Ice-Nine Apprenticeship Program Eliminates Cost Obstacle for Future Stick Craftsmen

AUGUST 2007, ORANGE, CA - Ryan Franz had been working the sander at Infinity Surf Shop, a major custom surfboard shed in Southern California. He was stoked when his boss, Steve Boehne, gave him some time in the shaping bay to work on carving shortboards. But learning the technique of shaping became a slow process, not because Steve or Ryan lacked enthusiasm, but because it was too expensive to practice on actual foam blanks. Burning a blank that they could never sell was a huge sacrifice of time and coin.

It pained the forward-looking crew at Ice-Nine Foam Works of Orange County to watch its experimental blanks get hauled to a recycling plant. Upon learning that hand shaping was becoming a dying art partly due to the economics described, Ice-Nine realized that there was an additional use for its test blanks as workbooks for aspiring shapers like Ryan. So it started an apprenticeship program that helps them take their skills to the next level.

This is a major fulfillment of one of Ice-Nine's original goals: to support the local and domestic custom-surfboard industry by creating new and better products for hand shapers. To that end, Ice-Nine now donates not-quite-ready-for-prime-time foam blanks to registered teacher-apprentice teams, asking only that they give back a signed 'finished' blank for Ice-Nine's display room.

To qualify for the Ice-Nine Apprenticeship Program, the teacher/student team must complete and submit an application form which they can obtain by calling their Ice-Nine representatives or the factory directly.

"Helping the masters pass on their skills gives a rush," says Ice-Nine founder Jon Stillman. "But that's certainly not our only motivation."

Stillman and Ice-Nine are determined to keep the hand-shaper off the endangered species list and also they want to make sure that surfboard design continues to flourish in a changing world. Radical breakthroughs in design have always occurred in the hands of the custom shaper, not at offshore cookie-cutter operations. The more people there are shaping one board at a time, the greater the chance that a hot, new idea gets tried and tested. But beyond that, increased experimentation leads to better boards, which leads to more fun in the sun.

"Shaping is an art and creative energy does not flow when teacher and student are both stressing over wasting a blank," reflects Stillman. "Hopefully by providing the blanks, we make it easier for master and apprentice teams like Steve Boehne and Ryan to jump in without hesitation. Sometimes it's best to just let the foam fly."

Ice-Nine Foam Works is a foam blanks manufacturer that focuses on finding and implementing new processes that will deliver new and better products to custom surfboard makers. Their overall goal is to elevate the surfing experience.

"Ice-Nine was built to support customization," explains Stillman. "We continue to look for ways to help this evolutionary process of experimentation and innovation through new foams, stringers, molds, and anything else that crosses out path."

The Ice-Nine Apprenticeship Program is available to teacher-student teams in the regions where Ice-Nine has distribution outlets: California, Florida and Hawaii.

"Your apprentice blank program has been very much appreciated here at Infinity. It has allowed my new shapers to really charge into a blank with the planer without the fear of wasting a very expensive first quality blank. No one can use a planer very well at first. You basically have to ruin a few blanks before you start even doing passable work. That pressure is intimidating to a new shaper and your donated blanks have really taken the pressure off. Thank you very much for this help." - Steve Boehne, Infinity Surfboards

"Learning to shape, practice makes or breaks you. I wouldn't be where I am today without the help of Ice Nine." - Ryan Franz, Apprentice

"I am able to learn so much quicker, because I can make mistakes and learn from them without worrying about ruining a blank that was bought." -Tim Marshal, Apprentice

"The Apprentice Program is a great opportunity for serious shapers and for someone unsure but interested.? As an example, instead of mowing lawns to save money for the batting cages, you get to practice with a pro pitcher." - Terry Martin, Hobie Surfboards