The south shore of Long Island is rich in surfing history. As a sport, and more importantly, a lifestyle, surfing has been gaining popularity since the mid-1960s. Over the years, many local surfing families developed reputations for quality surfboard shaping. Their shaping legacies were handed down from generation to generation. But Tommy Grimes, the 22-year-old founder of Island Surfboards in Massapequa, has a more unconventional story. He didn’t inherit a shaping legacy, he’s building his own.
Launched in March of 2009, Island Surfboards started out as an experiment for Grimes. Though he learned basic sanding and glassing techniques from Seaford-based shaper and mentor Dennis Myers, he mostly taught himself.
“Shaping was a gradual process,” he said. “My senior year of high school I started to create messy projects alongside my father ripping up old boards and re-glassing them. The process was awful, but it showed me the fundamentals of engineering a watercraft. It then turned into pondering the idea of buying blanks and testing my abilities to shape a year later in 2009. Each board I made, however, was a stepping stone to where I am now. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to make them, but rather a special type of craftsmen who is willing to put in the time to achieve the results they want.”
Grimes has only been professionally shaping for about four years. Because of this, some seasoned surfers might be weary about quality. However, Grimes said his tenacity for creating durable, fun, well-crafted, performance surfboards is his biggest strength. In shaping, the amount of hard work and passion put into each board is what determines it’s worth, regardless of experience.
“The root of the craft weeds out the shapers who do not possess the passion for it,” he said. “My dedication and passion for the craft speaks for itself. I am not in this business to become rich, nor just to express myself. It is a reason I can’t fully explain. The only thing I know for certain is that I love to make surfboards and I love to build a legacy behind it. The competition is faced out in the water catching waves on my surfboards, not in the other shapers. A true shaper knows this code to be true.”
So what makes the shaper behind Island Surfboards stand out among the rest? He never turns down a project. “Simply put its how far I am willing to go for the customer,” he said. “Every customer who has purchased a board off me will tell you how dedicated I am to create them their master board. I take everything into account, including their riding style, physique and actual surfing goals in order to concoct a surfboard that is perfectly designed for them.”
And as you can imagine, he’s had some pretty tough projects. “A friend of mine, who is built similar to an ox and weighs in at about 250 solid pounds, wished to have his own modern shortboard,” Grimes said. “It was a project that I thought was impossible at first, but it turned out to be a great success by keeping the volume, strengthening the glass and widening the shape itself of the board. One of the liberties of being a shaper is that you can act as a consultant to all watercraft projects and not just surfboards. I’ve come across orders where a customer wants a body board that looks similar to a sting ray. The name of it still yet to be determined due to its confusing look.”
As a stock broker by day and a surfboard shaper by night, Grimes said his ultimate goal is to one day make Island Surfboards his main source of income. However, this aspiration takes time, Grimes said, and it’s not achieved overnight. Until then, Grimes is focused on building quality surfboards.
“I want to naturally grow this business over time by developing a clothing line and keep on making custom surfboards hopefully on a much larger level,” he said. “I feel good business is rooted in the demand for the product, as well as fine quality, so I am in no rush to expand at a rapid rate.”
You can contact Tommy Grimes for custom-made surfboards and remember to “like” Island Surfboards on Facebook! Take a look at the video below featuring some of the Island Surfboards crew on their recent trip to Puerto Rico.