Anyone who surfs can tell you that getting into the nitty gritty nuances of choosing a board is half of the appeal. From the shape, size, and fin setup down to the simple and pure aesthetics, it's easy to go down a deep rabbit hole when it comes to board research. Doing so, you'll soon find that the bulk of the surfboard industry exists on the West Coast, and with California's undeniable influence on surf culture, it's easy to see why. Nevertheless, in a tiny corner of the New York City borough of Brooklyn, Aaron and Drew Austin are looking to make their mark on the East Coast with their board shaping studio Kings Glassing.
Though surfing and New York may seem like an odd match to some, surf culture has existed in the Rockaways—and Montuak, further out on the tip of Long Island—for decades. And in recent years, it's blown up. But unlike the many fighting foamies in knee high summer waves, the founders of Kings Glassing aren't new to this.
Raised on Maui, Aaron and Drew grew up surfing. They were quickly indoctrinated into the culture and both began riding big waves at a young age, cultivating a lifestyle that revolved around the sport. After finishing college, Aaron left Hawaii and went on to study photography in Paris before opening his own photo practice in New York.
Moving to the Big Apple didn't mean leaving surfing in the rearview. Rather, it opened up new opportunities. Aaron began to learn how to glass (the process of sealing the foam core of a surfboard with fiberglass and epoxy) alongside Connecticut-based shaper and glasser John O'Reilly. Making the trek from Brooklyn to Connecticut multiple weekends a month, he combined his love for graphic design, resin art, and surfing to help O'Reilly with projects. During the pandemic, O'Reilly took a full time teaching job and Aaron ventured out to find his own studio space to make art and continue working on surfboards.
In the summer of 2021 Aaron found a studio space in Bushwick, Brooklyn and started building it out. By October of 2021 boards were coming in and Kings Glassing was born.
Meanwhile, Drew was living in California and was dabbling in shaping boards. When Aaron started the glassing business, Drew decided to make the coastal move to begin shaping alongside him. With Drew's arrival to Brooklyn, what had begun as a passion project evolved into what is now Kings Glassing, a full-service surfboard workshop set up in unlikely NYC.
When most surfboards are made (the modern ones, at least) they start off as a big chunk of white polyurethane foam known as a blank made by pressing liquid polyurethane into a roughly surfboard-shaped mold. During the pressing heat triggers a chemical reaction and a dense but lightweight foam is formed. That is where Drew comes in, shaping, carving, and sanding the rails (a surfboard's side edges), the nose, and the tail to the desired form like a sculptor.
The board then gets passed off to Aaron to work his magic—he coats the foam with a mixture of fiberglass and resin. At this stage Aaron can experiment with different colors of sprays, pours and paint to create several layers of resin to seal the foam core from moisture and create the rigidity that lets surfers stand on top of it and carve it through curling waves. After a final sanding, you have a finished Kings Glassing Custom.
"Surfboard building on the East Coast is 50 years behind the West Coast, so it's a perfect time to experiment."
Surfboards from Kings Glassing look different than what you see in a typical lineup. While the robin's egg blue and pinstripe boards are classic, at Kings, the Austin's try to give their boards a bit more of an edge. "Surfboard building on the East Coast is 50 years behind the West Coast, so it's a perfect time to experiment," says Aaron. "They need to be built differently and shaped differently than the boards in California, because our waves are super different."
Aaron is constantly experimenting with sprays and tints, as well as different ways to pour resin, some of them a little abstract. "There are endless techniques and we are constantly learning." A lot of what they are creating right now are alternative boards–something new and different for people to diversify their surfing. They do have one recurring motif: stylized, slightly retro flames line the side of many of their boards. And if you ever surf out in the Rockaways, you'll be seeing more and more of those sitting in the line-up.
Even if Kings Glassing seems like a rare gem in a place like New York City—and it is—what Aaron and Drew are doing is also right in keeping with the metropolis' creative spirit. In particular, the New York City surf community is a passionate conglomerate of people from all walks of life—casting agents, evolutionary biologists, stunt doubles, chefs, book publishers, and regular hardworking locals to name just a few. Rockaway is teeming with creatives who are building a community of urban surfers, and that's reflected at Kings in every new board that emerges from their artists loft nestled in between the industrial warehouses of Bushwick.
It's with the Rockaway community in mind that Kings Glassing hopes to become an accessible shop for people to learn about the world of shaping and glassing and give access and insight into a side of surfing that not everyone is aware of. "We want to reach into the communities that have not had access to surfing," Aaron explains. "A lot of the surfboard shapers we have worked with don't have a solid glasser to go to, so hopefully we can make that space for them. And then maybe one day there is that little girl out in Rockaways who wants to be a shaper." Kings Glassing can be there to help her make her dream board. "That starts in New York."