Q+A: Bob Mitsven     

Interview and photography by Ivan Feerman

Bob Mitsven is one of my shaper heroes. He’s a very nice, soulful, reserved surfer that is always welcoming. He is an outstanding shaper and all of his boards are handmade with minimal machinery applied. – Ivan Feerman

How long have you been shaping?
Since 1973.

Are you a San Diego native?

Your family as well?
My wife? She’s from South Dakota.

And your parents? Where were they originally from?
My dad is from Iowa and my mom was from Chicago.  

You must have seen San Diego back when there wasn’t much.
It was unreal.

Where is your favorite surf spot?

I know it’s a hard question.  I guess the one you frequent the most.
I go everywhere. I go to North County, I go to Mission Beach, I go to La Jolla. I go where it’s breaking. I go everywhere, man.   

What and who inspires you?
To build surfboards?

Yeah, and in general I guess.
I don’t like the way that surfboards… hold on, I need to sweep this up. I like the way boards look. I just dug surfing, so I just started making surfboards in the back yard, you know?

So was there anyone that you looked up to?  
There are a lot of good shapers here. Skip, Hank Warner, Bill Caster. San Diego has a really good pool of board builders that make really nice boards. Some of the best boards in the world are made here.  

Where is your ideal surf destination?
Oh I don’t know. I’ve done Indonesia, Mexico, Hawaii.

Tacos, hot dogs or burgers?
Beef tacos.

And music?  You seem like a more quiet kinda guy.
Yeah I’m more quiet. I like different kinds of music. I like some older rock. Country music.  

Like Elvis?
Yeah, I mean, some of those from that era. It’s not like I’m riveted to any of it.  

Johnny Cash?
Oh yeah. Johnny Cash was rad.  

Hank Williams?
Yeah, a pioneer.  

Chuck Berry?
Yup, yup.   

What is your favorite surfboard to shape?
Uhhhm. I kinda do ‘em all ya know.  It just depends. I do a lot of custom boards.  

Yeah, that’s really cool.  
I get into doing them all, cause they’re all different, so it’s not boring. I like to do all of them. But I like to do a batch of short boards, or a batch of fishes. Like the Mollusk Shop, they order little single fin eggs, mini simmons, quad fishes and mini-gliders.   

Mini gliders?  By that you mean like the ones that go up to 12ft?

I bet those are a lot of fun to surf.  They’re single fins right?
Yeah, they can be either singles or 2 + 1’s.

Any piece of knowledge that you would like to pass on as a shaper?
Yeah, if you’re going to be a shaper, learn to shape and do a good job.

Don’t half-ass it you mean?
Yeah. Don’t go on social media and post a bunch of pictures, learn to shape. Some of these guys, they blow up on social media, but they never really learn how to shape. That’s what I would pass onto someone who wants to shape good surfboards that work. Because then people start riding your boards and if you never learned, your boards aren’t going to work that good.  You’ve got to be consistent in what you do. It can’t just be an accident when a board works. You’ve got to be predictable. That’s what I would like to pass on.  

So a board doesn’t act different every time you use it.
Yeah, say you get a quad-fish from a guy and then you go get another one and it’s completely different.  

That’s what I appreciate from hand shaped boards.  
Yeah, you’ve got to keep records, systems. You’ve got to have all of those things. Rockers. Measuring. Notes of what you did. Things like that. Simple, basic things. So that you know what’s going on all of the time. Hold on….(pauses while he measures a fish he’s working on).   

Any news or future updates?
Not really, not right now.  

Contributor Ivan Feerman is a freelance writer and photographer.