Matt Yerxa’s responsible for designing our 95M. Yerxa’s kept a quiet profile, refraining from self promotion via social media. Instead, he’s kept a keen focus on his craft, practicing both hand-shaping and software based board design.
Matt Yerxa: I grew up in Long Beach. My older brother and sister surfed, so I followed their foot-steps. I was probably about 9 and learned to surf in Seal Beach just along that little north jetty by the power plant. My sister would drive and we’d go down to Trestles a lot.
US Blanks: How’d did you get into shaping?
Matt Yerxa: I was always into art, drawing and painting. It was partially because I couldn’t afford a surfboard. I was lucky because my dad let me build a little workshop in the garage. My parents really encouraged me once I expressed an interest.
US Blanks: Was your dad a surfer?
Matt Yerxa: No! He was just really cool and supportive. It was just a hobby at the time. I didn’t have any aspirations or anything. The one thing my mom made me promise was that I wouldn’t glass any boards in there. I was getting supplies from Brad (Nadell) when he first started Foam-EZ and so I had glassing connections through him.
US Blanks: So when did you start building boards for a living?
Matt Yerxa: I moved to Hawai’i after college and actually planned on teaching for a living. But I got a job with Cino, just in the interim before I settled down, just helping him out. Then that turned into a job with Town & Country, backshaping. I worked there a year or two and it kind of shattered my ideal of what I thought shaping would be.
US Blanks: How so?
Matt Yerxa: I was really into hand-shaping, the slow pace, and with each board I’d take my time. And there it was all about numbers and it was a big factory with a lot of guys and I just felt like my creativity was lost and it just became a job. So I felt kind of disillusioned and decided that I was going to leave shaping and go into teaching. Then Jeff Johnson kind of took me under his wing, suggested that I get a hold of Eric (Arakawa). He just needed someone to help out around the shop so again, I figured I’d help him temporarily. Then he and I became really good friends and it revitalized my passion for shaping.
US Blanks: When did you develop your own brand?
Matt Yerxa: I’ve always cultivated my own brand while working for larger brands, but I’m not much of a self promoter. While working for Eric, he really encouraged me to learn the board design software and I was a little reluctant.
US Blanks: Why? From an artistic standpoint?
Matt Yerxa: Well, a board that comes off the machine may surf just as well as a hand shaped board, but I certainly have a lot more pride in the board that I’ve hand shaped. There’s something special about all that time put in and working with your hands. But then again, sometimes we’d get big orders for the same type of board and that type of shaping becomes monotonous so the machine helps save tons of time. I slowly began learning the software and then I got really into it.
US Blanks: What’s your current preferred method of shaping?
Matt Yerxa: The efficiency of the machine is undeniable, but lately I’ve been hand shaping a lot of really different boards; odd boards, finless boards, single fins, concave decks, channels, more artistic expressions rather than functional. Just for fun. And I really enjoy it. So now I have better clarity of balance where I can hand shape certain boards and then machine cut others. Ultimately, I think that both boards benefit from my exploration of the other.
US Blanks: Those “novelty” shapes, is there a customer base for them? Do people order those boards or do you just ride them yourself?
Matt Yerxa: Well, I guess I started experimenting with a few just for myself, but I’ve also put them on the rack and they sell really quickly, so people are open to it. But there is no pressure to sell those boards. It’s nice to be able to create without the pressure of meeting sales quotas. The sales of conventional shapes allow me to explore and take more time with the hand shapes.
US Blanks: Let’s talk about foam. What’s your opinion of the current state of foam? What’s available? Are you happy with it?
Matt Yerxa: I like consistency. You guys are great about that. Other companies take months to fill orders and often the foam isn’t consistent. Foam seems to be getting harder, which is good. Some surfers come in and they say, “I want something super fast, super light, and super strong”, which you can’t really do all things. The goal is to have a balance of those elements. With US Blanks foam, I feel like you guys have found a good balance of hardness, flexibility and durability. My boards seem to last for very good amount of time. For hand shaping, I like working with the Blue formula. It’s easier and more enjoyable to work with. When using the machine I work with the Red because it’s a little harder.
US Blanks: What’s your relationship with professional athletes? Do you sponsor surfers? Is that even a worthwhile endeavor?
Matt Yerxa: I’ve never really had the budget to go that route. Plus, I’ve had great success just working with local guys who really understand their equipment and give me good feedback. Having a pro ride your boards certainly gives a shaper a lot of visibility and credibility, but unless that surfer really understands the equipment and also understands how to communicate, then it can be a really frustrating experience. I’ve always learned the most from friends of mine who surf well and we feel comfortable communicating.
US Blanks: You also have to wonder about Return On Investment, too. We know how many boards pros go through and it’s tough to imagine a smaller volume shaper absorbing all that expense.
Matt Yerxa: There’s a false notion that you have to give boards away to get pros to ride them and I think that’s not necessarily true. People are willing to pay for good equipment. In fact, it almost devalues your brand if you give boards away. If someone, pro surfer or otherwise, pays for a board then they are inherently going to value it more. Plus, the really successful relationships; Kelly (Slater) and Al (Merrick), John John (Florence) and (John) Pyzel, those are organic. They’ve had long relationships and that’s why their boards work good and why they’ve gotten to where they are. That kind of loyalty and commitment to each other’s craft is rare these days.
It’s Matt’s unbridled passion for shaping that inspired us to invite him to join our design team.
Learn more about Matt by visiting MattYerxaSurfboards.com