Ed note: This is the third a series of stories about women who are carving out their own spaces in the surf industry. Follow along as we get to know creative women in the surf community and the joyful, useful products they build.
When Christie Carr wants something new, chances are, she is going to make it herself. Over the past few years, she has turned that habit into a thriving custom shaping business at Urchin Surfboards. Based in New Smyrna, Florida, Carr made her first board for herself. Then she just kept making them. Almost inevitably, it became a business.
"You know, you can only make yourself so many bikinis," Carr says. "And you can only make yourself so many surfboards."
Growing up on Florida's Gulf Coast, Carr began surfing at age 16. She worried that it was too late ever to become good at it. "I felt like I was way over the hill," she says, laughing. "It turns out I was okay." Her life currently revolves around surfing as she divides her time between New Smyrna and Povones, Costa Rica, where she runs Yoga Farm, a surf and yoga retreat.
Art and hand-made crafts interested Carr from an early age. From making clothing to growing food, her DIY approach extended in eclectic directions. A permaculturist, Carr values sustainability and repurposing materials.
"Anything I was interested in, I learned how to make it," she says. "It's a really fun way to go through life."
With her DIY ethos, making a surfboard seemed like an obvious thing for Carr to do. "I had this romantic idea of making one board," she recalls. Together with her then-boyfriend Pat (who is now her husband), Carr searched the internet to learn how to build a board. Scrolling through Swaylocks, an online shapers' forum, gave her a starting point.
Using hand tools, Carr shaped her first board in 2003. Over the next few years, she kept at it, "just cheese-grating boards by hand." Sometimes, she rode them herself, other times, she passed them to friends. To keep her new-found passion, Carr often took old longboards, ripped off the glass, and reshaped them.
The shift from backyard hobby to future business came when Carr met Randy Richenberg, a well-regarded Florida shaper. After he saw a board Carr made, Richenberg invited her to use his shaping room. Richenberg and other shapers, such as Jay Smith who owns Clever Surfboards, readily offered advice as she worked at their factory.
"It was like I moved into this environment with a lot of shaping older brothers that were looking out for me," Carr says. "They all just boosted me up, which is a really great thing."
Before long, Carr got a shed of her own and set it up out behind the factory. She has been taking orders from customers since 2017. This past year, Carr turned shaping into her full-time job for the six months she spends in New Smyrna.
The coastline around New Smyrna offers consistent surf, but the waves are often small. "It's nice to be able to turn a board quickly, even in small surf," she says. Carr likes to ride small, maneuverable craft. Fish, Mini-Simmons, and Egg shapes work especially well in Florida's conditions, she believes, and she has made these versatile designs the focus of her shaping.
Though she builds to order, Carr's favorite boards to make are what she calls "Performance Eggs." She loves crafting the refined, continuous lines that comprise the Egg shape. "They just tug at my heartstrings!" Whatever the specific design, Carr seeks to create a magic combination of weightless flow and rippable fun.
"I like a board that can truly flow with the wave, but can also allow for some spontaneity," she says. "You can sit there on a wave and trim and feel like you are being transported - but when that opportunity to turn comes along, I want the board to be able to do that."
While in Costa Rica last winter, Carr rode a fish that she borrowed from a friend. The experience led to a new appreciation for the fast, split-tailed boards. Experimenting in the shaping room, Carr has refined her fish shape by drawing in the tail and focusing on short lengths in the 4'10" to 5'4" range.
To achieve the precise curves in the fish tail, Carr uses a Japanese handsaw. "They're my favorite thing right now, just for getting into those tight spaces," she says. "They have these tiny, super sharp teeth and it just cuts like butter."
Sure, surfers can buy a well-made board off the rack. But Carr believes that surfers can benefit from working closely with a local shaper. Spending time listening to her customers talk about their surfing, both what it is now and what they hope it will become, is an important part of the process to her. Carr's knowledge of local conditions adds value, too.
For Carr, hand-shaping boards means building relationships with surfers in her community - both around Florida and in Coast Rica. This element of the craft has become especially meaningful to her. And it's a big part of what inspires her to head into the shaping bay each day.
"If you drive across the country, you've got your Walmarts and so many things are the same," she says. "In a time when we get this monochromatic look at things, I like the niche of being a hand-shaper and developing these human relationships."