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“They come out best when you shape ‘em fast,” Luke Studer tells me with a convincing nod. The board is 5’7” — whipped out in a fluid 30 minutes for his team rider Dede Suryana, Indo’s only hope on the World Tour. Studer is already starting another board. I think he wants to go surfing today. I don’t blame him. The waves are good. They’re always good.
Back in Huntington Beach, CA — where he grew up influenced by upperclassman like the Turner brothers and Travis Potter — Studer used to spend his off-season months pumping out production boards for the bigger labels just to save up cash for his annual Indo trips. Like his influences, Luke’s a certified, card-carrying tube junkie: addicted to unnameable outer island reef passes with brutal consequences and life-retarding experiences. (He once asked if he should enter an Innersection with just one wave — a single barrel shot.)
Eventually he thought, “Maybe I should just stay.” Or maybe it was the local girl he knocked up who thought that for him…I forgot to ask the details. Either way, he stayed. He shaped. And he shaped some more. Luke doesn’t go back to Huntington Beach much. Instead, he’s living his dream in a busted warehouse outside Denpasar. Shaping. Surfing. Building a label, a team, even his own “surfboards only” surf shop in an age when such things seem the sole property of major shapers and conglomerated octo-shapers.
Like the uprooted culture he’s part of, Studer’s boards are a celebratory fusion of everything we’ve learned. Modern shortboards. Tuberiders. Step-downs. He’s not reinventing the wheel. He’s trying to wow the hype-sters with the Next Big Thing. He’s simply building good surfboards for people surfing good waves. Here in Indo, nobody’s jumping off their SUP foot-strapped alaia because they’re bored of getting barreled. When the waves are good, people don’t think like that. They just go surfing.
The foam dust is still settling and a fresh blank is already running through the shaping machine when Luke sits down for a moment’s conversation:
SURFING: Is it easier to be a shaper in Bali than back in the center of the universe?
Luke Studer: Obviously. It’s less competitive here. The waves are better. More people are coming through. More people are breaking boards. Back in the US and Australia you’re just a small fish in a big pond. All the big names just dominate: Rusty, Merrick, …Lost, that’s all people want to buy.
Do you think those big labels’ reputations are justified?
Of course. Those guys have been at it the longest. They deserve it. They designed the modern shortboard. And the stuff Merrick is doing these days in terms of R&D with Burton, that’s on another level. They’ll probably change the game. I just make surfboards.
Oh, has Merrick done something with all that?
No. But it will.
Do you ever feel you need to hide the secrets of shaping from the locals for fear of them breaking away on their own?
Not really. At the end of the day, surfers generally want to buy boards from surfers. People don’t want boards from people who don’t surf. We saw that with the China boards. Maybe it’s okay for beginners and stuff, but they’re not really selling to real surfers. There are a few Indo shapers out there doing good boards, but most Western surfers tend to buy boards from Western shapers.
Do you have a proudest shaping moment?
I’m just happy being where I am right now. I’ve come a long way in the last four years — from making five boards a month to making 50 boards a month. Now I’m about to open my own shop. So, that’s all pretty huge for me.
The board is finishing in the machine, but Luke just leaves it for later. He blasts the foam from his shirt and sandals and excuses himself to check the surf. He’s a busy man. —Nathan Myers