Sunset Shapers, Welcome to the Neighborhood
On a beautiful, sunny September morning, James Mitchell gave the Ocean Beach Bulletin a sneak preview of his new Sunset District surfboard store, Sunset Shapers. A bright and airy space at the corner of Noriega Street and 46th Avenue, it’s filled with what you’d expect: surfboards. Beautiful surfboards. James, a 26-year-old resident of the Outer Sunset, is the man behind Las Olas Surfboards and has opened a storefront so he can shape his custom boards in the neighborhood. On Saturday, Sept. 25, James is hosting a grand opening for Sunset Shapers. The Bulletin’s Mark Lukach watched and filmed James as he put the finishing touches on a new longboard, and then they chatted about his shaping, the store and Ocean Beach.
Q: Tell me about your background as a shaper.
James Mitchell: I started shaping about three to four years ago. I started by doing it in my garage. It started as ding repair, and then transitioned into shaping boards for myself and friends. My roommates got sick of the mess, so I worked up at my parents’ for a bit, until I got a job at the Haut shop in Santa Cruz. That was the beginning of my apprenticeship. I learned about glassing, sanding and the tricks of the trade. I learned a lot from glasser Doug Fletcher, who took me under his wing and is considered one of the best in the business. I picked up tips along the way from other shapers and learned a lot about the design theory behind surfboards. After the last three years of working in Santa Cruz, I wanted to open a shop up in the city, to bring it back to where it all started for me.
Q: How long have you lived here?
J: I’ve lived in the Outer Sunset for about six years. I grew up in Sonoma County, and have surfed Ocean Beach since around high school or so. I’ve always wanted to live here, going back to when I was a little kid, and it’s nice to have everything that I want within a few blocks of each other. I can walk to the beach and walk to the shop.
Q: You’re in the same hub on Noriega Street where the SF Surf Shop used to be. Do you see your shop as trying to continue the trend of having a local shaper for Ocean Beach?
J: Definitely. When I started the shop, I had John Schultz (of SF Shop) very much in mind. He was out here for many years and was known for shaping some of the best boards specifically for Ocean Beach. In many ways, that’s the niche I’m going for. I design a lot of my boards for Ocean Beach, and do about 90 percent custom orders. Most of my work is focusing on giving the customer not only what they want out of a surfboard, but in my opinion what will work best for them, so that they can progress their surfing to where they want to take it.
Q: What do you like about surfing at OB and the surf community out here?
J: It’s really close-knit out here, and I like that a lot. It’s a low-pro surf town, and everyone kind of knows each other and looks out for each other. The best thing about Ocean Beach is that it may not be the most picturesque place on earth, but when it does turn on, the locals who put in the daily work really score the best waves, and do so without vibing outsiders. This place can throw anything you can handle at you, from small, two-foot longboard waves to 20-foot bombs.
Q: Give me a bit more background on Las Olas, and Sunset Shapers.
J: Las Olas is named after my dog, Olas, and means “the waves” in Spanish. As I said, it started in my garage because I wanted to ride alternative boards but didn’t want to pay too much for them, so I made them myself. That’s been the model I’ve been following ever since: I try to keep my boards as affordable as possible while still providing a high-quality product. It went from making boards for me, to then for friends and then friends of friends. As for the store, my customer basis is mostly in San Francisco, and I wanted to be nearby so that my customers could be more involved in the process of the creation of their boards. I’m trying to keep the old-school feeling alive for surf shops, by shaping them in the back room and selling them out front, which is really being lost in the surf industry. I want to provide a place to spread the knowledge of surfing and board design in a customizable way.
Q: I imagine that like a lot of surfers, I first heard about Las Olas at one of the Wet Wednesday benefits where you donated boards. What has inspired your involvement in these events?
J: [Wet Wednesday founder Jeff Grubler] had a great attitude from the start, and all the boards I’ve donated have been to benefit a local nonprofit. I feel like I’ve gotten so much from the Ocean Beach community that I wanted to give back. But from a more selfish perspective, it gave me and Las Olas some great exposure. It was a win-win.
Q: On Saturday you have your grand opening for your store. What are the plans, and the bigger vision for your store:
J: The grand opening is mainly a meet-and-greet for the community. We’ll have free food and music, and will raffle off some goodies from the shop. I want to open the doors to the community and let everybody come in and see what’s up. As for my long-term goals for the shop, I want to provide a good product for surfers. It’ll be part surf shop, part clubhouse, part art gallery, just a nice hub where people can hang out after a surf, talk design and waves, and feel like it is theirs.
Sunset Shapers is at 3896 Noriega St at 46th Avenue. The store hosts its grand opening at 1 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 25.