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Sawing. Trimming. Mixing. Taping. Glassing. Sanding. Polishing. Most people have no clue just how much effort goes into building a surfboard before it’s swell-ready!
While surf culture has been predominantly male for what seems like forever, the number of female surfers is on the rise. And with that increase, we're seeing more and more women behind the planer* – but it’s still quite rare to hear about female glassers**.
Kelly Feltis is one member of this rare breed, breaking the mold and blazing a trail while working out of Tofino, British Columbia. Kelly chatted with Eidon about finding her place in the glassing world and the value of persistence when you’re chasing a dream – here are her pearls of wisdom.
*A planer is a tool used to shape surfboards.
**Glassing is the process of finishing a surfboard by sealing and fibreglassing it after it’s shaped.
Eidon: What inspired you to become a glasser and who guided you along the way?
Kelly: Glassing first caught my attention when I started working on the repair end of Aftanas Surfboards. Seeing the glassing process and watching online videos is when I really became inspired. Stefan Aftanas (patiently and painfully) taught me everything I know, and continues to teach me to this day – and for many years to come, I’m sure, if I don’t drive him crazy first!
Eidon: Growing up, were there any female board builders you admired?
Kelly: I was introduced to surfing in my 20’s and the surf industry in my early 30’s (late bloomer). It was when I started glassing that I started hearing about female shapers.
Valerie Duprat of Mere-Made Surfboards was the first. As soon as I heard of Valerie, I read everything about her and her journey. It’s a great story about ‘just going for it,’ working hard, and sticking to it – so inspiring! It really gave me the push I needed at the time.
Eidon: The work you do for Aftanas Surfboards is simply beautiful – it's functional art at its finest. What are the pros and cons of board building in Tofino?
Kelly: A big positive is being at the heart of the largest surfing community in Canada. It also doesn’t hurt that the business is minutes away from the surf for both board orders and ding repair.
The one negative for me would be the temperature fluctuation throughout the year. Warm weather is resin’s friend, within reason. Cold weather, however … not so much. It makes polyester resin syrupy and catalyzing tricky. It’s harder to get a good hotcoat and curing takes longer, so it messes with the whole process!
Glassing at the best of times is hard. Adding in ever-changing weather conditions … *insert eye twitch here.*
Eidon: What advice do you have for girls who dream of learning the craft?
1. If you don’t live in or near a surf community, move to one.
2. Start by doing board repairs. Boards are expensive, so repairs can be pricey as well. There are lots of surfers who are willing to hand over a board if they can get it fixed for free, or for the price of feeding you lunch (but once you progress in your skills, price your work appropriately). Create a portfolio of your high-quality work as you go.
3. Knowledge is power. Take the time to watch videos and learn processes, like which tools to use and how to use them.
4. Once you have some skills and a portfolio, start knocking on doors, and continue knocking until one of them lets you in. Also, take whatever job gets your foot in the door. Any experience in this business is a step forward, even sweeping the floor. I ‘mildly’ harassed Aftanas Surfboards until I was hired to work on broken soft tops. It also took me at least two years of asking (over and over) before I got into the glassing bay.
5. The surf industry is not for the faint of heart. Be strong, stay focused on your goals, and tune everything else out. Don’t give up.
Eidon: Besides being a craftswoman, you are also a nature-loving adventurer. What would the
perfect adventure look like to you?
Kelly: Jeez, tough one! The adventure ‘bucket list’ is a long one. I’d say the perfect adventure for me right now would be taking a couple of weeks off to camp, hike, canoe and off-road (love driving down old logging roads) around the middle and Northeast side of Vancouver Island.
I would start with Dell Falls and aim to make it as far as Port Hardy, experiencing as many of the places along the way as possible. It’s something I have wanted to do for years, and after having lived on the Southern part of the island for 18 years, it’s time.