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Shape Shifters

SD’s surfboard designers dream big, in and out of the water


(page 2 of 3)

Bessel working at his La Jolla studio

At a small shop near Windansea beach, Tim Bessell has produced more than 48,000 surfboards. He’s easily one of San Diego’s best-known shapers. But other objects come from his workspace, like furniture, art, even homes.

“I studied architecture after college while shaping,” Bessell said. “They go hand in hand. I’m a form-follows-function guy. Everything I make or do has a purpose or is functional.”

To create the ideal surfboard, shapers must understand an array of variables—shape, length, lift, and drag, etc.—that profoundly affect how a board feels and moves underneath a rider’s feet. A mere quarter of an inch in thickness will drastically increase the board’s “float” at the expense of maneuverability.  

⇑ Surfboard shaper Tim Bessel also designs low-cost, eco-friendly homes  made out of shipping containers.

Bessell is applying these detail-oriented engineering skills to his “ultimate passion”: low-cost, environmentally-friendly homes made out of shipping containers.   

“One day I was thinking about the huge need for cheap housing and how many abandoned shipping containers there are,” Bessell says. “Shipping containers are a perfect solution because they’re abundant, customizable, and insulating. We’re making them with the most modern technologies so people can live completely off the grid. People are skeptical because it’s such a radical idea. They get it when they see the models with amenities.”

The container-dwelling trend is taking off worldwide. Bessell Living Systems is currently building its first in Pacific Beach. Over the next several years, he has plans for more than 500 internationally.

Bessell isn’t the first Windansea shaper with big ideas. Most notably, Bob Simmons revolutionized surfboards while working as an aerospace engineer at Douglas Aircraft in the mid-’40s. One thing hasn’t changed since Simmon’s time: most shapers are essentially starving artists. Many of them break ground in other fields to pay the rent.

Above: The Tri-Fin Bench. Below: The Ekstro Chair.

Carl Ekstrom can relate. He patented asymmetrical surfboards in 1967, selling them from a small La Jolla shop. When surfers skipped over his futuristic boards for more traditional shapes, he stopped making surfboards. He did, however, channel his shaping experience into other areas.

“Surfboards are all composite construction: foam, fiberglass, resin,” Ekstrom explains. “Being familiar with raw materials like that is key for inventors or prototypers of any kind.”

Working with the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, he designed the first artificial wave machine, which later became the attraction at the Wave House in Mission Beach. (He has since distanced himself from the project.) He also dove into art. His collaborative work with sculptor Svetozar Radakovich—a pair of stark white, carved doors made of foam, fiberglass, wood, and resin—was recently featured at the San Diego Craft Revolution Museum. He’s designed cars, medical devices, and recently launched a furniture company called Nomad Mobili.

As for his freaky surfboards? They’re kind of a big deal these days. Five years ago, a new generation of surfers discovered the potential in asymmetrical designs. It seems Ekstrom was a mere 40 years ahead of the curve. Last October, Ekstrom was honored at the Sacred Craft Surfboard Expo at the Del Mar Fairgrounds for his recent designs. Still on top of his game, he’s come full circle.  

“I like building all kinds of things.” Ekstrom said. “I really love surfboards because they’re such an art form. I feel lucky to be back doing it. It inspires so much creativity in me.”

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