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With his blond dreadlocks, tattered, paint-stained shorts and cheap flip-flops, Valentin Shmidov doesn't look like a typical Orange County business executive. But the 29-year-old founder of Huntington Beach's Pravda Surf speaks five languages—English, Russian, German, French and Spanish—and holds two master's degrees: an MBA and a master's degree in international business. He used to work for a Swiss financial services company in New York, but quit the white-collar life to pursue his real passion: surfing, which is how the 29-year-old founder of Huntington Beach's Pravda Surf came to live in Orange County.
The son of a globe-trotting concert pianist, Shmidov has lived all over the planet, leaving his hometown of Minsk, Belarus—then part of the Soviet Union—at age 5, before moving to Italy, Austria, Spain and the Dominican Republic. Although he still chases waves in Orange County, Indonesia, Central America, Hawaii and Tahiti, lately he's been too busy to travel. Last December, Shmidov, who says he was attracted to Orange County because of its high density of professional board shapers, founded the only company on the planet specifically dedicated to teaching people how to make their own surfboards by hand.
"We work by appointment only," Shmidov says. "Our goal is to provide complete attention to our customers, some of whom fly into Orange County from as far away as New York to make their own boards. You can do as much or as little of the work as you want. We provide the materials and tools, and have shapers who can work with you to make your board."
The same week Shmidov opened Pravda at a warehouse near the intersection of McFadden and Graham streets, Laguna Niguel-based Clark Foam, America's largest supplier of Styrofoam surfboard blanks—the raw material used by hand shapers—went out of business. Many declared the event the death knell of hand-shaped surfboards. But Pravda Surf survived Clark Foam's passing and now employs a dozen professional hand shapers.
But the company's core business is providing a space where anyone who wants to make their own surfboard can walk in and do it themselves. Two weeks ago, KABC's Eye on LA sent a pair of Hawaiian Tropic models to Shmidov's shop. "They wanted to prove that anyone can make a surfboard," he says. "People don't have to go to a shop and buy a board made in China."
The name "Pravda" means "truth" in Russian. "Most of our older customers associate the name with communism, while the younger ones just think it sounds cool," he says. "But the idea is that communism, in the beginning, was about the serfs overthrowing the nobility, and everyone being equal, supposedly. And surfing is the same idea: everyone being equal in the water and sharing the waves together. Surfing has gotten so aggressive, but with Pravda, I'm trying to bring it back to its roots."
While in college, Shmidov, who began surfing in the Dominican Republic more than a decade ago and learned to hand shape his own boards in Portugal, took a bunch of physics courses and developed his own mathematical algorithm for designing surfboards. "Once I plug in a person's height, weight, surfing ability and buoy data from their favorite surfing location, I arrive at an overall foam volume, density, rocker profile and fin displacement," he says.
The volume and density of the foam is determined by the height and weight of the surfer, while the rocker profile—the counter of the bottom of the board—gets its shape from the skill of the customer. The higher the rocker, or the greater the curve of the board's nose, the easier it is to drop down and turn on bigger waves. Flatter boards, generally favored by beginning surfers, tend to move faster in the water, making it easier to catch waves, and provide more stability, thus increasing your chances of actually standing up.
The foam-density algorithm is Shmidov's secret recipe for designing the perfect, custom-made surfboard. "Shaping a surfboard is an art form, and probably the most important part of surfing," he says. "I think anyone who loves surfing should shape at least one board in their lifetime. If you're out there in the water surfing 10- or 12-foot waves, you don't want to just assume the board will work for you. If you make your own board, it not only works better for you, but you form a deep connection with it. You actually become part of your board."
Pravda Surf is located at 15559 Graham St., Huntington Beach. If you want to make your own board this summer, make an appointment first. You can visit the company's website at www.pravdasurf.com or call (714) 369-8764.