[This is an excerpt from “A Line of Their Own”, featured in SURFER Vol. 59, Issue 3, which profiles six women who are carving unique paths through shaping, competition, big-wave surfing and beyond]
“People ask if it’s a gimmick,” says San Diego-based shaper Christine Brailsford Caro, describing one of her more unconventional designs as we sit in the shade behind Moonlight Glassing, where she shapes under her Furrow label. “But I don’t like gimmicks, and I wouldn’t make these boards if they didn’t work.”
The design in question, called the “Labyrinth,” has an egg-like outline with the wide point moved way back, and it features the edge-bottom concept pioneered by the iconic shortboard revolutionary, George Greenough. Greenough had told his close friend and fellow board builder Marc Andrieni to share the design with a few promising shapers to see what they could do with it, which is how Brailsford Caro found herself carving the odd-looking hard edge through the bellies of her boards. “There’s something about the speed and lift that you get from the edge-bottom,” says Brailsford Caro. “On a board with a round tail and single fin, it just feels like a magic combination.”
Brailsford Caro doesn’t make what most would consider “high-performance” surfboards–as in narrow-and-wafer-thin, 5’10”-ish thrusters–but rather focuses on shaping surfcraft that allow for effortless flow and smooth transitions from rail to rail. That idea of performance, focusing on the simple pleasures of glide and drawing timeless lines, is the only kind Brailsford Caro is interested in, whether she’s putting planer to foam or paddling out at her local reef break.
“There’s a feeling that I’m going for with most of the boards I make,” says Brailsford Caro. “I want you to be able to stand near the middle of the board, plane really fast down the line and do smooth cutbacks and bottom turns into high lines. I want people riding my boards to feel like they’re surfing better without forcing anything.”
As a fixture of the typically soft reefs and beach breaks that dot the coastline of San Diego’s North County, Brailsford Caro sees her boards as a product of both her personal taste and necessity. Searching for new feelings and getting the most fun out of often lackluster waves are the goals of her designs, and also the reasons she gravitated toward shaping in the first place.
“I had just graduated art school, and one day I decided that I wanted to make a paipo board,” says Brailsford Caro about her first foray into making surfcraft about a decade ago. “I had some ¾-inch plywood, and I was like, ‘I’m just going to shape this thing, even though I don’t know what I’m doing.’ But I made it, and it floated [laughs]. It gave me this feeling I’d never experienced before, which just made me more excited to do it again. Plywood is really cheap, so I could make one in the morning, take it to the ocean in the afternoon and test it. It was like DIY board testing where I just kept refining it. I was immediately hooked.”
Her passion for surfcraft design snowballed from there, with Brailsford Caro quickly graduating from plywood to foam and fiberglass, shaping a handful of boards for herself before her eye-catching designs started attracting custom orders. Today, she spends most days mowing foam in the Moonlight Glassing bay, sculpting fish, logs and a multitude of eclectic shapes in between.
Brailsford Caro wants to be known for her craftsmanship and the care she puts into every piece of foam that comes through her bay. What she doesn’t want is to be seen as a novelty, as female shapers are rare in the board-building industry.
“Honestly, when I first started shaping, it never occurred to me that it was unusual for women to shape,” says Brailsford Caro. “I grew up using tools and always making art, and I always had the mentality of ‘learn to use the tools to make what you want.’ So that’s been true for me, whether the tool was a planer or a paintbrush. I never thought, ‘Oh, I can’t shape boards because I’m a girl and I’m not strong enough or it’s not socially acceptable.’ It’s unfortunate that some people think like that, because obviously we can do this and do it well.”