicured lawns.  Where exactly is it?  I will plead the Fifth on that one.  My favorite non-local spot is Infinities in Kauai, Hawaii.  It has an awesome left that goes on for miles.  Friendly people (if you are respectful), warm waters and warm air temps.  What more could you want?

What are you currently listening to on your iPod?
Too $hort, Mikey Avalon, Sublime, James Brown, TI, Rage Against the Machine, Anti-Flag.  It’s a given that Too $hort will be blasting when some Soccer Mom with her 8 year old kid comes walking through the factory.  You should see the people diving for the volume control.

What causes or organization do you support?
We are a big supporter of the March of Dimes.  We have been a main sponsor for their contest for the last seven years.  We also support our local chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, many other local charities, and some schools that I sponsor.

What are you most grateful for?
My incredible good looks and my winning personality!

What is next for Austin Saunders?
On the home front, I am getting married in June to Jamie … and, yes, she surfs. In business, I plan to run full steam with the Austin Surf Shop.  It is a traditional surf shop with boards and board supplies.  We have a new model coming out that reeks with tradition.  It is called the “.51”.  It starts with a high density foam blank, custom paulownia or balsa stringers, super heavy volan glass work, all gloss pigment resin work, custom glassed on pivot fin and traditional wood tail block.  The only thing we aren’t doing with the .51 is pouring the foam blank.  Everything else is made right here at the factory.  We also have a new website coming out that shows all our custom wood boards like the balsa and paulownia customs, the alaias, wood paipos and hand planes.

Find out more about Austin Sauders and his surfboards here.


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{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

gene cooper April 13, 2010 at 9:27 am

It’s great to see Austin here and read his interview. A hard workin’ surfboard buildin’ southern gentleman. Great work!

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joe green April 13, 2010 at 5:38 pm

Love seeing the bigger guy having a good time and doing what he loves. Killer looking boards

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Jamie April 13, 2010 at 6:14 pm

Great interview. Austin is a great guy and a hell of a young East Coast shaper.

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Chris Barton April 13, 2010 at 10:40 pm

I live in San Diego, CA. My favorite ride is an Austin. It’s held up at WindanSea, Trestles, Baja and of course Swamis. Skip Frye has complimented on my board, even. Everyone out here loves the classic lines, and especially the nose and tail block. And Austin is a great man. He really is a hell of a guy.

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Scott Emerson, Richmond April 14, 2010 at 3:01 am

Super interview, Austin. So glad to see you gettin it done. Man, you ve come along way in these couple of years ! You work hard and play hard, and all that will pay off in the end. Never compromise and stay true to what you do and believe in, and it will happen for you. Best of luck and keep up the super work! I’m a big fan, and the boards are looking good!

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Dave S. April 14, 2010 at 5:20 am

Austin is one of the most modest, humble people you will ever meet. His work speaks for itself. As an owner of 3 of his creations I can attest to the craftsmanship that goes into all his boards.

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Mike M. April 14, 2010 at 6:24 am

Good to see Austin getting more much deserved credit for the very fine work he does. His take on the surfboard market for us older East Coast surfers is spot on, and he has the talent to make that ideal custom board a reality. Those of you shopping for a new ride should go see him at his shop. Keep up the good work Austin!

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Todd S. April 15, 2010 at 9:17 am

Austin is truly a craftsman and artist, my 1st Austin is a 9’6″ Soul Glide that from day one became my go to board. He just gets it and makes it work and he and his team are great people and just get it done right. Well done Austin – You are definitely on top of your game!

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O.E. April 16, 2010 at 7:46 am

Great article, and an awesome shaper with a boat load of creativity and skill. I am the proud owner of several Austin creations, and consider him a good friend. Congrats Austin, keep innovating you are raising the bar!

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Joe Coco April 16, 2010 at 9:39 am

It is extremely impressive what Austin has done, and is doing! Austin is a welcoming and friendly dude who oozes passion for surfing and shaping. He gets it….and he gets it right!!! Go Austin!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Austin graciously took a few minutes out of his busy schedule one morning to personally show my buddy Mike and me around his facility in Virginia Beach, VA. WOW, a huge highlight for me!

