By Jennifer Hunt and Tomoko Okazaki Principle Images by Julia Schweiger
Harold Iggy stands tall and straight. He walks very lightly on his feet, and when he talks about shaping his eyes light up with passion. You would never guess his age.
Harold has played a very important role throughout the history of surfing and board building. His shaping career spans over 50 years, from carving foam for countless greats—surfers like Nat Young, Lynn Boyer and Bobby Owens—to shaping for top windsurfing companies like Mistral and Naish. Harold is a legend who is still shaping strong.
Besides board shaping, Harold is the core member of local chargers at the infamous Backyards, one of Oahu’s heaviest wavesailing spots. He is also fully active in surfing, standup paddling and paddle races. You would never guess all of this from his humble presence and quiet manner, though.
Harold seems very comfortable with where he is in life. He doesn’t seem to care about what he has accomplished in the past, but instead is focused on where things are going in the future. He is living proof of how a person can have a balanced life—staying healthy and young-at-heart—and still work hard. His secret is that he works hard at something he loves.
We had the opportunity to visit Harold at his home in Pupukea, on Oahu’s North Shore. His cedar-wood home is welcoming and cozy. He and his wife Susan, of 45 years, have imbued their home with a collection of good memories—and everything looks like it is in its right place. When I mention that it looks more like a log cabin, or something you would find in a ski town, Harold laughs and says:
“Actually it is a log cabin. This was the least expensive housing we could find when we moved here. It was a kit that you could buy to build your own log cabin. We bought this property and didn’t have much money left, so we got this kit and started building, and then after awhile we would build some addition to the house—renovate here and there. Right now we are working on turning this porch into a bigger kitchen.”
“I was born in 1941,” says Harold. “I grew up in Kapahulu by the zoo, with a big family. We used to go to The Wall a lot so I learned to surf very early—well, I mean surfing like bodysurfing and paipo boarding.” He goes on to say:
“My first board was this redwood about seven foot, that my neighbor had. It was a very heavy, old-style board. I was about in the fourth grade. It has a funny story: All my sisters still give me a hard time about this—but one year they all chipped in money to get me a knife as a Christmas present. I traded that knife for this board—my first exchange type of thing. They were all kind of mad, and to this day still bring it up. But all my life, shaping boards has been the only job I have ever done, except for delivering newspapers for a brief period when I was in school. So my sisters should be proud of being part of getting me the surfboard that destined my life. That exchange was kind of a critical moment for my life.”
Harold started surfing and hanging out with other surfers in Waikiki. He began learning to shape boards while still in school because, according to Harold, “When you were young, money was hard to come by, and boards cost between 60 and 70 dollars.”
Harold graduated from Kaimuki High School in 1960, one of about four surfers in his entire school. At the time, surfing was mainly happening in Hawaii and California. All the big name surf companies came to Hawaii to surf and promote their products. Harold made connections and received offers to work in California shaping boards—even before he graduated.
It seemed like a good opportunity for an island boy like Harold to see the mainland. Besides, many great surfers who moved to Hawaii kept telling him about all the point breaks and perfect, peeling glassy waves in California. He wanted to check out the surf. Harold describes his move:
“I moved to California and started working for Greg Noll. He was very influential at that time, and many guys in Makaha were using his boards. Makaha was the center of the surfing world then. The North Shore was there—people knew about it too—but it was not that popular and was just starting to be explored. Only a few people were riding there because the waves were too fast and heavy for most surfers and the boards they were riding. All the contests were held in Makaha.
For me, going to California was a good move. I knew I had a job and I knew people already. The biggest challenge was the cold. Back then the only thing we had was something called a diving suit, with a beaver tail. And all the good surfers were against wetsuits for some reason. If you saw someone with a wetsuit, you would go, “Oh he can’t be that good, he has a wetsuit on.”
“Things have changed since then,” says Harold. “O’neill came out with a beautiful suit and it was all over.”
At this time, Greg Noll was still making balsa boards; he was in the process of changing from balsa to foam boards. Harold worked for Greg for about six to eight months, and earned two dollars and forty-five cents an hour.
Many of the good shapers were working for Velzy and they were getting paid by the piece. “Yater was one of the leading shapers, and getting paid twelve dollars a board,” says Harold. “So when they offered me a job for five dollars a board, I was like, ‘Oh yeah!’ I was very, very stoked—so I went to San Clemente to work for Velzy.”
