THE WALL – Pat Rawson and Otis Schaper, two musicians in harmony.
The 11th surfboard for the 15 Surfboards/15 Shapers project was orchestrated by two musically talented individuals, Pat Rawson, renowned shaper and virtuoso piano player, and Otis Schaper, experienced laminator and lyrical song writer and guitarist. The musical talent of each was unbeknownst to me and surfaced after the board had been completed. Their surfboard building talents preceded them long before I met them.
I met Pat Rawson at the 2013 Surf Expo trade show in Orlando, Florida. At the time I was looking to Hawaii for the eleventh shaper. Pat, a well-known shaper from the days of the Local Motion brand, heard of the project through Ricky Carroll, shaper of board number 3, Crystal Lip, and met with me. Fortunately he became excited at the prospect of being one of the 15 shapers. The ball was now in my court and I made sure I took it to the North Shore of Oahu, Pat’s home, where we’d collaborate on the newest surfboard.
The time between our first meeting and arriving in Hawaii was spent communicating on board design and size and selecting an appropriate image. I was intrigued with a style of board known as a ‘tear-drop’. It’s a template where the wide point of the board is forward of center and tapers off to a narrow tail. It was a popular design in the mid to late ‘70s and early ‘80s and used in fast, hollow waves. The rails are turned down and the bottom relatively flat though with a slight v at the tail. Having shaped many boards in that era and for hollow waves such as Pipeline and Velzyland, Pat was the perfect shaper to make such a board. Furthermore he mentioned that he owned an old Clark Foam blank that he’d love to use, which would make the board that much more time-period authentic.
After agreeing with Pat on a board design the next step was to come up with the proper photograph to embellish it. As with the previous ten boards it was a chore to choose the image but as with all the others the chosen image turned out to be the perfect one. The process involves perusing through my archive, selecting what I think are a dozen or so photographs, whittling it down to four or five that I then put up for vote among close friends and on Facebook. The final stage allows me to see the images through the eyes of others and hear their comments. What I choose may or may not be the most popular but it’s always the most compelling.
In this case the image that made the cut is one that I shot in 1981 at Pipeline of the 1984 Pipeline Masters Champion Joey Buran. On close inspection the nose and board design of Joey’s board is a close resemblance to Pat’s board. Additionally not only the time of the photograph is appropriate but so is the manner in which it perfectly fits and accentuates the outline of the board. It’s as if the photo and board are meant for each other.
Hawaii Surf Factory lies on the outskirts of Wahiawa, a town in the central valley of Oahu. It’s a hub for many of Oahu’s top shapers and it’s where Otis Schaper, half owner of the factory—Peter Thorn carrying the other half—glassed the board. Otis is mildly unusual in an endearing and amicable way. To those who car ride with him he’s known as a ‘coaster’. Fortunate for me he’s also a highly skilled and motivated laminator. We decided on a mint-green, glass tint and two layers of fiberglass on the deck. The color is a surprising and attractive juxtaposition against the black and white print. A double resin pin line, black and grey, with a ‘70s flare on the nose (think bell-bottom pants but in reverse) added the final touch. The finished board is as striking as it is unique.
Now the musical part: Otis and I, it turns out, share a mutual past. During a twelve year period that I lived in Puerto Rico Otis had also spent time on the island—I knew I had seen him before! I also learned that Otis played in a musical band during his time there and that music has been a big part of his life. That’s not too surprising since many surfers gravitate towards music—the endless time traveling and days and nights spent on beaches attract the companionship of a guitar. The point being that a surfer calling himself a musician is nothing new. In the Aloha spirit Otis gifted me with two CDs of his music before I left Hawaii. It wasn’t until I returned to the mainland and listened to the music did I finally comprehend what musical talent and song writing skills he possessed.
However the best surprise was yet to come. Part of this project is to photograph the portrait of each shaper. The initial portraits were made in the shaping room or around the surf factory. The last portrait, however, of Kevin Cunningham, was a departure from the rest. I photographed him on the streets of Providence, Rhode Island since he was the first city shaper I had worked with and wanted to show the unusual environment this surfer lived and worked in. With the portrait of Pat I continued to look outside the shaping room and more into his personal side, away from surfing. I learned of his love for jazz and blues and that he owned a grand piano, thus the idea of photographing him by the piano.
During the set up of lights, the Hasselblad film camera and taking Polaroid tests I asked Pat to relax and if he was in the mood to bang a few chords for me. Well bang he did and what I heard was unexpected in how good it was. Hell, how GREAT it was! I was blown away by what I heard. Intricate chords strung out together in melodic rhythm and like a fine bottle of Cabernet the sound was complex with lasting impression. I did not want this performance to end and consequently spent a lot more time setting and adjusting lights and shooting Polaroid’s then necessary. If only a picture could sing!
All in all, The Wall proved to be a rewarding experience in more ways than one. I worked with two of the best in the surfboard industry to create a throw back surfboard that holds a prominent place in the history of surfboard design. Pat and Otis also showed me a side that entertained, enlightened and enriched me. This project continues to surprise and take me to places of privilege. #12 would prove no less.