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Shaper series: James Fulbright’s coastal magic tricks

Because it takes all shapes, the spotlight is on local shaper, James Fulbright. Currently shaping under the Senator label, James still has a few tricks of the trade up his t-shirt sleeves. He shares some magical moments in this exclusive interview.

Shaper series: James Fulbright’s coastal magic tricks-slide0
Strictly Hardcore Surf Specialties
James at home in the board room
James Fulbright

James Fulbright started shaping all because he fell in love. He fell in love with a Brazilian-made board. He called the used shortboard “absolutely magic.” Deep in extensive repairs and curious to discover what made that particular shape work, James initiated his career. James’ stance on shaping is the usual. Except, he adds in a “combination of secrets and magic,” the same kind of magic that happened when he rode his first wave back in '67. He claims that when surfboard shaping becomes mechanized and computerized, it forces design and innovation to become stagnant. “Magic surfboards are usually created from mistakes, imperfections or experiments gone awry,” according to Fulbright. He urges a warning to the surfing community: “Support your local shapers or prepare for the end of magic surfboards.”

Humble Beginnings
It all started as a surfboard repair shop in the lower level of a two-story rental house. Picture a dirt floor. The ceiling clearance hung low at 6’6”. Smells of fiberglass and resin wafted in the air. Fulbright speaks nostalgically about this time period: “I shaped my first surfboard in early 1988. By the end of the year, I had shaped nearly one hundred custom surfboards. No turning back then!” He recollected that to his astonishment, the shape turned out well. Although, he admits: “I ruined it with a butt-ugly paint job. It happens.” James and Debbie Fulbright are historically celebrated for their surf reports. James elaborates:

The first day I opened I started the daily telephone surf report-- where I would personally answer each and every call and tell them about the conditions. It became so popular that I had to put it on an answering machine, so I could get some work done! It has continued for the past twenty-eight years. Since the advent of the internet, surf cams, and smart phones, the telephone report has become obsolete. We are phasing it out, sadly.”

Board Room
He describes his board room as “home.” The main attraction in his shop is the shaping room. Customers have their own observation tower. They can watch their board being made while sitting high atop a bar stool and looking through a substantial picture window. Onlookers can feel welcome in the well-lit room. Death metal, like Slayer or Metallica, is likely playing. James jokes: “I try to keep it mellow.” The dark green walls embrace overhead lights, foam bones, tools, and a dusting of well, dust!

“Early on in my career, I started inviting other shapers to come to town and shape at my factory. It was called the ‘guest shaper program.’ […] Every one of them gave me valuable insight and taught me tricks and secrets,” he relayed. James drew inspiration from Gary Linden, Tim Bessell, Mike Hynson, and Max McDonald. While working at Freestyle Fin System (the number one surfboard fin in the 1980s), Donn Leva became James’ mentor. Leva gave him his first and only shaping lesson. James is happy to pass on the tradition of mentorship to anyone who will show him the courtesy of ordering one of his boards.

Experience and Evolution
“If someone goes through the same routine thousands of times, they had better get better at it! I am a better shaper now than I was when I started. When you hand shape each and every board, you learn something new every board. The difference between knowledge and wisdom? Experience,” posits James. He regularly uses two planers and nearly twenty-five modified tools and blocks. He also holds dear templates and shared tools bestowed to him by shaping friends. Shaping surfboards by hand is what James refers to as “a combination of art and engineering.” He further perpetuates that innovation is a “natural byproduct of that marriage.” His first label was the Major Surf logo. In 1991, he bought out his competitor, Hurricane Surfboards. Unfortunately, in 2006, a South African surf company assumed international trademark rights. Since that time period, Fulbright shapes under the Senator brand in honor of his great-great uncle, Senator James W. Fulbright of Arkansas. This is the senator for which the famed, Fulbright Scholar Program is named.

Board Recommendations
James recommends a high-performance longboard for local conditions. Additionally, he recommends ordering a board which thickness and dimensions relate well to your height, weight, and ability. His favorite type of board to make is one that “the customer is stoked on!”

Words to Live by
“Keep local surfers riding local shapes.” –James Fulbright

To order a custom board, contact:
James Fulbright
Strictly Hardcore Surf Specialties
3702 Avenue R, Galveston, TX, 77550
p. (409) 763-1559
Depending on options, sizes, and materials, a custom Senator board will run anywhere from $600-$1,100.

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