At 17, Gen Asano sat on his family’s townhouse lanai and thought about surfing—more specifically, boards. Originally from California, Gen had moved to Oahu with his mom a few years earlier and loved being in the water, surfing nearly every day with his hanai ohana, the Moniz family. Unlike his friends who procured new boards regularly, Gen made do with older, hand-me-downs. He would often marvel at his friends’ good fortune—their new boards were beautiful and felt so good. And with that thought in mind, Gen unknowingly took a first step on the path Fate had laid out: He would shape a board for himself.
For someone with no experience or guidance, shaping a board from scratch can be an almost Sisyphean task. Gen’s quiet determination worked in his favor. With money saved up from working at the Moniz’s Surf School, Gen bought tools and materials and set up a makeshift workshop under the house. YouTube videos became a handy resource. It took forever to make, says Gen, looking back at the experience. The young craftsman employed a steak knife to cut the board’s outline; a low model vibrating sander smoothed the foam down. After working nonstop for what seemed like days, Gen emerged from his workshop, triumphant: He had shaped his first board. Soon after, he eagerly made way to trial the board on a test run in decent 5 to 6 foot surf at Off the Walls.
The verdict? It was the worst board I had ever ridden, Gen laughs. Oh, and it broke that day too.
Today 20-year-old Gen is part of the new generation of young shapers honing their craft. A fortuitous introduction by his Aunty Tammy (Moniz) led to Gen’s current gig at the Tokoro warehouse. When reminded of the story of Gen’s first shaping attempt, shaper extraordinaire Wade Tokoro chuckles about the steak knife bit. “When I heard about how he shaped his first board, that showed something about him,” says Wade. “He reminded me of how me and Kerry first got started.” For the past two years, Wade and brother Kerry have been mentoring Gen through the in’s and out’s of the shaping world, noting Gen’s work ethic, attention to detail, and ability to observe and learn. “He’s old school,” says Wade.
The ‘old school’ mantle suits Gen well, albeit ironically. In a generation where instant gratification and self-glorification is par for the course—Gen stands out from the crowd: He’s reserved. Humble. The anti-thesis to self promotion. As his shaping reputation steadily builds, Gen speaks admiringly of role models like the Tokoro brothers, Eric Arakawa, and others who have paved the way both in the craft’s artistry and viability as a career option for younger shapers like him. While a shot at commercial success would be welcomed, Gen appreciates the deeper, shibumi sort of fulfillment he gleans from creating a beautiful, well-made board. Plus, shares Gen, “There’s no better feeling than having someone ride your board and tell you ‘Wow, that board is good.’”
Though first and foremost a surfer, Gen has found a twin passion in shaping, and if the current buzz surrounding him is any indication, we’ll be hearing more and more of him, both in and out of the water. Freesurf recently caught up with Gen to get his take on the shaping industry—what excites him, who inspires him and what’s on the horizon for 2015.
What’s your favorite type of board to shape?
I honestly like to shape anything, but regular, standard shortboards tend to be my favorite.
Who do you typically shape for?
I usually shape for myself and friends… and friends’ friends. Family and friends like the Moniz’s, the Yamakawa’s, the Brand’s, Kaito Kino… so many have supported me 100%.
Who in the board building industry do you look up to most?
I definitely look up to Wade and Kerry Tokoro. They don’t just teach me how to shape; I learn things like how to treat customers, how to work in a business, how to handle challenges, etc.
What are your thoughts on hand shaped vs machine cut boards?
When you see the boards of Wade and Kerry, Eric Arakawa, Al Merrick, Matt Biolis, Jon Pyzel and the other ‘greats’, you know they worked hard to get where they are now, shaping thousands of boards before the machine became available. Nowadays most guys use the machine. Some call that cheating but it’s not. The shapers who use machines have probably hand shaped for the majority of their careers. Shapers put time into designing their board models and the machine make the shaper’s life easier by doing the cut. Once it’s out, the shaper finishes the board, fine-tuning every part.
Who is the best surfer out there?
John John Florence. He rides a Pyzel. Pyzel has been shaping for John for a long time so they can communicate well. Feedback is important to a shaper so that they improve on every board they shape and try out new designs.
What’s on the horizon for 2015? Any advice for someone interested in shaping?
Building boards is a love-what-you-do-do-what-you-love kind of thing—a passion that comes from the heart. You have to put a lot of pride into the equipment. Making a living off of shaping is really hard, but I like to see people happy with my boards. Besides, anything you’re doing can be hard. But as long as you work hard and you really want it, I guarantee you will end up doing what you want to do. For me, doing what you love is the key to life.