Channel Islands Surfboards was founded by Al and Terry Merrick in Santa Barbara, California, in 1969. Over the past 50 years, it has helped surfers like Tom Curren, Kelly Slater, Lisa Andersen, Kim Mearig, Adriano De Souza and Sofia Mulánovich earn a combined total of 20 World Champion titles.
Britt Merrick, the son of Al and Terry, was pretty much raised in the factory and started shaping in 1990. After serving as a pastor for the last two decades, last year Britt took ownership of the company and is now the CEO and head shaper. He designs boards for Dane Reynolds, Lakey Peterson, Mikey February, Parker Coffin, Connor O'Leary, Sage Erickson, Bobby Martinez and the Gudauskas brothers, to name a few. We caught up with Britt in his surfboard factory in Carpinteria in early March.
WSL: How different are the surfboards for each of your other team riders, apart from the obvious weight and height changes.
Britt Merrick: All the ream rider's boards are very different. It's amazing how one great rocker or design will work for one surfer and not another. They all want something different, and that's part of the fun and part of the challenge to work out who needs what. Even if they like the same rocker, they'll like different rails, different tuck, different tail outline, and thickness. So that means they are on very different boards.
Do they often change the designs, or request something radically different?
Some surfers want the boards exactly the same every time. They draw confidence from that approach, and so we are just dialing in the smallest details so they know how the board will react.
Other surfers, however, will get to that place of it being super dialed in, and then they want to feel something different or draw different lines. So that's two different challenges that keep you on your toes.
Did the last year without competition change the way you shaped for the team?
It was an individual choice. Take Lakey Peterson for example; she took that time as a chance to work as if nothing had changed. She stayed the course, and maintained the same boards and kept refining them.
Other surfers took a different tack. Sage took a more laid-back approach. She tried some of our more out-there models and had fun. That wasn't a case of being less serious or committed, but just what works for her and where her head space was. Then we ramped back up when the competitions were called on.
Speaking of the new events, did that change your approach to the quivers the surfers had for Australia?
There were definite changes made when Bells and Snapper were out, and we made adjustments as there are more beachbreaks involved. But the CT surfers ride such similar craft across most locations that those tweaks were subtle.
How much do the pros' boards designs feed into the boards you sell to average surfers?
There is a direct link between the pros boards and the stock boards, but I think a lot of that link comes from what the shapers learn when working with really good surfers.
So, I'll develop a really good rocker with a good surfer and then I'll have to detune it a little bit for production. The interaction with the team riders is the R & D phase. It's a bit like car companies with their racing teams; you push the technology and the designs trickle down to the production models.
Just how in-depth is that relationship with the surfers and their boards?
I surf Rincon every time there are waves and talk to normal surfers who are super dialed into design. They can talk on a granular and smart level about how their boards perform. However, with the professionals, the stakes are much higher. Part of my job is to educate those surfers on their equipment because their livelihood depends on it.
What is most exciting right now in your shaping? And where will it take you in 2021?
My greatest joy is working with team riders and great surfers. I love the challenge of how demanding their talent and mind space are. That keeps me really sharp. The challenge of identifying what designs each surfer needs and dialing it in is what I enjoy. And through that journey comes a relational component that I love. The one-to-one time in the shaping bay, the times together in the surf. It's how we can help each other reach our goals that gets me out of bed in the morning.