By Jennifer Deacon
Christopher Mathers was an avid kite surfer when he moved from Toronto to Halifax fourteen years ago to attend Dalhousie University. He discovered the surfing world in Lawrencetown, and it changed his life. "I was on track to engage in the architecture program,” Mathers said in a recent interview. “I decided that's not for me. I just took my creativity and applied it to my new-found love of surfing."
But Mathers had trouble locating a surfboard that suited him. "I found it hard to find the board that was appropriate for my size, skill level and the type of surfing I was looking to do on a given type of wave,” he said. “Being of a little bit of a creative mind and enjoying working with my hands, I started looking online for materials and started talking to people that were making them already." After doing the research, Mathers decided to shape his own surfboards.
"The surfboard shaper is an artisan, businessman and designer and is still somewhat revered in the culture of surfing,” Mathers said. “We get great pleasure and have a great attachment to our surfboards. They give us some of the best moments of our lives. I help translate what someone is intending to do on a wave and give that perfectly balanced tool so you can exact your movements and engage in surfing with more precision."
Mathers started his company, Black Tuna Surfboards in 2015, when he came up with the name and logo. But it took him a while to start selling his boards. “I never made boards for anyone else until I was probably thirty or forty boards into it,” he said. “I made a bunch of boards for friends who were interested. Sales now are mostly word of mouth." Mathers makes several hundred surfboards a year.
Mathers loves the process of working with surfers to make new boards. "It is really great to do everything myself from start to finish,” he said. “Most of the board designs are chosen by the customer or a back-and-forth between the two of us." Mathers also works to finish the board in a way that reflects the customer's personality. "I always enjoy someone who brings in a little artistic inspiration, like nineties hip hop or gold flake." He creates the artwork on the surfboard by using an airbrush or tinted resin.
Mathers shapes new boards to fit each surfer’s profile. "Your surfboard definitely speaks to the type of surfer you are, what kind of waves you're looking to ride and how you're looking to ride them,” he said. “Long boarding would generally look for smaller, cleaner waves, and will perform a little bit more of a dance with the waves in a calmer, more idyllic enjoyable environment. Shorter boards are the opposite end of the spectrum in terms of performance, both radical manoeuvres and speed generation, but also the ability to push the boundaries of order and chaos, which is surfing's ultimate goal in my opinion."
Surfing became even more popular during the pandemic which, like many things, has caused supply and demand issues. Mathers has seen a rise in the cost of materials. "A lot of surfboard material is petrochemical-based, so it makes sense,” he said. “I am a victim to terrible margins because the material is quite expensive."
Mathers loves his work. "You have a partnership with your surfboard. In harrowing situations, you've got to trust it. You've got to know it like the back of your hand and use it like a surgeon's scalpel—and other times it's just like a quiet bike ride with family and friends."
Mathers creates and sells his surfboards at Lawrencetown Surf Co.