High Sheen

Maintaining the intricate and dying art of surfboard restoration with Horacio De Seixas.

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When Clark Foam closed in December 2005, glasser Horacio De Seixas found himself in the same position as many who earned their living in the surfboard production process: suddenly out of work. With little else but time on his hands, he put his talents to use by helping a friend bring back to life a battered 11-foot Waimea gun shaped by Greg Noll. A short while later, they were able to get their handiwork in front of the man who’d originally built it for a make-it-or-break-it final review. 

“When we showed it to him, he said, ‘I have to have it. Name your price,’” says De Seixas. “How are you going to say no to Greg Noll? We said we wanted two new boards in exchange—one balsa and one fiberglass. He agreed and, from that moment on, we were in business.”

In the years since, under the label Glassworks Hawaii, De Seixas has restored thousands of surfboards. Stepping into his workshop, located in Pupukea Heights on the same 1-acre property where he lives with his wife in a remodeled Quonset hut, is like stepping into the past, when boards were meticulously crafted works of art. 

Photo courtesy of Horacio De Seixas.

Originally from Brazil, De Seixas got his first taste of building surf craft under Tom Parrish while working for Rico Surfboards in Rio de Janeiro. “He taught me how to use a planer,” De Seixas says. “He showed me how to cut the outline, do the bottom, craft the rails before doing the deck—all of it is still etched in my mind.”

At the end of 1979, De Seixas landed in Hawaii without a place to stay, but with an eagerness to make a life of it. He was quickly offered a gig glassing ten boards a day at $12 a board—good money for the era—and abandoned any lingering thoughts about heading back to Brazil. When the summer of 1980 rolled around, Randy Rarick recommended De Seixas head to Local Motion, which needed someone to do pin lines. They had 27 boards backed up. De Seixas finished them all in a day. 

Through the mid aughts, De Seixas became one of Oahu’s most sought-after glassers, working for many of the top shapers in Hawaii, including Mike Diffenderfer and Dick Brewer. He also enjoyed quieter hours at name-brand spots like Sunset.

Then, almost overnight, the work dried up. 

Fortunately, the vintage-surfboard scene was on an upward swing, and De Seixas found himself right in the middle of it. “Most people we work for are in the market to make money,” he says. “They find the boards and we do the work. They spend around $800 to $1,000 on the restoration process and sell the final product for twice that—or more, depending on the board. I just got a message that a Miki Dora Black Cat model sold for $30,000 at auction.”

While refurbishing relics for collectors pays better than glassing freshly shaped blanks, it also offers De Seixas the opportunity to have a hand in maintaining links in surfing history from past to present. The process of restoring a surfboard is, as one can imagine, replete with detailed work: stripping off old fiberglass, matching labels, measuring tails, comparing color tints, replicating pin lines, and mixing period-correct resin formulas. 

“When a board arrives here, it can be 50 years old,” De Seixas says. “We take measurements, photograph it from top to bottom, then research the signing, drawings, and logos to reproduce them as close as possible. The fiberglass comes off the board from the top—I have a special technique for removing it without destroying the board—by breaking it into two pieces. We keep the fin box; we use the same one, as they are made differently from today’s boxes. People have asked me to post a video explaining how I do everything, and I always answer with a laugh: ‘I don’t want competition. If you want to learn, you have to start from nothing, like I did.’”

Closing in on 70, De Seixas feels like he’s nearing retirement. But there’s one concern keeping him from closing shop for good: Who will continue to offer the specialized work that he does?

“I don’t know many people who can do what we do,” he says, referring to Steve Wilson, a renowned shaper whose services De Seixas often uses, and Rarick, whom he considers a mentor. “But Randy is at the same point in life as I am. Now we’re doing it for the love, not the money. But we’ll have to slow down at some point. Very few people know how surfboards were made back then, which makes it really difficult to restore them. I know. I’m from the right era.”