If a surfboard shaper builds a global empire, does that make him a baby-blue-collar worker?
Wanna talk surfboards? Of course you do! Let me introduce you to my friend and world renowned shaper, Marcio Zouvi.
Born and bred on the not-so-poor side of Rio de Janeiro, Marcio was a studious little bugger with grand aspirations. So much so that, as a young man, he left his beloved homeland to attend university in America’s finest city — San Diego, California.
While studying to become a computer engineer, Marcio couldn’t fight the pangs of nostalgia for his childhood passion. His heart lied in surfing, his hands in foam dust.
You see, as a young boy, Marcio would not only surf but also salvage dilapidated longboards. He’d strip their glass and grab a hacksaw and create art!
“Those boards were rough,” Marcio admitted. “They were so hard to shape because the foam was bad and I didn’t have the right tools, but that’s how I started building boards. I was just a kid.”
While attending university, Marcio picked up side jobs as a sander, glasser, and ding repair guy. It helped pay the bills and, more importantly, it was better than pushing punch cards.
“Back then, we were using those stupid punch sheets to run computer programs.” Marcio explained. “At that point I didn’t know how far or how fast computers would develop. If I did, maybe I would have stayed in school. But here I am.”
Just two years into his degree, Marcio called it quits to start building surfboards full-time. Sharp Eye Surfboards was founded in 1992, and in just about a quarter-century, Marcio has built a small empire.
“We’re not one of the top surfboard sellers,” Marcio said. “But we do have significant global recognition.”
As of now, Sharp eye is licensed in Australia, Brazil, Spain and Peru. Including the American factory, that’s four different continents with Sharp Eye production teams. Marcio said these licensees help him design superior surfboards.
“I develop all the models, but oftentimes guys from different regions will tweak them slightly to suit their local conditions. This happened recently with some of our Australian shapers. They changed a certain aspect of one of our models and it had such a positive impact that we now make all the boards in that fashion.”
With some of the most performance-minded boards in the sport, it makes sense that Filipe Toledo would fly under the Sharp Eye banner. Widely regarded as the best aerialist and small-wave surfer in the world, Filipe came to Marcio with lofty aspirations.
“Filipe is so innately good at airs,” Marcio said. “It’s just very natural for him. We built the Holy Toledo model with airs in mind, but learned pretty quickly that it wasn’t helping him win heats. Most CT events are held in pretty good surf, so this flatter, wider outline was impeding his ability to get the board on rail. Once he rode that OK to victory at Snapper in 2015, everything changed.
The OK model, designed for fellow team rider Oliver Kurtz, has a slim figure and with plenty of curve. It’s designed to fit turns in the pocket of steep, punchy surf. Filipe quickly fell in love.
“The way he could bury the rail was amazing. If you look back two, three years ago, Filipe was like a whole different surfer. Granted, he’s put in a lot of hard work over that time to improve his strength and technique, but the board change has helped his rail game immensely,” Marcio stated.
Then there’s Filipe’s newest model, #77 — the name of which derives from Toledo’s WSL jersey number.
“The 77 is basically a mix between the Holy Toledo and OK,” Marcio explained. “It seems to be the perfect combination for his style of surfing. It’s got plenty of rocker.”
“But what about the average surfer?” I asked. “Would most guys even be able to ride one of these things, or would they just sink?”
“Well, the stock dimensions are definitely not the same as Filipe’s,” Marcio told me. “Typically we sell beefier versions to the general public, because most people wouldn’t have much fun on a board as chippy as Fil’s. That said, people seem lost when it comes to buying a surfboard nowadays. Oftentimes they ask, ‘can I get an epoxy with 30 liters?’, and I’m just like… ’30 liters in what model? What about the width, the thickness?’ People get caught up on trivial aspects of board design.”
“Board construction is a perfect example. Construction is important, yes, but design comes first. You hear guys talking like ‘Oh my god, this epoxy stringerless blah blah blah’ — it doesn’t matter. You design a board and then choose the construction. We can do epoxy or anything but that’s not what makes the board go. People need to understand that design is primary.”
But mainstream surfboard misconceptions isn’t the only concept Marcio grapples with. As a fan of surfing, Marcio loves to see passion and progression toward the future of the sport. Unfortunately, he believes there’s been a major decline in American youth surfing.
“Kids don’t want to surf today, not competitively at least. Even my son, you know, he likes to surf, but he likes soccer better. Most kids around here just want to surf for fun, which means fishes and longboards. That’s cool, don’t get me wrong, but it’s completely different from progressive or competitive surfing. I think we’re a bit unbalanced nowadays between surfing as a sport and a hobby/lifestyle. In order for surfing to thrive, those things need to be balanced.”
“Why do you think that is?” I asked.
“Well, I think it’s because nobody is coming in with exciting design ideas,” Marcio replied. “I want to see more young shapers trying to reinvent high performance surfboards, but nobody seems to do that, at least not around here. Maybe it’s because America is such a bad place to be a shaper, economically speaking. All the restrictions in California make it nearly impossible to compete with foreign manufacturers.”
So yeah, Marcio’s got some gripes, but it’s important to take his cynicism with a grain of salt. When you get down to it, Marcio’s disappointment comes from a place of love — love for surfing, love for shaping, and the hope that both will continue to progress long after his last hacksaw swipe.
Until then, well, at least he’s got Filipe.