He started surfing Trestles and other spots, and got to meet many people, including shaper Dewey Weber, who he worked for for nine years. Here, surfing was part of the work. He would go surfing often—experimenting with boards and other riders—to see what worked and what didn’t. Harold explains:
“No one was just a shaper. We were all surfers and shapers at the same time. This made me more interested in surfing itself. We used to feed off each other and were getting ideas for shaping too. Shaping was an ideal job because you had the flexibility of being able to leave to go surf if the waves were good. We also used to enjoy surf safaris—driving up to places like Malibu and sleeping on the beach and surfing. The surf culture wasn’t established yet, so we were actually considered bums by the general public.
Harold began working for Dewey Weber in his Venice shop, and later, at the Weber shop on the Pacific Coast Highway. Dewey Weber Surf Shop was one of the biggest, most publicized surf shops of the era. It was at the center of the surfing craze—surf movies, surf music, droves of teenagers heading to the beach to enjoy the sport. Nat Young was the top rider at this time, team-riding for Weber for three years.
At Dewey’s shop, they had a leveling machine for shaping that was simple and effective, and could produce 40–50 boards a day. “The machine could cut the deck, and the profile came out,” says Harold. “I finished each and every board with templates. I hand-finished each Weber board.”
It was around this time that Harold met his wife-to-be, Susan. At the time, Harold and Dewey were housemates, and when they had get-togethers sometimes Susan would come. Later, when Susan and Harold were married, Dewey was their best man. They settled in a place of their own in Hermosa Beach, and started a family.
When Weber moved his main factory from Marina del Rey to Gardena, 15 miles inland, things changed a bit. “I used to see all the surf spots on the way to work, and I could surf right by where I worked,” describes Harold. “But when the factory moved, I had to drive inland for about 30 to 40 minutes for work—too far from the water. It wasn’t for me,” he adds. “And my wife and I were already talking about wanting to raise our two children in Hawaii.”
Harold gave Weber a year notice, and came back to Hawaii with the family. His children were ages three and five at this time. Upon moving back, he began looking for a place to settle. Within two weeks he bought land in Pupukea. To this day, he still lives in the same place.
“I built a log cabin to live in, and a small shaping shop,” he says. “I started a company called Surfboard Shaping Company, Inc., and did some local business—I started working under five different brands. Eventually I began shaping my own boards.”
Gerry Lopez (Single Fin) Era
About the time he moved back to Hawaii, the surfboard revolution was in full swing. Surfing got better and better in a very short period of time. Shortboard surfers would go where it was unimaginable to go on a longboard. The shorter, more refined design of new boards brought the capability of surfboards to a whole new level. Picture Gerry riding Pipeline.
“Longboards were gone—they seemed to disappear from the scene for about 10 years,” says Harold. He goes on to say
“You couldn’t even sell a longboard; it was all shortboards. Clark Foam had one blank available for longboards. I knew lots of well-seasoned surfers who wanted to find someone to shape a longboard for them. At the time, this was not an easy thing to find. So I was still shaping longboards too. Soon after that I was starting to shape windsurf boards.”
At Harold’s shop, one of the sales girls went to Roosevelt High School, where Rick Naish was teaching photography and science. One day Rick came into Harold’s shop to buy some fins and he and Harold got acquainted with one another. “Rick was also a shaper, and had a shop in Kailua,” explains Harold. “He was making windsurf boards. He was so busy already, and asked if I wanted to work for him.”
The first windsurf boards Harold shaped were course-racing boards. It was a new sport, and many areas were open for experiment. It was an exciting time. In the windsurfing world, everyone knew everyone. Harold picked up windsurfing, getting heavily involved in the sport as a rider.
To Harold, shaping windsurf boards was a familiar endeavor. It involved the same creative process he had known for his entire career—creating new material by getting together with other shapers and riders—putting their minds together, going out and riding, and coming back to the shop to implement the changes.
Naish Hawaii began in 1979, teamed up with Mistral. Harold was hired on in 1982. It was an exciting time—board design was progressing on a daily basis. Robby was riding for Mistral, who had a line of Naish boards, made by Rick and Harold. “Both Rick and I designed custom windsurf boards for Mistral for 20 years,” says Harold. “We were shaping all the prototypes and Naish custom boards, and Robby would ride.” By 1999, Naish Sails branched out as a separate company, independent from Mistral.
Kailua had been the center stage for course racing, and the boards were relatively big. In the late 80’s, Maui was discovered as a perfect place to wavesail, and in the 90’s wavesailing really took off there. This is when a big change in windsurfing came about. New technology was required for riders to be able to wavesail. Boards had to evolve to smaller, more refined, more efficient shapes.
