I’ve loved surfing for years, but before the pandemic, I couldn’t regularly go. When lockdown began, though—with my husband’s dawn commute over the hill on pause and our kids out of preschool—I regularly forced myself out of bed at 5:30am and biked to a nearby spot.
A couple months into quarantine, water days outnumbered my under-wetsuit swimwear supply. So I paid a visit to Aylana Zanville, former pro surfer and proprietress of local surf-y clothing line Ola Chica. As she laid out bikinis on her lawn, I admired a blue surfboard leaning against her shed.
“The shaper does these single fin, flowy boards,” she said. “I’ve gotten a lot of custom boards over the years, and I’ve never had a board like that.” She paused, considering. “You know, you should call Carl.”
She gave me the number of Carl Gooding, a board shaper who works out of a nondescript local garage, but I was skeptical. Zanville was an expert. Why would an intermediate-ish recreational surf mom need a custom board?
In a world where most boards are shaped for men, “Carl has a keen understanding of shaping women’s boards,” Zanville told me. From shoulders to hips, he designs for each particular client’s body type and abilities.
I’d been riding the same board for four years without a thought as to who it had been shaped for. So not long after, on a sunny, socially distanced afternoon in Gooding’s airy living room, I found myself listening to him talk about his quest to create a more inclusive, sustainable surf world—for women, BIPOC, and Mother Earth herself. The timing was apt, as spring seems to be the time when all of Gooding’s concerns come together: March, April and May contain International Women’s Day, Earth Day and Mother’s Day, respectively.
With his teenage daughter’s noserider leaning by the door, Gooding said that in an industry still permeated by racism and sexism, he strives to differ from the stereotype of the “old privileged white guy making surfboards,” with a focus on inclusion and sustainability. “There are not nearly enough people of color in the water,” he says. “How do you change that?”
An affable, soft-spoken fellow with a shiny gray mane and eyes that are pools of blue sincerity, Gooding has lived many lives—he’s worked for MTV, been a professional NBA photographer, and a craftsman building off-road race cars, bike frames, and model airplanes. In his 60s now, he brings his waste-not maker’s ethos to his Dawn Patrol Surfboards business. Though he’s run it for a decade, it remains a hidden gem, hiding in plain sight. Gooding started Dawn Patrol when his daughters, then 8 and 10, joined what was the Shoreline surf team (now the Pleasure Point Surf Club). In looking for boards, nothing he found was quite the right fit.
“That’s how shaping started,” he says. “I have an analytic mind. I thought, ‘I can do better.’” Ever since, he’s been on a mission to craft custom boards “with soul,” and he takes pride in shaping for girls, women and all body types and abilities.
Surfing Through Quarantine
When I moved to Santa Cruz in 2012, a friend lent me a board and took me out at beginner-friendly Cowells. Catching my first waves sparked an obsession. I bought a dinged piece of junk for $60 off Craigslist that’s probably in a landfill right now. In 2016, for my first Mother’s Day as a mom, I received a “real” board: a tri-fin 9’0 former rental from a name-brand surf shop.
When I met Gooding, he was getting back to work after a non-Covid bout with pneumonia threatened his future as a shaper. When the illness finally subsided, Gooding was especially glad to be back because “Covid happened, and we got really busy.”
Indeed, while many industries continue to suffer during the pandemic, surfing has boomed, as is evident from the crowded lineups along the coast and internationally. During quarantine, surfing became synonymous with sanity and self-care—a safe, socially distanced way to get outdoors, exercise, and momentarily forget doomscrolling.
Gooding requested I bring my surfboard to show him. He looked it over like a doctor examining a patient and said, “The board isn’t helping you. It’s for a big dude riding big waves.” I was the opposite. How long had I been surfing? Seven years, with two pregnancy breaks. “You’re at a point in your life to stop surfing the old rental board you bought when you didn’t know what you were doing,” Gooding diagnosed.
He opened the garage door, revealing his soundproof shaping room. Racks held boards-in-progress and blanks, pieces of foam “marble” that become—with the shaper’s craft that blends art, engineering, mathematics, and creativity—surfboards as specific as a fingerprint.
Gooding calls all surfboards a compromise. “Most people are on the wrong board. People can be embarrassed to tell the guy at the surf shop how they truly surf, whatever it happens to be,” he told me.
I could relate. I felt impostor syndrome describing my so-so skills to a professional shaper, but Gooding put me at ease. He launched a CIA-worthy interrogation of my surfing: where did I go, what spots, what conditions? What kinds of waves did I surf now, and what did I aspire to? I presented a virtual vision board of graceful women cross-stepping and noseriding, admitting I wasn’t near that yet. He went into a detailed explanation of surfboard mechanics—what helped and hindered.
