Tucked between North Palm and Delray Beach along the Atlantic Coast, photographer Tony Arruza has reimagined the surfboard – his look like sculptures with sexy lines and curvatures gilded in glass. In our factory-built world, the boards of his Surfboard Art Project embody a distinct and rare thumbprint left from the deft touch of a traditional master shaper. Collaborations with these experts have whisked Arruza all around Florida, from West Palm to Boynton to Melbourne, out to North Carolina’s Outer Banks, downward to Puerto Rico, then across the Pacific to Oahu’s North Shore. As each craftsman works, Arruza shoots the process, then later reflects on each unique collaboration on his blog. Get an inside look on six of his boards here.
“I actually ordered this as a board for myself back in 2010. There was no vision for this project then,” explains Arruza of this 7’ 6” fun shape by West Palm Beach’s Steve Firogenis. As the board was being made, Arruza received an e-mail blast from his printing supplier about a new synthetic textile you could print imagery on, then mount to various objects. He ordered a sample, printed one of his shots of Oahu’s famed North Shore, and had Firogenis install it on the deck. Just like that, the Surfboard Art Project was born.
This 7’ 4” semi-gun by Ricky Carroll of Rockledge, Florida, was the first board that utilized a blue-resin tint job on the bottom to complement the teal tones in Arruza’s image, which depicts a close-up of a lip of a West Palm wave. Carroll also went an extra step and, using resin, painted a golden border around the image (what’s known in the shaping world as a “pinline”), which gave the board a unique halo effect.
Road to Discovery
Of the six images that Arruza e-mailed Cocoa Beach, Florida, shaper Matt Kechele, Kechele chose the most unusual one – a shot of a two-lane road in Christchurch, New Zealand – to mount to this 6’ diamond tail. “I wasn’t surprised that he chose this,” says Arruza. “That’s just [Kechele]. He’s different.” He was also the project’s only artist to take a risk and not do a bordering pinline around the image, which is a natural way to hide any unclean cut lines. “He’s that good; he can cut that straight by hand.”
Legends in the Dark
When Arruza was leaving a surf trade show in Orlando in 2013 with this completed 8’ 6” longboard in hand, surf legend Corky Carroll stopped to tell Arruza how much he loved it. The photographer says the compliment was a testament to North Carolina shaper Jesse Fernandez’s handiwork: “[Fernandez] was able to design a really subtle concave nose, which is harder to do on this shorter-length longboard, to give it that lift [to be able to ride the nose].” Yet certainly Carroll was also impressed by the spectral image on its deck, a black-and-white of a handful of early-’80s North Shore surfers silhouetted against a roiling break.
This is the only “green” surfboard in Arruza’s collection. Made by Providence, Rhode Island’s Kevin Cunningham, the 5’ 6” fish has a recycled EPS foam interior, which is then sandwiched between second-hand shavings of poplar wood veneer. The paulownia wood in the rails and nose and red cedar in the tail are also salvaged. This is a beauty worth riding then, as Arruza explains: “The result is not just a green board but one with maximum flex that is lighter and stronger than conventional polyurethane foam boards.”
Everything about this board speaks to the vintage surf era of the late ’70s and early ’80s. First, it was made by Pat Rawson, a legendary Oahu shaper who got his start in the mid-’60s. Secondly, its style – a single-fin teardrop with turned-down rails and a relatively flat bottom – pays tribute to the popular design of that era and was even forged from an old Clark foam blank (not in production anymore). Lastly, the photo depicts 1984 Pipeline Master Champion Joey Buran in his prime. “It’s definitely authentic,” says Arruza. “[Buran] could be riding this very board that [Rawson] created.”