“Handmade on Long Island”
“I would say that’s pretty dead-on,” Becker says to Fawess as he compares the color of the surfboard he just painted to a palette a customer gave him. He mixed some colors—navy, white, a little bit of black—to create a light blue, and then he applied it to the blank surfboard. It now looks like a piece of the sky on a cloudless day.
Becker, 35, knows surfboards. Not only does he surf, he began shaping boards in a shack in his mother’s Blue Point backyard when he was 16, and since then he’s developed his own brand and opened a shop with the same name.
Natures Shapes is on the corner of Hiddink Street and Montauk Highway in Sayville. It’s a small store that stands out from the rest of the buildings on the block with its pebble-infused parking lot and colorful surfboard décor. But that’s not where the magic happens. A few miles down the highway in Oakdale is the white-walled, narrow factory where Becker and his team build and shape custom surfboards.
“We don’t import anything,” he says. “People seem to like that. Handmade on Long Island.”
Becker shapes boards from foam. After the shaping a board is layered with sheets of fiberglass, a strong-smelling varnish called resin is painted over the fiberglass to harden it. That whole process takes about two days. Next, the board is sanded and polished, and then the artwork comes in. Becker and his team can create anything from flowers to tie-dye to children’s doodles right off the refrigerator. Once the designing is done, a gloss coat is applied to finish it up. It takes about two to three weeks and a total of eight hours to complete a board, and prices start at $475 but go up with customization.
“It’s a lot of labor,” Becker says. “It’s kind of a labor of love.”
The factory shows just that: a combination of hard handiwork and a love for surfboards and surfing. The rooms reek of resin. Paint splatters cover the walls and foam shavings dust the floor. The voices of iconic Hawaiian musicians Israel Kamakawiwo’ole and Jack Johnson croon from speakers resting atop a cluttered shelf (“We don’t always listen to Hawaiian music,” Becker jokes). At any given time Becker is shaving a block of foam, Fawess is pulling sheets of fiberglass over a young board, and other factory workers are glossing and sanding. If someone didn’t know of LI’s surfing culture, they might think Natures Shapes is based out of a Southern California surf town.
Not that Becker doesn’t have any clientele there—he sells boards to surfers all over the country and even abroad. The waters off the coasts of France and Germany have little pieces of LI in them, too, thanks to Natures Shapes.
Becker says he hopes that with time, people will begin to realize how prominent surfing really is here.
“There are waves,” he says. “You just have to be there at the right time.”