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Mike G in Arlington, VA April 16, 2010 at 10:00 am

Very well-put-together article on a unique guy in the surfboard biz. I’ve visited his factory & his retail shop. Austin is unstinting with his time, he’ll talk surfing or cars or whatever with a visitor – - he’s a throwback, in many ways & that’s in the best terms. Meaning, class, positive attitude, listens then speaks, friendly, just one of those good guys you encounter all-too-little these days. Talk about the soul of the surf? Go see Austin & buy one of his awesome performance, gorgeous boards.

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Tony Sarquilla April 17, 2010 at 8:46 am

God, it is amazing to experience someone that is so genuine, his boards speak for themselves and he is truly a unique person. “My Austin’s are priceless” 8’6 Bonzer complete custom, (glassed in vintage 1945 WWII Joker cards tail block), 9‘6 Soul Glide (swirls in the tail, deck patch for knee paddling, built-in scag), 8’ Alaia (plus “scale model” so, it’s always with me). Try his 9’6 Soul Glade at Scripps, La Jolla and South Garbage- “incredible” for an East Coast shaper. Austin makes an “intense California Board.”

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Parker Neff April 19, 2010 at 8:21 am

Glad to see Austin get some credit!! He builds works of art that are awesome to surf. I have more then a few and have trouble parting with any of them!!……….. The world is starting to notice his skill!

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Dusty Gabel April 20, 2010 at 3:33 am

I have watched Austin learn the craft from start to finish. He is an inspiration to many, a good- hearted business man (who knew they still existed), who takes the time to know and teach the customer and always meets their specific needs. If he can teach me to surf, he can help anyone! Kudos for the recognition you deserve!

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James Jack April 20, 2010 at 8:31 pm

Having had the pleasure to meet Austin and purchase one of his boards, I was thoroughly impressed by his genuine passion for surfing and willingness to share his knowledge and experience with everyone. Austin is a great guy–well deserving of this recognition!

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Rob April 27, 2010 at 6:01 am

Good interview. As the foregoing attest, Austin not only builds great boards but runs a sound business. It is a family affair in the best sense of the word and is unique in that it is really a board business that has not sidetracked into clothes and other ancillaries.
The shop and the new factory are great, comfortable places, reminiscent of old-school board shops. Good places to hang out and talk surfing (and hot rods). One of the “older guys”, I have a custom 10′ ‘hang glyder’ with deck patch, glassed on Malibu fin and unique wood and resin nose&tail blocks. It catches any ripple, handles decent size, and is a great noserider-even when I’m doing it….gets lots of compliments in the water.

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Rich Corbin April 30, 2010 at 9:17 pm

great article. showing the south east some love. austin makes some beautiful boards. there are only a few east coast guys focused on making really good longboards, i’m glad to see this up here. keep it up!

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Ryan Nolan May 3, 2010 at 12:48 pm

Stand up guys, traditional craftsmanship & kick ass surfboards!!
The Virginia surf community is made proud!!

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Bucky Goo May 6, 2010 at 3:02 pm

Unreal workmanship. I just re-started glassing boards, something I have not done since the 60′s, so I am re-discovering my god given abilities and the satisfaction that goes with that. I surfed Infinities last summer, nuff said. Aloha.

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Chris May 9, 2010 at 5:13 am

I want one!!

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SAM May 11, 2010 at 6:00 pm

i will be more then willing to use my well oiled ar-15 to protect anyone of my austin boards this dude makes the best fish a longboarder could ask for
10 soul glide
6’7″ retro fish
7’6″ bandit

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Brandon May 28, 2010 at 8:21 pm

Glad to hear you’re still diggin’ on your Soul Glide, Austin… remember when we were shooting IM’s back and forth trying to come up with a name for it?!… STOKED!!!!

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Rob Beedie September 27, 2011 at 1:49 pm

Austin & his business is a very honest and refreshing addition to the surf community.

Whenever I think of the word – QUALITY – I always think of Austin and his handcrafted surfboards that are certainly second to none.

His Surf Shop is the ‘REAL DEAL’!

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