Surf's Up with Brent Clem | The Shaper Behind Our Surfboard

Holding our custom surfboard on the beach

Meet the artist and shaper behind our custom, hand-crafted surfboard

Have you seen our custom surfboard that hangs proudly on display at our Moana Surfrider location? In collaboration with Brent Clem, the mastermind behind B. Clem Surfboards, we designed a classic Waikiki nose rider with all of the makings of our beloved coffee shop. 
The surfobaord hanging in the Moana Surfrider cafe
The surfboard hanging up in the Moana Surfrider cafe
This board has Honolulu Coffee’s history and current coffee culture written all over it! The front side of the board has our logo printed on rice paper with our signature banana leaf wallpaper in-layed for the background. For the back of the board, we also in-layed our custom Tori Richard fabric from our original uniforms and hand painted our slogan “Brewed with Aloha”.
The curb appeal was strong on this Saturday morning in Kaka‘ako. We pulled up in the Sue Brew to the surf shop and found a perfect spot right out front. Brent Clem, owner of The Shop met us outside with his two best furry buds, Ron and Spuds. 

Brent Clem with his dogs
The Shop embodies an attitude of classic punk rock vintage, built to get the job done. The walls of the shop are decorated with little scribbles and clues from conversations he's had with anyone who comes by. A perfect place to play eye spy—and the epitome of efficient punk flare!

The real reason why we’re here? To catch up with Brent over some coffee and pastries about his journey with surfing and shaping.

Read our fun talk with him and our COO, Abigail Joslyn, below:

Brent Clem with Abigail Joslyn in the Sue Brew Van
Abigail and Brent

Abigail (A): So, we know that you hail from the land o’ lakes (Minnesota), but where did you catch your first wave?

Brent (B): Well, you know, I was 12 when I came to visit here with my family on vacation. I caught my first wave during a lesson in Waikiki. I had a scar on my wrist and probably still do because I fell and hit the reef. I surfed for two hours with an instructor and then the sunburn on my legs was so bad that I had to go to the doctors. After that, I was hooked.

I surfed for two hours with an instructor and then the sunburn on my legs was so bad that I had to go to the doctors. After that, I was hooked. 

A: Ha! So that’s what it takes?

B: Yeah, and after that, the second wave I’ve ever taken was in a place you’d least expect. I moved up to Duluth, Minnesota, which is close to the Canadian border and I took a kayaking class.

From there, I learned how to kayak in a pool and then they took us out into Lake Superior. While we were going to the lake to paddle around, I saw people surf board and asked my instructor, “Well, what is that?”’ He said, “Oh yeah, you can surf up here. There's a couple guys that do it.”

So that summer, I went home, bought a wetsuit and a surfboard, and moved back. During my sophomore year of college, I started surfing as much as I could—I was floundering around in frigid cold water with a 7mm wetsuit.
 

A: 7mm? That’s some CHILLY waters!

B: Yeah, but it was so good. I mean, I didn't surf. I tried. I was out there. I had frozen toes and stuff, but I tried.
 

A: So remind me, where were you at this stage of life exactly?

B: When I was going to University of Minnesota Duluth, all I wanted to do was surf. So, I applied for the University of Hawai‘i and transferred over here! I got accepted and that next year, moved here with a friend, and started surfing three days after.
 

A: OK. So, It’s one thing to surf, it’s another to shape boards. When did you think to try your hands at shaping your first board?

B: For my first one, I bought a planer and a blank from Fiberglass Hawai‘i and I started making it on my lanai. I upset a lot of neighbors with all of the dust everywhere. After I was done, I called Fiberglass Hawai‘i again to glass the surfboard, but I found out they only provided the materials without the service. Because of that mishap. They connected me with a guy Mr. Green, a shaper that’s been around here for a long time. Then I started doing repair projects for him for years, and eventually practiced under him.

Brent Clems 

A: Why would you say that you wanted to make a surfboard? Was it to ride better waves?

B: I don't know, I just always make stuff. Since I was little, I've always made stuff. Whatever caught my ear and attention, that's what I wanted to do.

Since I was little, I've always made stuff. Whatever caught my ear and attention, that's what I wanted to do.

A: You are a true born artist! What other kinds of stuff do you make? 

B: I’ve made some long skateboards and art stuff just laying around, you know, whatever I thought was art. Yeah, I love it. I don't really know why. It’s a funny thing, I don't know why I got into surfboards. I become focused on something and then kind of just jump all in. I mean, it's not a bad trait. Right?
 

A: It’s truly an admirable trait! Who are some people you admire? Who were some of your mentors when you started in this craft?

