The Shaper & The Painter

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Surfboard shaper Gary Larson_credit Josh Phillips
Surfboard shaper Gary Larson | Photo by Josh Phillips

The Ranch at Laguna Beach adds two new exclusive cultural experiences to the mix.

By Jennifer Pappas Yennie


Tucked away in a pocket of Aliso and Wood canyons, across Coast Highway from the Pacific Ocean, The Ranch at Laguna Beach offers a unique retreat for locals and visitors—whether they’re staying for the weekend or dropping by for dinner or game on the expansive golf course. In addition to the many existing amenities, the boutique resort recently launched two new exclusive experiences for overnight guests. Unique to Laguna, The Shaper and The Painter (aka: Gary Larson and John Cosby, respectively) offer guests an immersive cultural experience related to what are, arguably, the city’s most quintessential activities: surfing and plein air painting.


The Shaper

Larson spent his childhood about a mile up the road from Doheny Beach. With the ocean as his backyard, he spent much of his time either fishing or surfing, landing a job at Infinity Surfboard shop in Dana Point when he was only 15. Observing the ins and outs of surfboard shaping during his shifts at the shop, he fell in love with the craft and, after paying his dues “sweeping up foam dust and wood shavings,” he started working as a surfboard shaper himself. He was 16. In 2005, he was asked to work for Hobie alongside the iconic Terry Martin—every shaper’s dream. He took the job and hasn’t looked back.

Larson’s passion for surfing and the physical world (in addition to shaping, he is also a part-time college professor of geography), coupled with his 20-plus years of experience, make him the ideal collaborator for The Shaper experience.

Gary Larson surfboards-credit Ashley Ryan
Some of the boards Larson has made | Photo by Ashley Ryan

The process begins with a phone call. Once the basic details of board size and style are worked out, the real experience begins. Clients will meet Larson for lunch at a brewpub across the street from Hobie Surf Shop in Dana Point. The hands-on shaping process (which includes outlining and cutting out their board, using the planer to adjust thickness and rails, and final sanding and screening touches) is easily the most engaging part of the entire experience. “Surfers view their surfboard as their connection to the wave,” Larson explains. “Clients will be able to fully immerse themselves in the shaping world through learning about board design and how intricacies like rocker, foil and concave affect the performance of the board sliding over the water.”

By the end of the day, the board should be ready for colors, graphics and glassing, which Larson will finalize in the shop. A few months later, the finished one-of-a-kind beauty arrives at your door (anywhere in the continental United States).

When asked what excites him most about this collaboration with The Ranch, he says, “Ultimately, I would like to leave clients with some knowledge and material for their stories of The Ranch to tell for years to come.”


The Painter

John Cosby hails from Hollywood, and found inspiration in the oil paintings of his grandmother at a very young age. He’s run the gamut of life experiences: working a government job as an advance man in the executive branch before rebuilding and then sailing a classic sloop up and down the Eastern Seaboard for three years, returning to Southern California in order to launch his painting career.

The longtime south Orange County native is a founding board member of the Laguna Plein Air Painters Association, has held signature memberships in both the Plein Air Painters of America and the California Art Club, and is represented by galleries around the world.

Plein air painter John Cosby_the ranch at laguna beach
Plein air painter John Cosby | Photo by The Ranch at Laguna Beach

Given this world renown and spirit of adventure, clients of the Painter Experience would be hard-pressed to find a more qualified guide to plein air painting than Cosby.

As with The Shaper, the experience starts with a private phone (or Zoom) conversation with Cosby to discuss goals for the day. Then, on the selected date, clients will start at Cosby’s San Clemente studio with coffee and more conversation, what he calls “just like any other day in the life of a professional artist.” In the studio, clients will be guided through the process of creating a completed painting from beginning to end. “And not to worry,” Cosby clarifies, “we’ll tailor the subject to the guest’s area of interest, so they’ll be able to capture the essence of an image that speaks to them.”

Next, guests will hit the beach—most likely in the form of an awe-inspiring coastal bluff—to plan, sketch and paint. When the day’s work is done, guests will take home one of the sketches created together with Cosby. The final painting will follow two to three weeks later, once it’s had a chance to properly dry in Cosby’s studio, along with a note from Cosby and some photos from your time together. Lunch is also included in the experience.

Cosby The Painter experience_The Ranch at Laguna Beach
Cosby will work with guests of The Ranch at Laguna Beach who sign up for The Painter experience to create their own pieces of art. | Photo by The Ranch at Laguna Beach

“This promises to be a very unique experience for … [anyone who] decides to invest their time and energy into this opportunity,” Cosby says. “Typically, I reserve this kind of knowledge sharing for my fellow artists and peers, so this is a rare chance for someone to gain some insight into the inner workings of a professional painter. So come ready to paint, explore and create something truly beautiful.”

“The Shaper” and “The Painter” packages each start at $2,500 plus applicable taxes, and include a pre-arrival call, lunch with the creator, transportation to and from the studio, the crafting and the final product delivery anywhere in the continental U.S. Available exclusively to resort guests; must be booked at least three weeks in advance.

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