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Stories From and About Women

Shaper Shannon ,
By Catou MacKinnon

This article was published in Wahine Magazine in 1998, volume 4, number 2.

Like all surfboard shapers, Shannon Payne-McIntyre starts each creation with a perfect blank. But being practically the only female shaper anyone can name, she comes to the job with a different kind of blank slate. She'll tell you lack of precedence tends to open doors, rather than keep them closed.

"I think being a girl has helped me, definitely," says Shannon, 23, who shaped her first board less than two years ago. She has a thriving customer base of females just embarking on a surfing life, who want her boards. They trust her instincts, as shaping is roughly one part wizardry, two parts instinct and more than a dash of knowledge - the secret formula passed down from shaper to shaper. Along the line, she got her hands on some of that knowledge, with the help of Shayne, her husband and best teacher (who learned his craft under the tutelage of masters like Chris Ruddy, Tim Beselle and Adam Gillespie).

A former art student, Shannon found shaping to be a perfect pursuit, given her love of surfing, and desire to create things. She and Shayne, also 23, now have a thriving shaping business in San Diego, near her hometown of Santee. "We make functional art," Shannon says. It was predestined: on their first date, they went surfing.

Shannon's basic order is for a funboard, between 6'8" and 8'. She recently filled an order for a 14-year-old girl, also named Shannon, living in Chicago, who wanted to take it out on the fickle windblown waves of Lake Michigan. "It was a birthday present from her father. The board needed to have more dome in the deck to be more buoyant in the fresh water (a physics thing), with more flip in the nose," for those quick shorebreak waves. "I painted an angel on the deck and a devil girl near the bottom. She loved it!" She built a board for Malia Jones - a 5'11" superlight snappy shape less than 2 inches thick. She has customers from age 9 to their 40s and older, with a growing male clientele.

In the shaping bay, Shannon turns the dusty old radio way up high. This is her private domain; part of the shapers' mystique is the secrecy of their craft. With goggles and mask tethered firmly to her head, a current of long hair channeled into ponytails, she sets about her work. First she blocks out the foam "blank" and cuts it with a saw. Then she skins it out with a planer, until she gets the thickness she wants. She draws the shape using a template, like a sewing pattern, plotting the board's center, nose and tail widths, and cuts it down to size. Taking up the planer again, she takes down the nose and tail from the underside, defining the board's rocker and concave, and sands it down sensitively. Sometimes she takes a dance break. "I'm always afraid someone will walk in on me when I'm doing hip hop," she laughs. She admits it's a strange environment: tiny windowless room, irregular light, toxic dust. But meditative. "I pray a lot," she says, and admits she finds answers in the shaping bay.

Then she sands the deck, and turns the rails with a screen used in making drywall (in fact, all of her tools can be bought at the mega-hardware store). She plots out where the fins will go, a job that will be finished by the guy who will glass the board. Then she fine tunes the board - sanding it carefully to get rid of all bumps and other aberrations. She uses parallel fluorescent lights to throw shadow on the board's surface, to check for bad spots. Then she signs it.

Often, she paints the boards in bright wahine imagery: mermaids, floral patterns, hula girls, scenes of the ocean - "anything where I get to use a lot of color," she says. Her logo is a mermaid, and at second glance you notice the "S" (for Shannon) in the mermaid's tail. Women's boards have more style and individuality, she thinks. "It's your wave-tool, you super-fun tool. I get a lot more attached to my surfboards, keep them longer than Shayne. I think guys have a quick turnover of boards."

A good shaper is a combination artist and technician, says Shannon. Anyone can learn the basics of shaping, but the true craftsperson is rare. Shannon acknowledges sister-shaper Miranda Pitts of Santa Cruz, who has apprenticed under Johnny Rice. She says like Miranda, the individual has to pursue her teachers if she wants to learn to be a shaper. "No one is going to bend over backwards to teach you," she says.

"If I'm the only girl around that's doing this, then there is definitely something wrong, with all the hundreds of guys out there shaping. I'm looking forward to the day when things are more balanced."

Shannon Boards can be ordered through SheGear. To contact Shannon Surfboard call 619-221-8032.

Wahine Magazine in 1998, volume 4, number 2.

For more information on Wahine Magazine, you can reach them at 562-434-9444 or check out their web site at


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