Interview with Eric Arakawa
Eric Arakawa is one of the most well-respected and beloved shapers ever to come from the North Shore of Hawaii and has made boards for all the greats. From Michael Ho to Bruce and Andy Irons to Jack Robinson today, Eric has remained relevant for his incredible dedication to craft and high-performance design. We've been carrying Eric's boards for over 25 years now and love them, so naturally, we were very excited to ask him a few questions.
What first got you excited to shape surfboards? What keeps you inspired today?
Honestly, I was 14 years old when I shaped my first board. My only motivation at the
time was to get a board to ride for myself. I didn’t have enough money to buy a new board, so I thought building a board would get me in the water quicker. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. 40 something years later I still look forward to Monday mornings at the factory. What motivates me is having the privilege to share my passion with other surfers.
We think it’s great that when we call your shop, most times you personally answer the phone. Why is that something you choose to do, while most shapers of your level aren’t as immediately accessible?
I remember ordering my first custom board as a grom. It was a real surf shop with a tiny factory out the back. I got to speak to the shaper about all the details on my board. It was real and authentic. I want my customers to have the same experience.
When somebody comes to you with a custom, what are some key questions that are helpful for you to focus in on?
I want to know what they are currently riding, and the positive and negative aspects of the board. I also get general info on weight, height, skill level, primary surf locations, and last of all I want to know the performance goals of the surfer.
What do you shape for yourself? How does your own surfing incorporate into your designs?
I generally ride what I shape for the team, but lately finding inspiration riding alternative designs.
Over the years, it seems like every pro surfer has at least owned a couple of your boards. Who was your favorite Pro to shape for? Who was the most challenging?
Any Irons would have to be my favorite surfer to design and build boards for. He was the best in the world in from 2-20 feet, and every time he surfed the boards I knew they had to be on point.
Michael Ho was definitely the most challenging because he was ultra, ultra picky. Working with him in my early years was at times frustrating because rarely were the boards good enough. He would often say, “the board is good, but I can’t win on it”. However, that’s the schooling I needed at the time. He understood board design and could precisely articulate what he felt in the water. I attribute much of my knowledge and perseverance to that critical time working with him many years ago.
What was your relationship like shaping for Andy Irons?
We had a pretty good relationship. Although, at times he was a bit hard to nail down to get to the factory. There were so many people wanting a piece of him. I think in the end it was too much.
Throughout your shaping career, was there one time in particular, that you felt you learned the most?
It was definitely the time I worked with Michael and Derek Ho.
A lot of our team riders have loved one of your older models for a long time, the Element, especially as a round or pin tail for bigger waves. Why do you think it’s proved to be such a beloved model? Are there any boards in the lineup today that
descend from the Element or would be a good fit for someone who likes the Element?
It’s because you have many waves in Oregon that have power like we do in Hawaii. Ha, it’s interesting. By popular demand, I am bringing back the Element with a few modifications and a new name. Stay tuned.
How if at all, has the RP evolved over the years?
I’ve made the RP entry rocker more efficient for paddling and added more rocker. From another design aspect, I’ve had to pack and hide more volume in the RPs because surfers, in general, are riding them shorter in bigger waves.
We’ve seen a few boards come through the shop, shaped with Apple Core Stringers. What advantage do you see using Apple Core Stringers over others?
We custom order those Appelcore (brand) stringers for 95% of our boards. They are not made from applewood, but it comes from a factory in Los Angeles co-owned by Brad Appelgate. He is a surfer who is passionate about wood. These stringers are produced from premium select veneers which create more strength and pop ounce for ounce than the average milled and ply stringers.
How’s the feedback been on the new XO series? At first glance, it’s surprising to see three stringers, what’s the advantage this construction gives shortboards?
There actually are no stringers in the XO. Those black lines you see are glue lines. In the construction process, we cut the core in 5 pieces so we can build and install its suspension system. The response has been very good. Most surfers instantly feel the difference in the speed and pop. The XO technology is designed to be loaded up through the turns as the suspension system stores the energy and releases it as the rider unweights out of turns.
Finally, where would you like to see shaping going in the future?
When we talk about shaping, the common perception refers to geometry only. I think I’d like to see new technology and applied materials change the current geometry of surfboard shapes. I’d like to see more than new recipes using different ingredients from the same pantry.
Eric's boards are in a league their own, so if you need a board for a trip or a good stretch of swell you can't do better.
Take a look at our full review of the Arakawa Holy Moli!
If the size or model you're interested in isn't available, we can get you easily set up with a custom order through the shop, where you'll be able to work with Eric to make sure you get the exact board you're looking for.