Matt Calvani Story
by Robyn McGinnis
How does a kid from Salem Massachusetts become a surfboard shaper? He follows his heart and dreams until eventually his hard work begins to pay off. This is the story of Matt Calvani: Originally from Salem, Mass. Calvani migrated to the South Bay at the tender age of 14. His parents were divorced and his mom was busy trying to support herself and Matt, which left Matt pretty much to his own devices.
Luckily for him he met and became friends with a couple of local surfers. Surfing and ocean activities had always interested Matt and he wasted no time getting in the lineup in Hermosa. If you ask Matt about his first surfing experience, he grins at the memory. It seems his new friends thought it would be hilarious to watch their inexperienced buddy get worked on a double overhead, grindy day at the pier. They never expected him to make it out and were completely shocked when he did. He’s been hooked ever since, and surfing has become not only his life, but his livelihood as well.
Ask Calvani how he ended up shaping surfboards and he'll tell you his father was a craftsman, who worked with his hands. The desire to do the same must have been passed on to Matt. "I never really liked school" said Calvani. "So I got a job as an apprentice to Tom Stanton." Stanton a well-known South bay shaper was working at a local surf shop when the story takes a familiar turn.
Like so many before him, Calvani a surf grom with nothing better to do, spends his time hanging out at a local surf shop, he meets a shaper who takes him under his wing and the rest is history. It was Stanton who taught Matt the art of airbrushing and upon retiring from airbrushing himself, sent all his business Matt's way. Calvani opened up shop in his Mom's garage and began airbrushing full time.
Around 1988, Wayne Rich gave him his first blank to shape, "I shaped a 6'2 squashtail" said Calvani "it was my first attempt and it solidified my desire to be a shaper" Matt’s house was eventually torn down, forcing him to move his airbrushing business from his Mom's garage to Shoreline Glassing.
Shoreline was where Hap Jacobs and Dennis Jarvis of Spyder Surfboards shaped and he was able to get a job rough-shaping boards for Hap. Eventually Hap offered him the chance to start shaping boards from start to finish and Matt jumped at the opportunity. Dennis Jarvis was so impressed with Matt's work that he asked him to shape for him as well. This was during Jarvis' prime and Matt was working along side Dennis making boards for the likes of Tom Curren, Shane Dorian and many more.
Eventually Dennis offered Matt a chance to shape exclusively for him as did Phil Becker. Phil made an offer Matt couldn't refuse and thus began Matt's 8 year stint as one of Becker's top shapers. It was while at Becker that Matt created an impressive shortboard program, shaping for the likes of Greg Browning, Geoff Moysa, Pascal Stansfield, and many more.
He was hand shaping more than 25 shortboards a week in addition to longboards and mid-ranges. Matt also continued to do some shaping not only for Hap Jacobs, but Lance Carson and Rick Surfboards as well and his talent for shaping traditional longboards was apparent. "While I was shaping for these guys, I must’ve shaped 50 to 100 balsa boards along with all the foam boards" said Calvani. During this time Matt met and became friends with Dan Bendiksen.
Bendiksen had been the head shaper for Bing Surfboards during the 1960's and 1970's. He introduced Matt to Bing Copeland and Mike Eaton. Mike at that time was shaping and distributing the Bing Surfboard line. Mike Eaton's own line of boards and paddle boards was growing in popularity, naturally he wanted to focus his attention there. A successor to Eaton and the Bing Line was needed. "Dan opened the door for me to inherit the Bing line" said Calvani. Bing was impressed not only with Matt's talent, but his enthusiasm as well, so with the blessing of Mike Eaton he turned the line over to Matt. Shortly thereafter Calvani left Becker Surfboards.
He set up shop along side Tyler Hatzikian of Tyler Surfboards. "Truly one of the most talented surfboard designers I know" said Calvani of Hatzikian. A mentor in his own right, Hatzikian was generous with his time and talent. "I learned so much watching Tyler" said Matt, "working and surfing with him catapulted me to another level, he's one of the best longboarders I've ever seen."
Although he had shaped more longboards than he could count, Matt Calvani was primarily a shortboarder, he remembers a transition during his time with Tyler. "I was becoming somewhat disenchanted with shortboarding" said Calvani, "the conflict involved was frustrating, on a shortboard it feels a little like you're fighting all the time, it felt angry. Riding a longboard was just fun again, you're whole demeanor changes on a longboard. I don’t know I guess you become more tolerant of your surroundings when you’re out there on a longboard. Maybe it's the glide, it's so smooth and fluid, it’s kind of peaceful. It's corny I know and it's hard to explain, but there's defiantly something to be said about the glide on a longboard."
As for the direction of his work, "It's simple, my shaping just started to reflect what I was doing in my surfing" said Calvani."I was drawn to the traditionalism of longboarding and I found myself really embracing the longboard community." Today Calvani shapes exclusively for Bing, Hap Jacobs and Rick Surfboards. Upon his retirement Hap Jacobs handed down his planer and Matt moved into Jacobs factory in Hermosa Beach. Matt Calvani has come full circle. The Hap Jacobs factory is still located in the same location he started at, next to Shoreline Glassing. He continues to shape all of the proven Bing and Jacobs models, and has created a few new designs.
His most recent Bing shape is a single fin, traditional board called the Silver Spoon. As for Jacobs, his most recent revivals are the Jacobs/Lance Carson Model and the Jacobs/Mike Purpus Model, which he describes as "The next generation Nuuhiwa noserider". These shapes along with all the others can be found at most of the major surf shops in the United States and abroad.
Ask someone who's ordered a board from Matt Calvani what separates him from the pack, and you'll likely hear them say that he's a super cool guy whose ego remains in check. He’s personable and approachable. Whether you’re one of his team riders or a beginner just learning to surf, he’ll take the time to share his experience and knowledge with you. He makes beautiful boards that work and he makes you feel good about buying them. What more could you ask for in a shaper?