Interview // Manuel Caro – Mandala Surfboard

Surfing is supposed to be “FUN” and surfing a variety of different shapes and sizes is what makes me keep surfing. There are no rules stating that you only have to surf one type of board a certain type of style and that’s how I was introduced to Manuel Caro’s surfboards. His company is Mandala Surfboards and each board just looks so much fun to ride. From displacement hulls, quad fin fishes, to almost finless boards with mini-keels, all his boards feel like for someone like me, who isn’t a professional surfer and not a stronger paddler, can ride. If you’re looking for a new surfboard made you’ll think of a Mandala after reading this interview and go out there and go experiment with different types of boards! That’s what surfing is suppose to be, being able to put a smile on your face and Manuel’s boards will do that to you! 中文

Who are you and where are you currently right now?

My name is Manuel Caro and I live in Leucadia, California.

When and how did you start getting interested in surfing?

I started surfing in 1983. All of my older cousins surfed and I wanted to be just like them, so I would take the bus to Newport Beach. I was just 11 years old and waves seemed so big to me back then.

You are currently living in Leucadia, which is still a small little surf town in North County San Diego. Can you tell me more about that little area and the surf community there?

Leucadia is a nice little quiet community in Southern California. It’s very much the same as it was 20 years ago since they don’t allow development on the coast here. The waves are usually uncrowded since there’s nowhere for people who don’t live here to park their cars. It’s a nice place to walk around and ride bikes, and if you’re lucky you can find some really fun waves. You just have to go looking for them…

How did you start getting interested in shaping surfboards and what was your experience with the first board you ever made?

In 2001, I was introduced to Rich Pavel by Thomas Campbell, and I ordered a custom quad fish from him after riding one of Thomas’ “Speed Dialers.” The custom order started taking a really long time to finish, so I decided to shape one myself. After showing Rich my first shapes, he was impressed and gave me a template of a 5’5” Fish that has served as major influence on all of my work since then.
My first board was a really simple 5’10” Round Pin single fin, and learning how to handle the tools was a big challenge for me. Luckily, I grew up building things with wood, so I was used to using hand tools. The board came out kind of uneven, but it worked great. I was surprised at how fast boards are with flat bottoms!

Manuel Caro – Shaping room

When did you start to take shaping boards as a passion into a profession?

I guess about a year into shaping boards for myself and my friends, people started getting curious about my shapes when I would go surfing. I was living in Oakland, California back then, and people at the beach in San Francisco and Santa Cruz never really saw any other kinds of surfboards other than the regular tri-fin shortboard. I would sometimes get ridiculed while walking into the water with one of my fish, but after the locals would see me get some good waves they kind of stopped laughing! I remember one time some guys yelling, “Nice kneeboard kook!”, and then after getting some really fast lined up waves on my fish they walked up to me after surfing to check out the board. One of them actually made a custom order! I guess that was the beginning of Mandala.

I watched Jack Coleman x Mollusk Surf Shop’s film profiling yourself “Proportional Harmonics” and you mentioned the “Fibonacci Sequence” in your shapes. Can you explain a little more about the “Fibonacci Sequence” and how it is designed about the boards?

The Fibonacci Sequence is a series of number that starts with zero and one. By adding each adjacent number to the number before it, you get the next number. So 0+1=1, 1+1=2, 1+2=3, 2+3=5, 3+5=8, etc… As the number get larger, the ratio of one number to the next approaches the constant PHI, or the “Golden Ratio” 1:1.618…
I like using PHI in my boards to design fins and template proportions. Since PHI can be used to create the “Golden Spiral,” I can use this spiral to create any curve in my outlines and rocker. Ocean waves are created by the Golden Spiral, so why not make boards that follow the same rules?

Also from that video you mentioned “Functional Volume and Functional Surface area” Can you explain a little more what you meant?

I’m talking about having enough volume to help you float and catch waves relative to your surfing experience level. I see a lot of people trying to surf boards that they see pros riding in the magazines, and they’re just struggling to even paddle. I think that a good board should be easy to paddle and catch waves. We’re not all professional surfers and athletes, so it helps to have boards that are thick enough and wide enough to catch waves and generate speed.

Where do you get ideas for design concepts on boards?

I’ve been lucky to have been influenced by some great masters of shaping. I learned how to make fish from Rich Pavel. I learned how to shape displacement hulls from Marc Andreini. I learned some interesting concepts about fins from Wil Jobson. In recent years I’ve been influenced by the semi-finless boards that Jon Wegener has been shaping. He lives here in Leucadia and we surf a lot together. My shaping journey has been shaped by everyone around me, so it’s been good to take information that’s been shared with me and make something that continues the tradition of board building, but adding my own little bit to it as well.

What defines your style of board that you are known for?

I guess when people think of Mandala they think of a round-nosed, hybrid kind of quad fish, with a deep swallowtail. That board is the Arc-Swallowtail Quad, or ASQ. It’s easy to paddle and catch waves, but it’s also very responsive. A lot of people who grew up riding shortboards are surprised at how these boards can surfed like a contemporary surfboard—-they’re fast and

If you could get a board from any shaper, dead or alive, who would it be from and what model board?

Marc Andreini is still my favorite shaper, and I would probably get a 10’0” Vaquero from him. Those boards are so smooth and fast. They help me to remember what “pure surfing” is all about—-it’s all about the glide.

You are also interested in archery, how did you get interested in that and how has that influenced you in surfing?

I started shooting archery around the same time I started shaping. I remember shooting archery a few times when I was a kid too. We had an option to choose archery for Physical Ed in Junior High, and I remember having a lot of fun with that class. I really only started getting back into it during the last few years when I finally had a place to practice shooting at home.

Archery can be good practice for maintaining focus and concentration. I shoot a lot of recurve archery, but I also practice with a compound bow as well. I think shaping and surfing uses a lot of the same kind of concentration. In all of these disciplines, you’re doing an activity all by yourself, no teams—-just you. It’s a challenge to tune out all of the other distractions you might be getting while you’re doing it, but once you tune them out and get into a flow with what you’re doing it feels very much like being a bird that flies, or a fish that swims—-it becomes just a pure reaction to whatever is happening. I like to think it helps me tap into the essence of being, like meditation.

Manuel Caro

Can you tell us a typical day in your life?

Usually, I get up and make coffee and start replying to all the emails that I get from the day before. If the waves are good then I’ll go for a quick surf out in front of my house.
If it’s not looking fun, then I’ll just go to the shaping room. I really prefer to surf after my work is done—it’s like a special reward and it’s great just to come in from surfing and start making dinner.

What’s your relationship with Kassia Meador and Dane Peterson,I’ve been watching them surf your shapes for a while now.

I met Dane many years ago at an art show, and it was easy to become friends with him since we had a lot in common with photography and surfing. There was a big chain reaction in meeting Dane, as he introduced me to Kassia, who introduced me to Kane Skennar, and then Kane introduced me to Jesse Faen. The whole time this was happening, they were exchanging some of the original ASQ and were super stoked on the new design. I think that was in 2010. Since then, we’ve been able to document a lot of experiences on the ASQ design and it’s been refined over the years with all the rider input they’ve given me. It’s actually been a great exchange because they’ve had so much fun exploring the design in a variety of waves all over the world.

Kassia Meador – ASQ

Jesse Faen – ASQ Fish

Can you tell us how you came up with your name “Mandala”?

I remember driving on a lonely road to San Francisco, trying to think of a name for the board company, and I was listening to Ravi Shankar at the time. I grew up listening to Indian classical music, since many of my friends were from India. It’s a timeless music, and it reminds me of how advanced human culture used to be, and how strange it’s drifted from than ancient wisdom. Anyway, I was listening to Ravi and when I thought of the name “Mandala” I heard a distinct bell sounds ringing in my ears. It was a very strange experience, but I felt that I had finally come up with a name to describe all of the things that interested me: photography, surfing, shaping, art, music, etc.

A mandala is a series of two-dimensional concentric circles that describes a three-dimensional system of ideas, concepts, and beliefs. It’s like a paper blueprint for a building—-it represents something more if you’re able to see it in all its dimensions.


What keeps you going every single day, getting up out of your bed, and doing what you do?

I think making people happy by building surfboards keeps me going. I like the idea that I can help bring happiness to people’s lives by helping them access that elusive experience of “FUN.” It’s essentially helping people become children again.

Who are some of the surfers, filmers, artists, etc. that you have worked with and who do you think is shaping the path in surfing today?

I’ve worked with many people in the past, and some of them have become very good friends. There’s just too many to list! It would be a whole other article of discussion, but I think the most influential ones have been Thomas Campbell, John Smart, Dane Peterson, Alex Kopps, and Peter St.Pierre. I think lately I’ve been really into the projects that Jack Coleman has been making with Mandala. It’s a lot of fun and a very different representation of Mandala from what we’ve done in the past.

What meaning does surfing hold for you and how has it changed your life?

I think surfing is a privilege. It’s definitely saved me from being depressed and bored (and boring.) It keeps me healthy and relieves a lot of stress. I don’t have to catch any waves—-I just have to be out in the water and I’m having fun. I think the most important thing surfing teaches me is to just have fun and be kind to others.

Can you tell us your current board quiver and which board have you been riding recently?

My quiver right now is mainly for the small waves we have here in Leucadia:

5’6” ASQ – Carbon fiber composite

5’6” Super Stubbie 2+1 – Carbon fiber composite

5’10” Dark Crystal – poly

What can we expect to see from you in the future?

I’d like to start developing some better mid-length boards in the 7’6” to 8’6” range, plus some longer boards too. I’ve been really enjoying riding big gliders in the 10’0” range. I have a model called the Hunter Seeker, which is a very long displacement hull with a pintail. It’s very fast and very smooth in small waves.

Any last words for the people in Taiwan reading this interview?



Jesse Faen – ASQ

Jesse Faen – ASQ Fish


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