The design changed drastically—moving more toward surfboard technology—rocker lines, shapes and thickness. New materials became available to shapers. “The first windsurfing boards were made from Clark Foam polyester,” says Harold. “When Styrofoam became available, boards became lighter, faster and more responsive.” Not unlike the evolution of longboard to shortboard surfing, windsurfing witnessed a radical change in board technology—which took the sport to places that were previously unimaginable.
“When you talk about windsurfing, there are so many disciplines,” explains Harold. “Course racing, slalom, speed, freestyle, freewave, freeride, waveriding, etc.,—you have to have a board that works in each discipline; there are a lot of different aspects that come in.
We knew how to make boards go fast or slow,” says Harold. “In windsurfing you are moving fast the whole time, not sitting and waiting—so you can feel things a lot better than surfing—what I mean is, you have the whole open ocean to sail on, so you don’t have to think about other people, you can just think about the things you want to improve on.” He goes on to say, “You think about fin length, board thickness—what would make the board go faster? What would make it have more float, or plane better through a lull?”
Harold explains how there was a whole new world of boards designed for tow-in surfing. New designs were also developed for paddleboards, standup boards and standup race boards. New materials were available to make boards stronger, lighter, faster, and more responsive. According to Harold, when you work on so many different kinds of boards, the designs and ideas actually complement each other, resulting in better boards.
“We began to experiment with standup boards,” says Harold. “The first boards were wide, big and heavy. We started with Clark Foam, and the finished board would be 12 feet and 40 pounds, 30 inches wide.” He goes on to say, “Back then, we never would have imagined what we would be riding with a standup paddle board today. Now they are much lighter, stronger and more maneuverable. It’s an ongoing process that is still happening to this day,” he says.
Today, there is outstanding technology for wave riding with a standup paddleboard. Like the surfboard and windsurf board revolutions that came before, standup paddle boards have experienced an evolution toward
smaller, more refined boards that are more conducive for wave riding. There is also increasingly better technology available for racing standup boards.
I watch Harold shape in his shop for a while. When he is using the saw, or shaping with the planer, his body is still. Only his legs and arms move rhythmically back and forth without hesitation.
Layers of templates are hanging on the wall; some are on the floor covered with foam dust. This tiny room has seen so much magic.
Harold has been using the Skill 100 Planer for over 50 years, and some simple tools like his balsa sanding block and his Surefoam, since the 60’s. The body of his Surefoam was made in 1965, but he modified the handle to make it more comfortable. His balsa sanding block is worn away perfectly where each of his fingers goes. Some of Harold’s templates are over 40 years old. These tools and templates have seen many boards, through many sports and many years.
Next to the shaping room there is a storage shed—many projects, experiments and repairs are randomly stuffed into this space: a tiny paddle and board Harold made for his five-year-old grandson with all the scraps, a two-hull paddleboard, some rudder system experiments. This is a room full of great ideas and potential.
Harold doesn’t use headphones with music, or earmuffs, to drown out the noise. He doesn’t wear thick gloves to cover his hands from foam dust. He uses tissue paper to reduce the noise, but he is always listening to the sound. He pays close attention to how the board feels when he touches it. He needs all his senses to be alert when he is shaping. He explains: “If you are sailing and you wear a helmet or cover your ears in any way, you don’t really feel what direction the wind is coming from. This is similar to shaping; if you cover your ears, you don’t know, feel, hear what you are cutting.” He goes on to explain the art of shaping:
“Back in the 70’s, people used to say that when you shape a board, you put your soul into it, or some spiritual stuff like that. I kind of laughed—but you do put your all out. You connect with the board. Shaping is not just shaping using the planer. You touch it, listen to the way it is cutting, listen to the sound when you are sanding. I have to hear it, feel it. Otherwise I cannot tell the details. Maybe you put mana into the board by hand shaping, that is why you get exhausted. Shaping is like jiu jitsu, or shiatsu. If you stop learning, you stop progressing. You can never be like, ‘This is the best, and it stops here.’ Once you think that way, you’re done. You stop, and never progress. There is always room for improvement, for things to evolve and be even better. It is a never-ending learning process. I am 69 years old, and looking back, I can say things lead into each other—one at a time. And I must say, that is the fun part of it.”
I asked Harold what he thought about shaping boards using a computer. He thinks for a minute, smiles, and says.
