“I’m into underground,” said Andrew Zinicola. He means it literally and figuratively––Just a couple blocks off the residential streets of the Bedford-Nostrand subway station, Zinicola, 26, has a basement studio. Walk past guitars, drums, sculptures, a lava lamp, beach chairs, and you’ll arrive at a workshop where he creates handcrafted surfboards.
The process starts with a polyurethane blank (a special Styrofoam board), that’s shaped down with outlines. Then comes the glassing, which consists of fiberglass cloth with resin on top. After many levels of sanding, the board is covered in water and polished down to a clean finish. Lastly, one or three fins are added, depending on the type of ride. He works on many boards at a time and the whole process typically takes two months.
“I’ll shape three boards first, then glass them all at the same time, then sand,” Zinicola said. “It doesn’t make sense to do the whole process separately for each based on the way the materials react—there is a drying time to account for.”
So why buy a handmade board when a mass-produced one from China may cost less and be quicker to produce? “The best part of a hand-shaped board is that they have their own quirks,” he explained. “The China boards are all the same. There is definitely a time to ride one of those, but if you’re in the market for a hand-shaped, it means you want it to have some attitude, you are looking for an experience.”
As an artist, Zinicola makes unique boards that are not only experimental in craft but also in the way they ride. One of them has an asymmetrical shape. “The whole idea is that on asymmetrical, your toe side rail is longer so you have more hold, and there’s a little more forgiveness on your heel side,” he explains.
Zinicola meets many of his clients while using his own boards to ride the offbeat waves of Rockaway Beach. “I am open to switching with people to let them try what I use, which also gives me the experience to try theirs.” The networking that occurs in the time between waves is often a source of inspiration for him. Unlike many NYC surfers, he didn’t spend time hanging ten in California. He works with galleries and workshops to make a living, and making boards is a passion and side job. It’s all connected, though, and deeply rooted in his outlook. “For me surfing connects to something deeper, as does art. Being in the ocean changes my perception in a very particular way. The art that I’m interested in making leads me on a similar journey. Questions about experience of art and experience of surfing are open ended and I like that.”
Both Zinicola’s workshop and the ocean are tools for the art of surfing. Nevertheless, the ocean is the keeper of time. Ed Thompson, a surfer and author of Ice Cream Headaches, a photo-documentary book about New York and New Jersey surfing, says, “It’s this obsessive thing, especially in New York, to participate, you need to be switched onto the weather, looking for the moments when you can line things up in your schedules. You maneuver your existence around the passion.”