Matt Calvani

Sunday, January 15th, 2012

SHAPER / Matt Calvani

Over the past nine years Bing Copeland and Matt Calvani have resurrected one of Surfing’s most iconic surfboards labels. After a chance meeting on a desolate point break in Baja the two have formed a relationship that has propelled Bing surfboards to the forefront of the modern surfboard industry. Started in 1959 by legendary surfer Bing Copeland, the brand has always been synonomis with a stacked surf team, a classic ad campaign and great surfboards. Currently all operations are run by head shaper Matt Calvani and partner Margaret Yao out of the South Bay of Los Angeles. On a recent trip north to work on a few new board concepts, I figured it appropriate to find out how they’ve kept Bing surfboards forever young. Interview: Since the tender age of fifteen Matt Calvani has had an unparallel love for surfing and surfboard designing. As a teenager he spent countless hours bumming around the shaping room of local Hermosa Beach board builder Tom Stanton, hoping he would someday learn to shape. After enough coaxing Tom helped him start his own airbrushing company. Soon there after in 1988, Matt would shape his first board under legendary shaper Wayne Rich. After purchasing a planer and setting up a make shift shaping bay in his Redondo Beach home, people began to take notice of his refined surfboard designs. He worked for Hap Jacobs, Dennis Jarvis, Rick, Lance Carson and eventually found himself shaping every type board imaginable for the Becker label. After pumping out 50 plus boards a week, Matt knew he needed to find a more appropriate niche in the surfboard market. As luck would have it, Matt was fortunate enough to link up with legendary 60’s board builder Bing Copeland in 2000. The two have since rejuvenated one of the industry’s premier board labels and have stuck with the core values of the Bing brand. He’s recently finished construction on a state of the art factory in Gardena, CA. where all Bing /Blair blanks are blown, shaped and glassed. Matt’s recent success’s stem from his choices to produce fewer numbers, standing behind quality products and continually refining an already stellar board catalog.


Honolua: What Shapers do you draw inspiration from? Calvani: I have a lot of influences. With the shortboard world it’s hard to say this guys better than others, because a lot of boards are the same, everyone’s got their own formula. In the longboard world and the world in between, I have a lot of respect for Pavel and his work with quads and twin fins. He did it back before it was cool and I give him a lot of credit for that. Brewer is a great designer. As far as people that are currently in the market, I have a lot of respect for Christenson, I think he’s really talented and good and creating something that’s marketable and clean. He’s taken a similar road like I have taken. His brother Eric is a good shaper as well. I’ve always had respect for Tyler’s longboards and his designing. He always been forward thinking and never really cared about what other people thought. I assimilate with that maverick style. Donald Takayama has probably defined modern longboarding as well as Bill Stewart, but I am trying to find a place in the middle, a place that is more traditional. I don’t really use them for inspiration, but I respect what they have all contributed to the sport. Honolua: Who are your favorite Surfers? Calvani: My all time favorite shortboard surfer has to be Tom Curren. Honolua: Not a goofyfooter? Calvani: Yeah, I’ve never really emulated his style consciously but my style short boarding has been greatly affected by his surfing. I like what Rasta is doing. He’s an amazing power surfer who’s smooth and he can transfer to different equipment and rides everything a lot different than others. I think that’s cool. Honolua: You know where we are with economics and a lot of other companies are floundering, how is it that Bing seems to be continually moving forward as a label since you have been in charge? What is your formula and how do you keep things moving ahead? Calvani: I have to give a lot of credit to Margaret, because she comes from a college background, she’s extremely intelligent and consistent at her job. She’s great at micromanaging and creating business/markets that other people can’t touch, we’ve been able to break into, which has given us the longevity and doesn’t keep us only in So Cal, but growing all over the world. Also working with Chris and developing new models such as the Lovebird, which is our most successful board in the line. We are trying to expand out and be open minded to what my customers need in other parts of the world. I try to travel to my markets, like England, Japan, France, Taiwan, etc…. to see what those specific places need in a board. That really helps a lot. Honolua: What is your favorite meal? Calvani: It starts with an I, and if it’s Italian than it should be a great meal. Honolua: What’s it like working with a legend such as Bing. As he is on the tail in of his career and your reaching the prime of yours. How are the dynamics of your collaborating? Calvani: That’s an interesting question, we just went to Florida and we’ve done a lot of traveling. We’ve recently went to NZ to celebrate for the 50th anniversary of him introducing surfing their, which was an amazing event. While we were there I reflected upon the fact that he is so fortunate to be in a place where he is retired and still has a lot of people that respect him for what he started 40 years ago. People look at him as a legend and now he has these golden years where he travels the world, hangs with people like Marg and me and have a pint or two. He loves it, we laugh our asses off and I love being with him whenever I get a chance. His energy and intelligence is still a huge part of our successes now. I always study what he has done because he is a brilliant man who had the foresight to bring in other people like shapers, glassers, surfers, which helped grow the brand. He wasn’t egocentric and realized the movement wasn’t just about him. That’s why I think Bing is one of the most recognizable classic labels in the world. Duke Boyd was a cutting edge graphic designer that did all the marketing and was decades ahead of any other company. Honolua: What are your plans for the label in the upcoming years? Calvani: With the economic slow down, we need to consolidate and if it gets slow I see it as an opportunity to get back to the core and do more of my own shaping and designing. You can get into a rot with boards that are selling and I need to continually push myself to progress. Progress into the shorter board market and keep refining the boards. I can’t always make Nuuhiwa noseriders. I see it important to stick to our core, I stay away form things made over sea’s and don’t jump on every shaping trend. I’m not opposed to new ways of surfing I’m just always looking at where the brand should go. Honolua: Explain your perfect day? Calvani: On a perfect day I would surf my brains out for 3 hours at El Porto, come into to work and be inspired to shape. And have a nice dinner with Margaret and go to sleep with a smile on my face.


