DOWNTOWN — Scott Anderson still remembers the first surfboard he shaped. It was his first year in high school, and he and a friend had purchased a surfboard “blank” from ET Surf in Hermosa Beach.
Problem was they had little idea what they were doing. The finished product wasn’t just bad.
“Horrible,” Anderson said matter-of-factly.
Now, more than three decades later, the 46-year-old Santa Monica native is still shaping surfboards. Needless to say, he’s gotten better at the task. A whole lot better.
Since 1988, Anderson Surfboards has made more than 20,000 boards, making the company one of the leading top-end surfboard manufacturers in the country. And Anderson has gained recognition as perhaps the best shaper in all of Southern California.
“He’s sort of the Godfather of Surfboards in Los Angeles,” said Todd Roberts, owner of ZJ Boarding House located on Main Street, one of Anderson Surfboards’ most active retailers.
At a time when many surfboard companies are turning to machines to do the job, Anderson still does most of his craft by hand. From shaping to sanding to fiber-glassing, Anderson and the six employees at his shop — Aqua Tech Glassing in Marina del Rey — pay meticulous attention to detail.
“Scott doesn’t have a machine back there that blows out all these boards for him,” said Raphael Lunetta, a Los Angeles chef and avid surfer who owns several Anderson Surfboards.
Anderson has earned a large following by tailoring his boards to meet individual customers’ needs.
“A lot of [people] will get a board, they ride it for six months or eight months, and they say, ‘OK … we need to make some changes here and there.’ We can do that for them, versus just buying something off the rack that’s just generic and made for someone else,” Anderson said.
The focus on customization has paid off for Anderson, whose boards are hard to miss at virtually any Southern California beach. In the South Bay as much as “89 percent of the boards that you see on the water are Scott Anderson’s,” estimates Mike Vaughan, a Santa Monica-based professional surfer.
Anderson’s work isn’t popular just locally, though. Dozens of surf retailers on the East Coast and some as far away Japan also sell his boards.
For Anderson, getting to this point took years of practice — and a little moving around. He started his board-shaping career in the early 1980s working at surfboard factory Natural Progression, then located near 17th Street and Colorado Avenue. There, Anderson met and became friends with Randy Carranza, another employee at the factory.
Together, Anderson and Carranza decided to start a new business. After spending about a year running a smaller shop in Gardena, they found a larger building and in 1988 moved to Aqua Tech Glassing’s current location in Marina del Rey. Soon after, Carranza left to pursue a career in graphic design and printing, while Anderson stayed on, building the venture into a well-respected surfboard company.
“It took us a couple years to become profitable at this location, but we’ve been here ever since,” Anderson said.
Anderson’s shop mirrors his unassuming personality. Aqua Tech Glassing is tucked away in the back of a small auto repair business, with an asphalt driveway turning to dirt in front of an aluminum-sided building.
“He’s a straight shooter,” said Vaughan, who owns 29 Anderson Surfboards and currently has another two on order. “He’s always got a smile on his face. He’s the kind of guy with no ego.”
Anderson readily admits that current economic conditions have slowed business.
“Biggest challenge right now is just the economy,” he said. “I don’t think the economy got as good as everybody’s trying to say it is. Retailers are still down, everybody’s numbers are down, people aren’t buying as much.”
Still, Anderson has never been much of a pessimist.
“Being in his business, he could be a stress case,” said Lunetta. “He could be a jerk, but he’s not. He always stays positive. He’ll always make time for you.”
Lunetta recalls talking to Anderson shortly before one Christmas: “I was like, ‘Scott, whenever you get time, just shape a paddleboard for my son. Whatever it is, no problem. When I get it, I get it.’”
On Christmas Eve, Lunetta received a phone call from Anderson. The paddleboard was ready — perfect timing.
“That’s the way Scott is. He does stuff like that,” Lunetta said.
Roberts, who has been selling Anderson’s boards at ZJ Boarding House for several years now, said Anderson has more in mind than just turning a profit.
“He keeps people in a job,” Roberts said. “He’s got to pay guys to do glassing, sanding, repair.”
Roberts added that he has seen Anderson adapt to recent trends — new technology, increased competition from overseas manufacturers — in the surfboard industry.
“He’s figuring out ways to be creative to make his stuff buyable, and it’s cool to watch him stick it out,” Roberts said. “It’s not easy to do business in Los Angeles, period. For him to stay relevant in current times is a testament to his passion.”
That passion makes it difficult for Anderson to focus on the negative. He said he doesn’t see shaping boards as a job as much as it is a hobby.
“We joke that if I win the lotto, then I don’t have to work for a living,” Anderson said of an ongoing gag with his employees. “But I’ll still be coming here.
“I’m going to do this for the rest of my life.”