Kevin Cunningham is the owner/shaper of Spirare Surfboards, located in the Northeast part of the country. Kevin creates boards that are made with a conscientious approach to both the surfboard as a functional device and to sustainable design, and he describes his work as functional art. We spoke to Kevin to learn more.
Tell us a little about yourself. What is your background?
I was born in Baltimore and spent summers growing up in Ocean City Maryland. I moved to Rhode Island to attend the Rhode Island School of Design in 2000. I started shaping boards while I was still a student in 2002 and was hooked on the experience of shaping and riding my own boards. I kept shaping more and more boards for myself and eventually friends were asking for them too. I was turned off by the negative environmental aspects of the polyurethane foam and resin though. I began to look for more sustainable means to shape boards while maintaining a high performance standard, and being an artist the aesthetics of the boards is important to me too.
What inspired you to begin Sprirare? What does the name mean? What makes them unique?
I shaped my first board in my living room and glassed it in the basement of the apartment I was living in at the time. I knew right away the polyurethane foam and polyester resin were not healthy for the people working with them or the environment. I read an article written by Miki Dora proposing a contest in which the surfers were required to ride natural sustainable surfboards. I thought about that idea a lot, ‘how can you make a sustainable surfboard that performs as good or better than conventional PU foam’? I developed a design that utilized the performance flex characteristics of wood while having a finished weight similar to a PU foam board. I came up with two designs; the first is all wood and utilizes a lightweight honeycomb core, the other utilizes a recycle EPS foam core that is ultra light and flexible. Both the wood honeycomb and recycled EPS are skinned with a wood top and bottom and have parabolic wood rails. The boards have amazing flex and spring back from the wood rails. The board loads up with energy when you go into a turn and releases when you come out of it; PU foam doesn’t spring back like wood.
The name Spirare is Latin, it’s the root word for ‘spirit’ and means ‘to breathe, life, the soul’; I take a soulful approach to shaping and want to breath new life into the surf industry.
What are some of the challenges of making your boards?
The main challenge I face now is keeping up with orders. The Wood with Recycled EPS boards are the most popular and they take a bit longer to shape than conventional PU foam. I can only shape about 3 or 4 a week. I am constantly trying to improve on designs too, either refining a shape or finding a way to take out a few more ounces of weight.
What shapers do you look up to? What inspires you?
I admire the work of Jim Phillips a lot. He is an amazing craftsman with wood and foam. I can be inspired by just about anything; I draw a lot of inspiration from art and nature. I quick stroll through the museum and my mind is buzzing with ideas. The same goes for seeing intrinsic patterns in nature. Could be in the forest or in the ocean, there is a lot of beauty out there.
Who is riding your boards?
People all over really. I shape a lot for people in the northeast but also ship a lot out to the west coast. I’ve been shaping some boards for Carissa Moore and Tom Carroll lately. Kai Barger also did some testing in Indo on one of my shapes.
What do you love about shaping? About surfing?
I love that I have been shaping for almost 10 years and I haven’t gotten bored of it. Not once have I walked into the shop and thought “I really don’t feel like shaping today’. I shape mostly customs so every board is a little different. Plus working with wood is very satisfying; the grain pattern on every board is unique. Surfing is my way to clear my head and reboot so to speak. One good wave and all my worries just disappear.
What’s next for Kevin Cunningham and Spirare?
I’ve been working with reclaimed found marine debris lately. I am currently using fishing nets and lines that wash up on the beach to make fins and accessories. It’s amazing how much trash you can find on the beach when you start to look for it. I hope to develop more uses for this material in the coming months too. Other than that I’m going to keep shaping as many boards as I can and push the performance of my shapes as far as possible.
Find out more about Kevin Cunningham and Spirare here.