Landing in Venice Beach, Los Angeles from Hawaii in the 50’s, 68-year-old surfboard shaper Guy Okazaki is still a household name and remains in Venice refining his craft and surfing local waves on a daily basis. The shaper’s clientele remains the more serious surfers, paying a higher price for a high-quality surfboard all made from eco-friendly materials with superior performance.
BEYOND THE TERMS “SHAPING” AND “DESIGN”, HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE WHAT YOU DO?
I would add ”create”. Shaping can be rote and design does not quite go far enough. I try to move forward, to add new elements to my designs. And adapting to the changing conditions of the sea, i.e. seasons, weather.
IS THERE A PARTICULAR PHILOSOPHY THAT GUIDES YOUR WORK?
Yes, very simply, I strive to make THE fastest board in the water. If I can also engineer in maneuverability then great. My theory of making the fastest board possible is if you have speed you can create any number of maneuvers on a wave.
DO YOU REMEMBER THE FIRST BOARD YOU SHAPED?
No, only vaguely. It would have been at Dewey Weber Surfboards when I was about 15. I remember it worked amazingly. I didn’t get to ride it much because my friends loved it. They borrowed it so much it became a neighborhood board and never came home one day. I have no idea whatever happened to it.
HOW DID YOU FIGURE OUT WHERE TO GO FROM THERE?
I realized I needed to shape two, which turned into five and lead me onto this path.
WHAT HAVE BEEN SOME OF THE CHALLENGES ALONG THE WAY?
The normal small business startup challenges: finding space, finance, and help in every manner and order.
The world has evolved into a material mindset. We thought less about money when I started. We just wanted to surf and improve the craft. Today the conversation is sponsorship and how do we monetize our brand.
HAS YOUR PERCEPTION OF THE INDUSTRY CHANGED SINCE YOU ENTERED IT?
The world has evolved into a material mindset. We thought less about money when I started. We just wanted to surf and improve the craft. Today the conversation is sponsorship and how do we monetize our brand. Luckily, it seems that my initial philosophy has worked out. All these things were all passed down from my parent’s generation: you do something you love, you make it your own and the rest plays out. Not to say that the business’ success was immediate. If it were a 2-3 year business plan it wouldn’t have worked but over 20-30 years in the industry has served me well.
SO THERE WAS A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN YOUR GOALS EARLY ON AND CURRENT ONES?
The world does try to change me but my goal remains the same, it seems to work, creating fast and loose boards, doing the best I can and surfing as much as possible.
Every day I try to give more back to the community. I recently started coaching surfing Jr. High and High schools from the entire area as a volunteer and the kids donate from their hearts to the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank. I’ve always been conscious about food issues. There is so much hunger in Venice, in the world and it’s an ongoing battle. It really resonates with me. I grew up when Venice was a very poor community and I remember my mom and dad both being very moved by the poverty. My mother would pack me a whole loaf of sandwiches to take to school to share with some of my classmates who did not have food. It still chokes me up.
My wife and I are also very politically active. We realized that signing checks wasn’t working. We regularly attend and speak at our local community meetings as well as campaign for city council and proposition races.