B:
Because space is pretty difficult to find and is expensive, anybody I’ve come in contact with has shaped me as a shaper. For example, Steve Matthews of North Shores. He helped me out a whole bunch business-⁠wise. Kimo Green, Brian King, Todd Pinder, Josh Murray, and Toots and Otis. So many other people... Alex! The list goes on and continues to grow. 
Original sketch of our custom surfboardOriginal sketch of our custom surfboard

A: Okay, so let’s talk about actually shaping surfboards. Can you give us the breakdown of all the different variables?

B: That's a big question. Everything starts back with basically a longboard. Then you get to the 70s, and now you have the shortboard progressing. People were cutting the longboards and then shrinking them to shortboards. You've got guys in Australia making all sorts of fins and all sorts of crazy stuff and hulls. I think everyone was doing stuff and it's all coming together now, basically. You have short to long to small to wave pools. 
 

A: What else might dictate how to shape a board for someone?

B: If you're a beginner, you're going to make something that's going to catch waves. If you're someone who surfs quite a bit, you probably know what kind of rails you like, and how you want to interact. I think art is being able to create something physical that represents a goal. A functional art. I always make art. Everyone wants to touch it. You can touch it.You can use it. You can ride it.

I think art is being able to create something physical that represents a goal. A functional art. I always make art

Taking the surfboard out to the beach

A: I have questions about volume! How are we supposed to determine the volume of a surfboard?

B: I think volume is sort of this big joke with hand shapers. It’s kind of like when a hand shaper talks to a new guy and there's volume.

What's volume? I can tell you how thick it is in the center. I can tell you details like that. I think volume might be something that people have become over-⁠obsessed with.

You can ride anything you want, really—it’s just how much time you put into it that determines how well you learn it. Of course, I think there's a science to knowing the volume of a board because it wouldn't be here if it wasn't a helpful metric, but I think it's also something for people to hide behind with lack of knowledge.
 
Basically, it's hard for a hand shaper to determine volume; it’s easier for a machine-made board to determine that. That's just my opinion. I mean, I guess at some point you can have as many specs as you want, but you've got to know how to use them. 

Taking the surfboard out with the Sue Brew van

A: What's the most functional part of making surfboard art?

B: Let’s see. You make the board hard. I actually prefer glassing over shaping because it’s more traditional—and that's where the magic is. Before the invention, the airbrush has been around but not acrylic paint. It was just a much more traditional way of doing pigmented resin stuff. I can airbrush. I do it a little bit, but I prefer to use resin. It's a little more difficult. Not everyone can just pick it up and start doing it. It's the art.
 
But I think part of that is that ability to always reframe what you're looking at. And then taking that moment of just even going back to your beginning sheet. I believe in conceptualization completely. I have a little notebook I carry with me every day. I read stuff I got to do, stuff I did. Little notes. Like, it's probably neurotic of me, but it's kind of how I roll.

Surfboard shaping at B. Clems

A: When you are in the creative flow, do you have any specific process or flow you like to follow? Any artistic rituals? You know, like how Bob Ross likes to slap his paint brush around after giving it a good clean?

B: More than anything, I definitely have to be in the mood to shape. It takes a lot of energy. Imagine walking around this thing (pointing to our custom surfboard propped up on two horses) for 2.5-3 hours, sweating, keep in mind there's no air conditioning here. Yeah, you have to want to be here. Other than that, my only real creative start would be my daily wake up, doing my dishes, writing in my book what I need to do (nodding to his black notebook clasped in his hand) and then coming down here. 
  

A: What kind of boards are you riding now-a-days? 

B: Well, I'm older. (Brent is not THAT old for the record) I definitely don't surf as much because I own a business. It's like a mechanic who probably has the most beat up car in the rack, even if he works on all the nicest cars. I have nice boards, but I don't surf as much as I would like to, so my boards are longer, thicker.
 

A: You're cruising longboards?

B: Yeah, I'm cruising. I'm looking to catch waves. When I was younger, I always wanted to ride shortboards, so I spent all this time struggling in the water and riding boards. Now I barely have an hour, I want to catch as many waves as I can. I don't want to have to feel tired. I don't want to be worn out when I get out of the water because I got to go back to work.
 
Yeah, longboards are for me! I would love to ride a shortboard again, but I got bad knees and I'm overweight, so it's not going to help me... It's not going to be good for anybody. Except for the person surfing next to me. 
 

A: I love it. So basically the lesson learned is, it's important to meet yourself where you are today. How do you fuel yourself through caffeinated beverage choices? What is your favorite drink of choice?

B: Oh shoot. This is a hard one! I like to brew coffee at home and add a little cinnamon to the grinds. I used to drink a lot of cream. And then it's just too much now. So basically I think black with a little bit of cream is how I do it. But! If I'm at Honolulu Coffee, then the Hawaiian latte for sure.

Close up of the B. Cleams surfboard inside of Moana Surfrider

Mahalo Brent! 

You can support Brent’s craft by checking out his website at bclemsurfboards.com or following his Instagram @bclemsurfboards.


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