i ve shaped two surfboards in my life. I use that term loosely. The first, I got some help from my buddy. I touched the planer for all of 30 seconds before I put an almost irreparable divot in the blank. He took it from there and I watched. But I learned a lot. I still ride that board to this day – a 7’8″ mid-length, pretty flat rocker, loads of fun.
For the second board I made a cardinal mistake. I chose the wrong blank for a single-fin pintail I wanted to make. That same buddy set me up by drawing the outline then skinning the blank. He then took off to go for a surf. “You remember what to do from the last time right?”
“Yah,” I said. “Pretty sure.”
Apparently pretty sure was inadequate. I toiled away for four hours trying to remember the steps. I did my best. But the board turned out shit. It was rideable at best. But again, it was another incredible lesson in board design – in the form of what not to do.
Shaping as a hobby can be expensive. Figure upwards of $100 to $150 for a blank. If you want it professionally glassed, figure another $200 or more. You’ll also need tools and a space to shape in, which can add to the cost. And (as in my case) you may not come out of the experience with your next favorite surfboard. But for those with the financial means and the patience, I highly encourage getting your hands dirty for a variety of reasons:
1. It’ll give you a new appreciation for the craft.
Shaping isn’t easy. There’s a common saying among shapers to the effect of: you’re not a shaper until you’ve made your 100th board. But it’s one thing to understand that fact intellectually, and another to validate it through personal experience. The best shapers in the world are artists, sculptors even – whittling a piece of foam that slightly resembles a surfboard into a functioning shape. There are hydrodynamic principals at play impacted by volume, rocker, outline curve, bottom contours, tails, etc. that all must be considered to give the surfer their desired outcome. Shaping a single board will give you a new appreciation for the small margins of error that exist in the whole process, and how many boards it would take to fine tune those skills.
2. It’ll teach you how to look at surfboards.
Any surfer worth his salt will do two things when checking out a local surf shop’s newest stock: 1) Feel the board under his or her arm, and 2) Flip the board upside down and peer down the middle. We see things, sometimes. But do we know what they do exactly? What are you supposed to feel in a single-to-double concave board versus a single all the way through? What’s the perfect balance of nose rocker and tail rocker? Obviously simply shaping a board won’t answer these questions for you. But at the very least you’ll need to consider them in your own shape, and, even better, educate yourself a bit to make informed decisions along the way.
3. It’ll open your mind to new avenues of design.
If gaining a better understanding of the ins and outs of design is phase one of getting your hands on some tools and mowing some foam, tinkering and experimenting is phase two. As soon as you get your first shape in the water, your mind will likely start running: “What would it feel like if I’d have pulled in the tail more,” or, “What if it were an inch shorter?” This is just the beginning of an incredible opportunity to explore new shapes, of which today might be the renaissance of design. From retro to asymmetrical to the futuristic, there’s no shortage of inspiration out there for the hobby shaper.
4. It’ll help you understand the language for ordering surfboards.
Shapers have a language all their own. They also hate when you order a board with dimensions of X and 5/16 instead of 1/4. It’s a pain in the ass to deal in 16th’s of an inch. And unless you’re world tour bound, you probably can’t feel the difference anyway. Bottom line: shaping a board will help you to better understand both the process, and the terminology of board design, improving your relationship with your local shaper.
Now, if you’re feeling inspired to lay into some foam, do what you can to connect with someone who knows what they’re doing. Whether it’s a friend, or pay-to-play lessons, surfing has a rich history of apprenticeship for good reason. Connect with someone who knows, get your hands dirty, and you’ll be glad you did.