Jon Pyzel grew up surfing in Santa Barbara, California, but moved to Hawaii in the early 1990s. He learned his craft under the mentorship of legendary North Shore shaper Jeff Bushman. In 1998 he made his first surfboard for a 5-year-old grommet called John John Florence. That now 20-year plus partnership has been the cornerstone of Pyzel Surfboards' transformation into an international business. Jon also makes boards for Tyler Wright, Jack Freestone, Nathan and Ivan Florence, and Koa Rothman. The WSL caught up with Jon in January of 2021 from his shaping bay in the Old Waialua Sugar Mill on the North Shore of Oahu.
Hi Jon, yet again, John seems to have raised the bar recently at Pipe, Haleiwa, Sunset, and the Outer Reefs. Have you changed anything specifically recently that has aided that?
Pyzel: He has been lighting it up around here for sure. His boards are not anything new, design-wise, but we are always working on the smallest details to try to squeeze as much juice as possible out of them. It might be a slight change in the curve of the rail or tuning in the thickness flow, or even figuring out different glassing lay-ups, but I am never just "done" with a design.
He's still progressing at such a rapid rate. How hard is it to keep up?
Having John as one of my test pilots is the most rewarding and challenging shaping relationship that I have. He's not only a great surfer, but he wants to understand what makes his surfboards do what they do, which adds a lot of value to his feedback. Just as he's learning from me I am learning to look at things from different perspectives and that constantly pushes me to evolve and progress my designs to help allow him to do what he envisions on a wave.
How different are John's surfboards from your other team riders, apart from the obvious weight and height changes.
John pretty much sticks to two main models that have come to suit his surfing really well; the Ghost and the Shadow. Both are wide-point and volume forward designs with pretty unique rockers. His last few years have been spent riding these and when I give him a more traditional high-performance design with a narrow nose, widepoint back of center, and lots of nose rocker he is usually not that into them. Beyond that, there are small details in each of my team rider's boards that make them unique to the individual, but all of them are pretty much riding boards that are identical to what we make for customers or surf shops.
Did last year without competition change the way you shaped for your team? Were there any benefits or disadvantages?
It's funny you ask that. I was just talking to Tyler Wright about this today. We both agreed that it was really cool to have that time away from the pressure of winning the next heat or comp.
It was the first time in years that I got to take any shapes that I wanted to make, give them to the best surfers in the world and have them try them out without worrying about throwing off their competitive edge!
And for my CT surfers like John, Tyler, and Jack Freestone it was the first time in their lives that they could just be "Surfers", not "Competitive Surfers", and they could get into feeling different things on a wave that they might not have otherwise. Tyler had never ridden anything besides a pointy nose tri-fin her whole life and I made her like four or five fun little boards with wide noses and quad set-ups and she loved them! We got to think outside competition and I think it was really refreshing for them, and fun for me.
How much do the pros boards designs feed into the boards you sell to average surfers?
The boards I make for my team are the same design-wise as I make for everyone. The major differences are in the dimensions and the way we glass them. Pro boards are mostly a bit more refined in width and thickness, and they are much lighter and more apt to self-destruct because they are trying to push their performance to the maximum and that comes at a cost. My designs are, hopefully, meant to enhance everyone's surfing and to let them surf the best that they can, but they suit surfers of all levels.
Lastly, what is most exciting right now in your shaping? And where will it take you in 2021?
I am really excited to watch what's going on in the big-wave realm and lucky to have a few special people pushing me in that area. I have been talking gun design a lot lately with Nathan Florence and he wants to be able to surf waves like Jaws the same way he approaches Backdoor Pipeline. He wants to be able to pull up into a monster barrel and then pump through it instead of the traditional "point and shoot" method that guys have always had to take.
It's a big challenge to make a board that can perform like that and still give him the paddle power that he needs to catch those waves in the first place. We have also been playing with a bunch of different EPS/Epoxy constructions that may improve overall performance and help keep lightweight boards from falling apart as fast, which is always a challenge. Once someone has a magic board we want it to last as long as possible. It's also been really great working with Ivan Florence on some shorter, stubby "Funformance" designs that really cater to his surf/skate style and translate well to everyday, normal surfers for weaker waves.