“I think computer shaping is good in some ways; you can easily duplicate boards from an original. You can refine the board to various degrees, changing minor details from the original. This is a good board. But to me, if you want to make a great board, it’s got to be hand shaped. A hand-shaped board is more personal. There is more room for improvement, evolvement. The actual product is right there where you can see it, touch it, look at it. Shapers today have the option to use computers for fine-tuning, and to come out with a whole new product. But to me, hand shaping to make a new product is the ultimate.” Anybody can make a “flotation device.” Anybody can make a board with a computer, by putting in all the information and numbers. But sometimes the board just doesn’t come out with a flow. That is where a good shaper comes in handy. You have to make it presentable—make it flow. That is kind of important. Usually it has to be pretty good looking—the shape, the profile, rails and curves—to work pretty well. Just like computer boards, you put in lots and lots of input when you hand-shape boards. All the input is stored in my brain instead of the computer—it’s got years and years of input from many people. And somehow I can come out with the right board. When I shape a board, it’s a three-dimensional process. I put it on the ground to look at it, take it outside and look at it. I look at the dimensions and template—but beyond that, I look at the profile, the flow. I look at the board from nose-to-tail, from tail-to-nose. I look and check from all kinds of angles. Average people would just check the dimensions and the template, and if the board felt thick they would think, “instead of five inches, I want four and three quarters.” There is a lot more to it than that. And that is where your skill comes in handy.
Windsurfing, standup, paddle racing, waveriding and surfing—Harold enjoys it all. He thinks that having good communication and plenty of input—between himself, as the shaper, and the engineers and riders—is very important. He takes all the information and puts it into the board designs he works on next. This ties right into his personality—open minded, humble, flexible and easygoing.
Harold is still learning about and experimenting with new things—just as much, if not more, as in his entire career. He is totally into it; there are no signs of slowing down at all.
Being a Lifelong Student
Despite being the only shaper in history who has continually worked through each sport—witnessing the sport’s inception, the improvements in technology, the implementation of changes, and then the evolution of the sport—Harold is humble beyond belief.
From longboard to shortboard—through windsurfing’s transition to a waveriding sport—to the currently expanding world of standup paddling, Harold has been there. He has shaped boards through each sport’s hay day. He has ridden the boards as a surfer, a windsurfer, a standup paddler. He has stood the test of time. He is from the old school, but he is a creator of cutting-edge products. His knowledge of board shaping through each sport’s board evolution makes him nothing less than a living legend. Yet Harold is one of the easiest people to talk to—he’s amazingly kind, and at ease. I ask him about his ability to be so humble.
“People think that shaping is glamorous; sometimes the media blows up the image too,” says Harold. He adds, “But there is nothing glamorous about shaping. I don’t think media created any hype around me, and that helped me to stay humble and close to my roots. People in the industry know who I am and what I can do.”
Beyond being a shaper, Harold has been practicing a combination of shiatsu and jiu jitsu for nine years. He practices once a week for three hours. “It’s all about technique, poise, balance,” says Harold. “It teaches you an easier way of doing things—to be relaxed in everything you do—at work or in the water. Nothing is offensive in this practice—it’s all defensive.”
Harold’s sensei has been practicing for 35 years. According to Harold, “He is still a student. He may be a master student, but he is still a student because he is still learning.” He goes on to say, “Robby Naish is a student of knowledge. Whatever he does, he does better than anyone around because when the team tests things, he is right there learning with all of them. We are always testing—it’s crucial. If you stop learning and improving, you never progress.” Relating this concept to shaping, Harold says, “A good shaper should have a graveyard of old projects because you are always learning from your mistakes. Your projects, and yourself, improve, evolve—I will always be a student.”
Labor of Love
I ask Harold what he would say to someone who is considering taking on shaping as a career. He gets a faraway look in his eyes, smiles and says “Shaping is messy, and it takes patience. It is demanding to be a good hand shaper, and I don’t even recommend it—unless you love and desire to create the things you want to see, and ride. When I watch someone board riding, I am thinking about things like how the water releases, how the board sits when you make a turn—all the different ways a shaper could improve the board for riding. When you enjoy something, it is not really hard work. I enjoy making and trying things out, and then making them work better. So even though shaping is a very involved kind of work, it doesn’t feel like I’m working — because I love it. Shaping is a labor of love.”
“If you want to do something, just keep going,” says Harold. “If you really love something, don’t let anything hold you back. Believe that you will get there. You will.”