White Powder Condensed Into A Shape Resembling a Cylinder

Photo courtesy of Brennan Ernst.

You are about to meet a young man named Cole. Cole’s story is unique because there is no other person in the world that can claim to live Cole’s life. He is a distinct individual, quite the character. The trials and tribulations that have peppered him throughout his life are distinctive to him. They have shaped the person he has become. 

However, there are aspects of his story that can be seen in the lives of many around us. Some things might even appear in your own story. In a sense, this Cole guy is not just one person. He’s a mosaic of all the different, broken parts of people I know. He’s a little bit of this guy and a little bit of that girl. A smudge of so-and-so and a whole lot of you-know-who.

 It’s a lot of people put together in a way that, hopefully, shows you a glimpse into someone else’s story. A glimpse that reveals that your life isn’t too much different than theirs. And my hope is, through taking this glimpse, we can all become slightly more empathetic to the lives of those around us.

Cole’s a good kid. He got good grades all throughout high school, he’s kept out of trouble with the law, and he loves his family. Yes he may have dabbled in his fair share of “experimental drugs” during his first few years of college, but what does that term really mean? Experimental drugs. Meth and adderall are basically chemical cousins. Switch around their molecular make up by just a few elements and boom, you have twins. The line between illicit and licit is so blurry sometimes.

When Cole tasted his first bit of freedom at school he went a little crazy. By his senior year, he made sure to dial the drug usage back to a minimum though. He was getting help from the people he respects most in his life, the guys in his bible study and the owner of the local surf shop. 

The owner’s name was Ricky. Ricky grew up in the surf scene of the small town Cole’s school was situated in. Cole would see Rick out in the water all the time. Sometimes Cole was high and barely recognized him; other times Cole was sober and they had a conversation. Ricky had experienced what Cole was going through many years before. It’s almost a ritual for surfers: youth is for fun and hard living, while old age is for sobering up and starting a family or small business. 

One day Ricky took a leap. He offered Cole a job at his small surf shop. Cole was hesitant at first but he figured: Why not? I love surfing. Might as well work at a surf shop and get paid to be around what I love. 

A few months into the job, Cole got the opportunity to shape his first board. There’s a long meticulous process that goes into creating a surfboard from scratch. Start to finish, it takes physical, mental, and emotional energy. I knew Cole all of college, so I was aware of how artistic he was. Always taking art classes and making things with his hands. Man, I had no real idea of the talent this kid possessed when you put a chunk of styrofoam within his reach.

He was making boards left and right. Always onto another project. Always excited to share what he was currently working on with me. Always so passionate about this activity that he held in such high reverence and cradled so closely to his heart.

I got to talking to him one day about his craft and he would not shut up. I know nothing about shaping boards, but it became apparent that Cole knows a whole lot. 

When I asked him about the process of shaping a board, he gave me this long-winded answer about rockers, rails, noses, and tails. A lot of the words he was saying sounded made up. He talked about how important it is to start with the appropriate blank, cutting a clean outline into said blank, making sure you foil the board correctly–giving the the top of the board the right amount of concave, while supplying the bottom with a good amount of convex–as to ensure a smooth ride in the water, and finally sanding the board down. 

He kept going on and on about the rails of the board. He was almost obsessed with these rails. It seemed that the value of the board sat solely on its rails. From our conversation, he made it abundantly clear how emotionally invested he was in these boards during the whole process. Cole explained how a plethora of emotions can come to him during the shaping: nervousness, stress, surprise, delight, joy, anger. 

No matter which emotion it is, he feels it deeply. However, he highlighted the importance of being confident and comfortable in his shaping environment during the process. Keeping a level head helps him to make clean strokes and movements with his tools. 

After working at the shop for about a year, Cole had gotten upwards of twenty shaped boards under his belt. He was really progressing. I’m extremely proud of my friend Cole and proud of the art he creates. 

One day I got the chance to observe Cole shape a board. It was a very intimate affair. Here is what I noticed:

Caked in white powder, one would assume a fresh blanket of snow had just fallen in the small 12×8 garage that we were currently occupying. I sat on a sideways crate, watching as Cole went over, again and again, all sides of his styrofoam chunk with an instrument that must be a close cousin to the cheese grater. 

A resilience is needed by the surfboard shaper. The repetitive motions might be seen as tedious to some, but from my observations, the back and forth motion of the cheese grater facilitated a passive inertia that moved up Cole’s arm, through his shoulder, into his neck, and eventually flooded into the back of his eyes. 

With a glossy look and furrowed brow, he continued on with his task at hand. I, along with his surroundings, dissipated into non-importance as his world became narrowly focused on the board before him. 

This is the sign of not only a true shaper but of a true artist at work. 

Cole is both.

By: Brennan Ernst