Santa Cruz local Kirk Mcginty of L41 surfboards has created a niche for himself and as a result the L41 logo is starting to litter the waters of Santa Cruz with some rad alternative shapes due to Kirk’s creativity. Sit down, relax, and read up on the birth and the future of L41 Surfboards.
Warning: Reading this article will make you want to call L41 Surfboards and order a board. Perfect timing… Christmas present to yourself!
NCS: How and when did you start shaping surfboards?
KM: I made my first board in 1996 while working at an industrial design firm in Sunnyvale, CA. My degree is in product design and I’m a CAD designer by trade. I’ve always been interested in forms, surfaces, clean curves, etc.. That combined with my surfing background made designing a surfboard inevitable. My first board was made using hi-end software and was cut on a 500K CNC milling machine. This was before anybody was using machines to produce surfboards. I had it glassed at Full Metal Jacket by Don Hicks and Vince Collier and it worked great! I followed up with a few more and eventually got curious about hand shaping. After a handful of bad attempts and some coaching by a good friend and pro shaper I was able to make something that worked. I’d hand shaped a few dozen boards when I met Marlin Clegg at Cybershapes. He ran the first cutting center in Santa Cruz and spoke my language in terms of CAD/CAM and its role in surfboard manufacturing. I quickly realized that I could get much better results by using a mouse and a milling machine than I could with a planer. Eventually, KKL, AKU Shaper and Shape 3D came along and it got much easier to deliver files to cutters in return for next to perfect pre-cut shapes.
What is the name of your surfboard brand?
KM: L41 Surfboards, short for “Lower 41st Avenue” — one of the most vibrant neighborhoods in Santa Cruz and home to some of my favorite waves . It started out as a sort of inside plug to my friends, then as it grew I liked the idea of capturing some of the energy of the area and translating it through my brand.
NCS: What is your favorite aspect of shaping?
KM: Hands down the greatest thing is handing off a custom shape to a stoked customer. Second is to be creating something functional with the tools I have and receiving positive feedback from the people who ride it. There’s also the therapeutic aspect and hands-on creative value to getting in the shaping room with some good music and dialing in a foam sculpture.
NCS: How about your least favorite?
KM: Tough question. Probably the learning curve involved in designing good boards. It’s taken years and endless tweaks to get to where I am now. As soon as I think I’ve got a winner, a subtle change to rocker, fin placement, thickness flow, etc. can make it better. This can be frustrating but then I have to remind myself that there’s a natural evolution to everything. This constant learning and change is vital to the design process.
NCS: Is there a certain shape you sell more of?
KM: I do a fair share of performance shortboards but have to say alternative shapes are my niche. Anything short, wide and flat and any variety of non-standard quads are a staple. I also do a lot of performance SUP designs, long boards, eggs – anything really.
NCS: Do a lot of your customers come in knowing what dimensions they want already or do they tell you their skill level and type of waves they surf and then let you run with it?
KM: I’d say half of my custom orders are from people with a particular design in mind. With the advent of model names (i.e., dumpster diver, rocket, flyer, etc.) it’s gotten much easier to interpret a customer’s wants. Of course there are also customers who don’t know exactly what board to order. Using my skill set and experience it can be fun and challenging to determine what would be best for them. I also get orders from folks who have an idea that maybe goes beyond what is considered “normal”. These are the projects I like best. An example would be a high performance SUP based on the Mini-Simmons platform.
NCS: Where is your local surf spot?
KM: The Hook. However it really depends on the time of year and wave conditions. I basically surf anywhere between Rockview and Trees with occasional jaunts down to the beaches and Moss Landing.
NCS: What do enjoy most about living Santa Cruz?
KM: The best thing is the consistency and quality of the waves here. Every day is surfable given the right equipment. I also love how accessible the ocean is and the geography.
NCS: Where would you like to see yourself five years from now?
KM: Retired and living in Costa Rica would be nice but probably not realistic. I hope to be happy, secure in my job and still crankin’ out good boards for people!
NCS: Who are your influences?
KM: If I had to pick any particular people in the industry whose craft or skill I especially respect and appreciate I’d say Gerry Lopez, John Carper and Rich Pavel. But being self-taught and a naturally creative person I never really aspired to be like anyone else or make something “as good” as or better than another guys.
NCS: What would you say to the individuals that are just are thinking about shaping or just started?
KM: There’s no better feeling than riding a board that you made yourself. No matter how crappy you may think it looks it’ll always be magic.
NCS: Is there anyone that you would like to thank?
KM: I’d like to thank Mark Brown and the crew at Paradise Fiberglass for years of amazing glassing. Also David Vernor for sharing his tips, tricks and industry contacts with me.