A New Surfboard Order

Ordering a new surfboard is a very personal thing. I think from the beginning of surfing, back to the Ancient Hawaiians, it worked in much the same way as it does today except that it is much easier now than ever before. Generally the surfing experience happens something like this…a person catches their first wave and it stirs something deep within them that compels them to keep trying to recapture that feeling. Eventually they get their own first surfboard and begin to spend a great deal of their free time, maybe all of it or in many cases, every single waking moment either physically or just in their mind, pursuing their new endeavor. Surfing has a bad, or maybe it’s a good, habit of becoming an obsession in a person’s life often to the detriment of the other parts outside the surfing thing. There is a determination to raise the skill level and improve their surfing game that is all consuming and slowly for most, although sometimes quickly for a few, the ability to ride that surfboard continues to rise…to a point. And in this, I believe it was no different back in the beginning than it is today. That surfer, through observation of other, more skillful surfers or perhaps just self-reflection, starts to see that his own surfing has reached a point beyond which it cannot progress…unless he has a more progressive surfboard than what he is currently riding. Some surfers constantly analyze their equipment, thinking of how their surfboard will improve their surfing and working with shapers to do just that. All surfers do this in some degree but many simply rely upon their surfboard builder and trust them to produce the means to the end that really never is ending but simply draws one deeper into their surfing experience. In simple terms, a surfer gets a surfboard, learns to ride it and his skills get better, to a point…to go beyond that point, he needs a better surfboard.

There is what Grubby Clark of Clark Foam and I always referred to as the ‘sophisticated buyer’ for a new surfboard and it really doesn’t matter how long one has been surfing or even how skilled they are at it to become, more or less, sophisticated about getting a new board. One type of ‘sophisticated buyer’ is the guy who walks into a surf shop, knowing in general what he is looking for and goes through the racks looking closely at and feeling each surfboard that is within his criteria. Eventually he finds a board that looks and feels right and buys it. The other type usually works with a shaper in varying degrees because he has some idea for what he wants in a surfboard. Neither method is better than the other and some surfers use both to get new boards. Most of the top surfers find a shaper or sometimes several whom they work closely with to get their desired result. One of the cornerstones of advancing one’s surfing technique is confidence and that confidence begins with the surfboard. Without feeling confident about the surfboard one rides, the surfer’s mind will constantly be an obstacle to improving his game. Understand that all surfboards work, oftentimes they may not work according to our expectations and hopes but there is a way to ride that surfboard. And surfing on any level is just that… figuring out how each surfboard rides best.

A surfboard builder relies on information from the surfer to give him something that he interprets to create a surfboard that is a balance between what the surfer wants and what he needs. This is an important part of the process and the better that communication, the more certain that the end product will be the improvement the surfer is seeking. Some people are obsessed with minute dimensions and while they are a good starting place, sometimes they can hold back progress. Not long ago in surfing’s history, a surfer owned a surfboard…one surfboard that did it all. When the boards went from long to shorter in the late 1960’s, the concept of different shaped boards for different waves became valid. Today, a single professional surfer’s quiver of boards is usually more than the entire inventory of most surf shops. That may seem ridiculous but all surfers intimately know their equipment and whether or not one has a hundred or just one surfboard, the intricate natures of those boards have been revealed in a greater or lesser degree and continue to do so every time they go surfing regardless of what the waves are like. A surfboard, in my opinion, can be built to effectively ride any kind of a wave for any size person of any skill level. Besides waves at the beach, there are standing waves in rivers and canals, wakes behind boats, man made wave pools and maybe some I haven’t heard of yet. Communicating what kind of waves one hopes to ride along with information about what their present surfboard is, how they hope to improve on it as well as the individual’s ability level and body size are all key points in giving the shaper a better idea on what the new surfboard should be. Surfing is all about freedom and that means being free about what surfboards work best for each particular surfer. Do not be so locked in to what the mind says it wants in a new board that it blocks out the importance of what is really needed.  Oftentimes there may be a great disparity between the two and this is a great part of the shaper’s job to find the balance that gives the surfer a board that will take his surfing to new heights.

