Reshaping The Surfboard Business

Linda Dela Cruz
Wednesday - May 27, 2009
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Jimmy Freese is changing surfing one gigabyte at a time

What happens when you go on vacation to surf in Australia and some folks ask if you can help create something that’s better than what’s already out there? If you are Jimmy Freese, you end up combining your computer programming skills with your passion for surfing to create a full-fledged business of your own.

That fateful day during a surf vacation was in 2001, and three years later Aku Shaper machines were born. The Aku Shaper is a machine that shapes surf-boards in an efficient manner so there’s more time spent out on the ocean in the waves than in shaping the board.

“Or you could use the time to shape more boards and make more money,” explains Freese.

His Aku Shaper machines have been selling since 2004, and they are in places such as Japan, England, Peru, Tahiti, Australia, New Zealand, California, North Carolina and Hawaii.

“Everyone likes the cutter concept, and they get really excited,” says Freese, noting that almost all of his surfboards were made with the cutter. “It uses a circle cutter the size of a dinner plate and about 12 millimeters thick. And the machine spins in both directions.”


Once the machine is done with the board, putting on the finishing touches is all that is left. The company’s YouTube video shows that a board can be cut in about 18 minutes.

Freese says one of the challenges is getting the word out about what the machine can do. Some ways have included word of mouth, attending trade shows and getting publicity, such as the Aku Shaper’s recent feature in the February 2009 edition of Surfer Magazine.

“Surfing is a small industry, so you kind of know everyone,” says Freese, a Kailua resident and Punahou graduate who has been surfing since he was a child.

“Once shapers understand that you can make more boards in a shorter amount of time, they’re interested.”

The Aku Shaper business is a three-way partnership that uses the computer programming skills of Freese’s father, Ralph, a math professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, and engineer Mike Richard, who specializes in manufacturing machines for the automotive and pharmaceutical industries. The company’s future includes other related products they are developing with the software.

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