Marisol Godinez, designer, surfer, surf-club mother, and a co-organizer of Women on Waves, an inclusive women’s event to which Gooding donated a board for a contest prize, describes Gooding as a Renaissance man who understood what she, who was “not aspiring to be a big, fast wave surfer,” wanted to accomplish.
“He’s never patronizing,” Godinez says. “He is a great shaper. He spends a lot of time getting to know the person, their style and the types of waves they like to ride. He took time to ask all these questions. Each board is a thumbprint for a person, very specific, unique. He’s always asking me, ‘How do you like [the boards]?’ He always wants to know.”
Michael Allen, head coach of Pleasure Point Surf Club and author of Tao of Surfing, met Gooding and Godinez when their children enrolled. “Because he started shaping boards just for his daughters,” Allen says, “he carries that caring, thoughtful, meticulous style into shaping each customer’s board. He wants to make sure that the person he is shaping for is not only going to enjoy riding it, but that the board will take them into a higher level of surfing.”
Godinez has a prime example: an 8’5 board outfitted with a colorful, retro fabric inlay on the deck. Gooding’s mother bought the fabric in the ’60s at a Redwood City fabric store. Talk about reuse and recycle.
When Freeline Surf shop did a remodel six years ago, Gooding wound up with the old curtains from the dressing rooms. “I did a board from that as well,” he says. “At some point perhaps I’ll do another with what I have.”
Form and Function
My old rental board was too wide, impacting my paddling. I’d never considered what Gooding termed my “wingspan,” or my narrow shoulders and hips.
We would stick with a 9’0, Gooding advised, but with thicker rails—and narrower, made not for “a big dude riding big waves,” but a small person of mellow surf. The single-fin longboard would make paddling more efficient and meet me where I was now, but also allow for evolution as I learned how to cross-step. With Gooding’s supportive, encouraging manner, any nerves I felt about working with him faded as we got down to the design.
He probed into my background and identity. Writer—some typewriter keys? Mom to a five- and two-year old—how about their handprints on the deck in blue and purple paint, my favorite colors?
That design would grow more meaningful over the years. “With respect to all the great shapers in town, that’s an idea I don’t think any other shaper would have thought of,” Allen says. “He’s very artistic with years of professional photography behind him, so he has his eye on the visual element.”
A few weeks later, I caught my first wave on my Dawn Patrol board. As soon as I stood and made my first turn on it, I had the feeling of meeting a soulmate: This is how it’s supposed to be! I turned, trimmed, and rode more smoothly. The board enhanced my performance and enjoyment.
Price-wise, Gooding’s custom longboard was $750, while the old brand-name rental was $900. I’d seen certain foamies for sale in surf shops for $500. Dawn Patrol surfboards rarely exceed $1,000. “It doesn’t need to be that expensive,” Gooding says. “’What market will bear’ doesn’t make it fair. You can get a reasonably priced board that’s not made in Taiwan. People should go out and get the stoke as soon as they can and be able to afford it.”
“Carl definitely lives close to the earth,” says Allen, now a surfboard tester for Dawn Patrol in addition to his job as a technical writer for companies in Silicon Valley and volunteer work with the surf club—where, as a certified first responder, he teaches wilderness and surfing first-aid. “You have to in order to be a shaper. With so many disposable soft-top boards showing up in landfills, getting a custom board eliminates this waste. You’re more likely to keep it. The board stays in family homes. Carl is always mindful of this.”
The popularity of surfing during Covid lockdowns has meant producers of surfboards and wetsuits had trouble keeping supply in stock. Many beginners seek out something cheap off the racks at places like Costco. But Gooding aims to change disposable surf-consumer culture with boards families will enjoy and keep for a lifetime. “Ultimately, how much faster will a Wavestorm end up in the garbage than a hand-shaped board?” he points out.
Gooding saves dust and wood chips from shaping, and uses it as compost. “There are a handful of people making boards sustainably,” he says. “Out of wood, trying to use bioresins, hemp cloth, flax cloth. No one has that whole thing sorted yet. It will be really cool when we get there.”
Lately, he’s been working on projects like the Alaia board, made of redwood that he can turn into furniture if it breaks or is out of commission. “The Alaia is all wood,” he says. If it’s out of commission “you can burn it as firewood, put bricks under and make a table… you can put it outside and it won’t rot. It’s biodegradable, sustainable, and nontoxic—if not an easy thing to surf.”
Making of a Maker
Gooding contextualizes his work not within the world of other shapers, but as part of a larger, loose community of makers—consummate DIY anti-consumers who would rather teach themselves to build something than buy it from a store. He has friends who are shoemakers, glass blowers, woodworkers, and home brewers.
In Redwood City in the ’60s as a young child, Gooding took apart his tricycle and made it into a big wheel. At 10, he saved money from mowing lawns to buy bicycles at an auction, “got them to work with a mishmashing of parts,” and sold them.
An entrepreneur was born. “I was always building and making stuff. I got in trouble with my dad,” he says. “He was too concerned about his tools.”
He started shaping surfboards at 50, after a variety of other careers: fixing and building cars, studying engineering at Cabrillo, followed by a photography and film production degree at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. He worked for the NBA, NHL, MLB, and WNBA, photographing athletes and lighting arenas. He built competitive airplanes and became a general contractor. Then, after moving around the country for years, he settled with his family in Santa Cruz and his daughters joined the surf club. When he made the first boards for them, people noticed. “Another kid’s mom wanted a board. She rode my daughter’s and asked me to make one, [asking] ‘How much?’ I had no idea what the hell I was doing, but I had a template and that board,” he says. “I floated Dawn Patrol by doing repairs. I bought boards, made them work, and sold them.”
Hull of a Surprise
Six months into my new surf life with my Dawn Patrol longboard—now the only board I was sure I’d ride forever—I was driving to a break when Gooding called. Would I want to shape a new board with him, as a holiday special? I didn’t need another surfboard, but was curious. “A true noserider?” I asked. Was he steering me further toward my stated goal?
“No,” he said. “Something completely different.”
Once again I wasn’t sure what was ahead, but I already trusted him.
“A displacement hull,” he said.
Displacement hulls push through water rather than riding on top of it. I was surprised he thought I was ready to step down from a 9’0 to a 7’2 midsize. Does he think I’m a better surfer than I am?
Over two half-days in the garage-based shaping bay came a crash course in the process of shaping a blank into a surfboard. We used power tools and a sander, made calculations (well, Gooding did, as I wracked my brain for rusty math), extracting a board from the proverbial marble.
As we worked, 18-year-old surfer and part-time Dawn Patrol apprentice Dane Luckscheider came to take a board. I recognized Luckscheider from his impressive cross-stepping and noseriding at a nearby spot.
“Carl is a mentor for my surfing and shaping,” Luckscheider says. “Working and shaping with him helps you envision every part of what the board he’s making will do, how it will turn, trim, and everything else. When you talk to him about a board he’s created, you can tell he has a deep understanding of what he made. He’s an awesome and interesting guy with a ton of knowledge and stories.”
While this wave wunderkind doesn’t foresee becoming a full-time shaper himself, he says, “I do plan on only riding Dawn Patrol surfboards or boards I shape.”
There is a calm serenity to crafting a surfboard, a flow state much like surfing or writing, when it’s going well. After sculpting the blank into what would become the 7’2 single-fin, filing away and going over it with the planer to smooth out rough edges and irregularities, Gooding loaded his truck and drove it to the glasser in Morro Bay.
Gooding warned me it would take a few sessions to get the shiny new purple-blue little surfboard dialed, but once I did, it would be the most fun. Another accurate prediction.
Ironically, the challenge of riding the hull was what finally got me cross-stepping on my longboard. After the hull, the longboard felt simple. And the hull itself fit me in a way I couldn’t articulate.
“It’s a more old-school way of riding,” Zanville says. “Less aggressive, more flowy.”
She could have been describing … me. The hull now lives in my bedroom, matching the color scheme and decor.
“There’s definitely other people shaping out of their garages,” Zanville says, “but Carl’s boards are all unique. The whole thing is a signature. I don’t think it’s very common, what he’s doing. He’s open to working with people. The whole thing he did with helping you shape a custom board and take you through the process, that’s amazing.”
Gooding prides himself on accessibility. “I’m not a guy behind a curtain,” he says. “People can talk to me, figure out what they need and want.”
These days, when I spot other Dawn Patrol boards in the water, I paddle over to ask how they know Gooding. Because, despite his expertise and focus on environmental and social justice, Gooding has managed to keep DP on the DL. You can’t find him profiled on Surfline. With customers who find him through personal connections or online, he has plenty of work and is always busy, but isn’t yet among the ranks of local celebrity shapers. Perhaps it’s intentional for the crafty iconoclast. “I’d rather be someone’s shot of whiskey than everyone’s cup of tea,” he says. “I’m just a guy making stuff.”
Allen would disagree. “Santa Cruz is famous worldwide for its surfing history,” he says. “We have some of the best shapers here who have been significant for decades. I honestly have never met anyone as knowledgeable of every intricate design aspect in a surfboard as Carl.”
Gooding tells me it’s his love of shaping boards that are as one-of-a-kind as the individuals who ride them that keeps him motivated, as does the question of “how you make money and keep the integrity of what you’re making,” he says. “How do you sell soul?”
Then he heads back to the garage, a slew of new orders on deck. “Time to go make dust.”