Pro Surfer Shapes Boards, Too

Luckily for Robin Johnston, he has found that the best PR tool for his business is to do what he enjoys the most anyway: “Being in the water and surfing.”

As the owner of surfboard-shaping company RJ Surf, Johnston regularly meets new business contacts just by doing what he loves. Plus, there is an added benefit to all that time in the water: “The R and D that is done is super legitimate because I am in the water constantly testing all of the models that I make,” he explains at his Haleiwa home, where he shapes all of his boards in a small studio.


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Johnston surfing in Micronesia. PHOTO BY BEN THOUARD

Johnston has been surfing since he was just 5 years old, when he had his first experiences in the water at a small break at Malaekahana Bay. From the time he was a teenager, he has been traveling the world as a professional surfer for various competitions. Later, he also began competing in stand-up paddleboarding.

He began shaping in 2000 and launched RJ Surf soon after.

“It was a natural transition,” he explains. “I had been around surfboard building and I had friends who were good shapers, and after watching them do it, I thought I would give it a try.

“Creatively, it is so incredibly fulfilling,” he says. “It is like sculpting, which is a really challenging art form. But what is even more exciting is that you actually ride your sculptures, and other people ride them.”

No matter what type of surfing you’re into, RJ Surf likely has you covered, with a collection that includes shortboards, fishes, guns, longboards and stand-up paddleboards. Design, color, glassing and fins all can be customized for each individual. His clientele includes both recreational and competitive local surfers, and RJ Surf even has a number of buyers in Japan.

Johnston feels that his experience as a professional surfer gives him an edge as a shaper.

“Riding waves that are different … than in Hawaii gives you an understanding of how different designs can perform in different conditions,” he explains. “The variety of different kinds of surf brings on different needs.”

Today in his studio, Johnston is a true pro — he seamlessly glides the shaper over the board to create grooves on a stand-up paddleboard before sanding it down. But to get to this point, he admits, was a painstaking learning curve. What kept him going through that process is when fellow surfers loved the boards he made.

“It’s really fun to watch people get excited about what you shape for them,” he says. “That makes it really, really rewarding.”

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