There are many aspects of a surfboard that all add up to the sum total of each surfing experience. How well the board paddles is obviously a key aspect in whether or not the catching the wave part of the experience will be easier or more difficult. One is not able to ride a wave unless they can catch it. What one discovers about different surfboards is that smaller, thinner boards are easier to control, seem to turn better and go faster…once one is up and riding on the wave. However, if that board is too small, the frustration of missing most of the waves may become the biggest part of the experience and take it from someone who has been there, this in not fun. I always preach, one should not ride the smallest board they can but rather the biggest board that still allows them to do everything they want to do. Surfing isn’t being bummed out because one can’t catch the waves; it’s riding as many waves as one is able to try to figure out this tricky surfing thing. Think about how much time one spends out in the water, paddling around, chasing waves and often not connecting in comparison to the actual time spent up and riding a wave. So until one has the wave catching part of the experience down to a fine art, it often makes sense to incorporate more paddling ability into the new board rather then less.

The dimensions of a board are a good place for a shaper to start but if the surfer is not sure whether those numbers are right for him, it’s important to let the shaper know that. We try to make dialing in a new board easier by offering a few different models and brief descriptions to see if the aspects of a particular model appeal to or fit what the surfer is hoping for. Just remember, more information is good. I’m in the shaping room trying to think like you while I’m doing your board so anything you can tell me helps me get you the board you’re looking for.

Tail shapes are always a matter of personal preference; I will give a general summation of my opinion about the differences although they may not be what all shapers think. A squash tail is what evolved from the original square tail shape or perhaps from the diamond tail that was popular in the 1970’s. There are stories that a diamond tail was dropped and that was how the squash tail came to be. Whatever the case, the squash is a softer version of the square and offers the most tail area on all the tail shapes. This is a good thing if one’s riding is off the tail and involves quick direction changes. It is a very forgiving tail but lacks some holding power if that is what one is looking for. A round pintail takes area away from the tail area; however, it is always thought to be the smoothest and loosest riding of all tail designs. Riding the round pin well will smooth out one’s style, rounding the turns into smooth arcs. A swallow tail also takes some tail area away but gives one a sharp corner to pivot their turn from. For a surfer who doesn’t rely on power in his style, the swallow may feel stiff and tight. It does work well with a very wide tail by giving some positive holding-in feel to a tail that naturally wants to slide because of the width. All these tail designs work but depending on one’s style, how they like their board and their surfing to look or just to give something new a try, carefully consider which tail is right for you.

Rockers are usually left up to the shaper but generally speaking, a flatter rocker paddles and goes faster than a more curved rocker. More curve translates into greater control and easier turning and being under control is often the better way to maintain speed and go faster. It’s a complex and intricate balance of what exactly is the correct rocker curve for each type of surfboard shape. By lowering the nose rocker, ease of paddling is increased but the chances of pearling the nose on vertical maneuvers also increases. So unless one is very certain about altering rocker curves, let the shaper worry about this.  

In regards to finishing the board after the shape, generally on boards under 7,’ we use 4oz, two layers on the deck and one on the bottom. On bigger boards, we use 6oz. We can customize your lamination but let me repeat a request about glass jobs I’ve heard ever since I began building boards 45 years ago. “I want my board strong but light,” is an oxymoron, I only bring it up because it’s funny as well as ridiculous. It is impossible to have both. If it’s a strong board, it will be a little heavier. If it’s a light board, it will be fragile. Lighter weight enhances performance and will improve the handling of a board of mediocre design. A well-designed and nicely shaped board will not suffer from extra weight, more fiberglass will be stronger and make it last longer. Any surfboard is a delicate, finely built piece of equipment and requires an active maintenance effort to keep it in top shape. Always fix any dings, big or small, as soon as possible. Letting water get into a board will cause unsightly browning, could lead to serious delamination or, if in a critical spot, can compromise the structural integrity enough to result in a broken board. One little ding in the rail, mid-board, left unfixed is all it takes…so fix those dings right away.

When you get that new surfboard and are very anxious to get it in the water, remember to always Surf with Aloha, surfing is supposed to be fun…that’s why we do it so always try to share that fun and spread the love when out in the lineup. Keep paddling.