With little to no introduction needed, Bing Copeland is a living legend of our sport. Commonly known amongst his peers as a great waterman, shaper, family man and human being. After many successful years of owning and operating Bing surfboards, he packed ship and moved to Idaho alongside his family. Since then, they have spent half the year hanging in Baja and the other half back in the US. Bing still plays an active role in the happening of Bing boards and I was fortunate enough to have a few words with one of my heroes. Honolua: First of all Congratulations on your new book and your 50th celebration of introducing surfing to New Zealand. It’s been quiet a year for you? Bing: It’s been a great year. As you know I’ve been working on the book with Paul Holmes, who is a great writer. I wanted him to the writer of our book because I certainly wasn’t going to write a book about myself. My job was to dig through all the adds/pictures and scan them over to him. We worked as a team and it was a lot of fun. The book has been selling well and we’ve paid for publishing at this point and eventually we’ll even make some profit. I don’t care about the money, I’m just happy to have the book out. As far as the trip to NZ it was an absolute unbelievable event. They treated me like a rock star, everyone took such good care of us, we couldn’t pay for anything. They had a wonderful surf event and party where they honored me with pictures of Rick Stoner and I from the paddle race at New Plymouth. I got to reconnect with the guys I hadn’t seen in 50 years, last time I saw them they were 18 and I was 22. We all changed so much, some were over weight and this and that, it took me a few days to recognize a few of the original surf crew. The town of Piha hadn’t changed in 50 years. They’ve done a good job keeping it a small town. My wife and I talk about that trip almost everyday. Honolua: It must be a rewarding feeling to be considered a legend and have respect from what you started 50 years ago? Bing: I feel privileged that I was able to sit back and watch everything that’s going on. I’m not to heavily involved financially, but I still get to oversee what’s going on and share in the successes of the brand. Which is really fun. When longboarding went out and shortboading came in and I moved to Idaho around 1974, I thought that was it and my time in the surf world was over. Then in the late 80’s it started coming back and bye chance I hooked up with Matt on a beach in Mexico in 2000 and it’s been a great joy to be part of it all. Honolua: What do you think the keys to your labels success have been over the years? Bing: You obviously haven’t read my book. Laughs…. The key was surrounding myself with people like your self. I worked with people like Takayama and Nuuhiwa, Dick Brewer, Keith Cole, Rolf Aurness, a good surf team and great employees. The key is being around great people. I was really fortunate to work with Duke Boyd when Hang Ten was huge. He put our team in Hang Ten ads and also helped layout a lot of my ads, because I was busy shaping boards. Honolua: It also seemed like through out your career you always brought a real professionalism to surfboard building? Bing: Yeah, I always enjoyed getting into the shaping room but I also had to be a businessman, which I leaned through the hard knocks. Gordon “Grubby” Clark helped me many ways in that respect. Honolua: What keeps you motivated nowadays? Bing: Laughs…well just waking up everyday. I read a lot, I’m happy I lived long enough to enjoy the computer age. I work on Photoshop a lot, have a good scanner and computer and like to play around with that. I tend to manage my website, which gets over a hundred new visitor everyday. There’s over a 110 countries that logged on last year. I didn’t even know there were that many countries. Every time I get a new one I have to look it up to make sure it’s the real deal. Honolua: Favorite Meal? Bing: We’ll there’s lots of them, I’d have to say Salmon in Idaho and when we are in Mexico we eat a lot of Shrimp and rice with vegetable stir fry. Honolua: Are you partial to a certain board in the catalog? Bing: If so what board? I’ve had lots of favorites over the years. But I have 2 that are really special. A 10’4 Dick Brewer designed Pipeliner. It’s heavy and has good momentum. I also enjoy the 9’10 Lightweight that Matt shaped for me. I enjoy flotation. Because of my age I need an easy paddler. Honolua: What’s your take on the second coming of Bing Surfboards? How’s your partnership with Matt worked out? Bing: It’s worked out incredibly well. Even during this tough economy he’s doing surprisingly well. It’s almost been 9 years we’ve been working together. He’s more like a partner than anything else; he’s somewhat like a son as well. I enjoy talking with him and hanging out with him as well. I don’t bother him too much and I am really impressed with his shaping ability and how he combines that with good managing skills. Combined with Margaret’s skills and what she adds to the company, it’s a perfect team. Honolua: Where would you like to see Bing boards evolve to over the next decade? Bing: