.Board Shaper Mando Strives for an Inclusionary Surf Culture

In addition to providing high-quality boards, Mando Surf Co. participates in social justice issues in the industry

If it isn’t already, the surf world will soon be familiar with the name Mando. Mando grew up in Carmel, getting “smashed” by the waves at Carmel Beach as a kid, and was hooked.

“It was a really intimate way to get to know the water and the way waves work,” Mando says. “I just remember being obsessed with it. I wanted nothing more than to be a surfer.” 

On Saturday, Feb. 25, at Traveler Surf Club, the Santa Cruz community will have a chance to meet and speak with the up-and-coming shaper and activist. Julie Cox, who co-owns Traveler with partner Rel Lavizzo-Mourey met Mando when Cox and Mando worked for the same company.

“I love how focused Mando has become on their boards in the last few years, and we are thrilled to be carrying them at Traveler,” Cox says. “I love the colorwork. Mando is positive and great to work with all around.”

Along with a charismatic presentation style and breadth and depth of knowledge about surf craft and social justice, Mando’s signature warmth and humor spearhead discussions into deeper conversations and community bonding. Mando will unveil a new surfboard model; they’ll talk about “what makes it such a good board, the tweaks I’ve made to the model and answer any burning questions.” 

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At the mid-twin board release party, attendees can participate in a “shaper chat,” trivia giveaways and hang out in Mando’s swanky Airstream. A leash and fins will be included for those who order a board at the event. 

Mando creates boards for every type of surfer, from getting their first custom board to more advanced surfers progressing. 

“Ordering a surfboard and even just learning about boards can be overwhelming and intimidating,” Cox says. “Mando makes board design understandable and relatable, so I’m excited for people to experience their knowledge and hopefully not feel intimidated. Mando is a great surfer who has been in the surf world for many years and knows their stuff. I surfed one of their fishes at the last demo day and had a blast.” 


Mando’s path into shaping surfboards was unusual; as heir to a hotel and hospitality industry, they did not come from a “dynasty surf family,” as many legendary shapers do. With parents who worked in real estate and managed a hospitality empire of inns and hotels, Mando was expected to go into the family business and one day take it over. 

“I’m grateful for the education I got from it, but I didn’t feel like there was anything else I could do other than take over the business. That’s where my value was. That dictated every decision I made.” 

But the ocean had always called, and eventually, Mando would need to leave the family business to pursue “an opportunity to make something that was truly my own.” Thus, they blended their passion for surfing with well-honed business knowledge and skills from managing inns. 

“I had no one to look up to when I started shaping,” Mando explains. “I didn’t know there were trans shapers, let alone female shapers. I can’t rely on legacy. I can rely on my business experience, and I can rely on my privilege as a business owner. I’m starting to feel some momentum and drive to do even more.” 

Though Mando has been shaping for many years, Mando Surf Co. was founded just a year and a half ago. 

“That happened during Covid because my inn was shut down. I thought, why not?” they say. A surf instructor at Las Olas Surfing for Women, Mando wasn’t traveling to Mexico to teach at the time. 

“There was some opportunity and timing for sure,” they say. Now that Las Olas is up and running again, they travel to teach between four and six times a year. Mando boards are catching on south of the border, too. 

“I’ve got a bit of a Sayulita market down there,” they say. Mando loves connecting with customers and getting text messages like, “I rode your board today; it makes my world!”

The world Mando has a part in making, in turn, is getting wider.

Though making boards and founding Mando Surf Co. was a natural path, combining their business know-how with their passion for surfing and, by extension, building boards, Mando defies expectations of a “typical” shaper, elevating the craft with an inclusionary social mission. As a member of Surf Equity, the organization that fought to secure women’s ability to compete in big wave contests like Mavericks, Mando is assembling a team of experts on trans inclusion in surfing. They’ve made it their mission to create a business centered around their true passion and pave the way for LGBTQ+ equity and inclusion in the surf world. 


While building Mando Surf Co. and everything that goes along with launching a company, Mando is also working on social justice issues in the surf industry. As the world of surf and sport mirrors society, the stakes are high. Mando works with Surf Equity to correct the record following a recent social media outcry from pro-surf celebrities such as Bethany Hamilton and Kelly Slater following the World Surf League’s adoption of a trans-inclusive program. The policy outlined by the International Surfing Association states that an athlete may compete in the category of their gender identity. However, athletes must supply medical evidence that their serum testosterone concentration has been less than 5 nmol/L continuously for a period of the previous 12 months.

Arguments opposing the inclusion of trans athletes, per the American Civil Liberties Union, “erroneously claim that allowing trans athletes to compete will harm cisgender women” and goes on to state that the tactic “gets it exactly wrong—excluding women who are trans hurts all women. It invites gender policing that could subject any woman to invasive tests or accusations of being ‘too masculine’ or ‘too good’ at their sport to be a ‘real’ woman.” Opposition to the ACLU’s stance also reinforces the myth that women are weak and need protection.

“People who were saying it wasn’t safe for women to surf those big waves are now saying women’s rights are being threatened,” Mando explains. “It’s so easy to justify biases.”


Mando wishes the “aggro part” of surfing went away. “The majority of us are not, anyway,” they say. “Bullies are just the ones with the loudest voices.” Mando seeks to aid in the burgeoning quest to carve space for everybody, LGBTQ+, trans or otherwise marginalized communities. Mando is careful with their words: “When it comes to activism and being a trans shaper, I don’t want to speak for anyone else in that,” they say, wishing to represent their own experience and purposes. Mando recognizes that they have been both privileged—growing up in a family with successful businesses—and marginalized as a nonbinary person. From this unique position, they seek to use their platform to benefit all suffering from exclusion.

“Some of us are just so connected to the ocean,” Mando says, “and when you’re not accepted, or the way people treat you is imbalanced with how you feel, it’s so hard. We can all relate to not feeling accepted or welcomed in the surf community. That’s easier for some than it is for others. The trans community really needs a unified voice and people to come in and say we deserve the space as much as anyone else. It’s all a journey.”

Mando Board Reveal Party happens Saturday, Feb. 25, 10am-2pm. Traveler Surf Club & Coastal Outpost, 747F 41st Ave., Santa Cruz. travelersurfclub.com


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Liza Monroy
Liza Monroy
Liza Monroy is the author of the essay collection Seeing As Your Shoes Are Soon To Be On Fire, the memoir The Marriage Act, and Mexican High, a novel. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, LA Times, Washington Post, O, Longreads, and Marie Claire, among other publications. She loves living in downtown Santa Cruz.
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