“I’ve never apprenticed. I’m one hundred
percent self-taught. In those days there was no such thing as someone letting
you come in to their shop and showing you what to do, or bringing in some
hacked up blank that they’re going to glass for you and make it look nice. If
you were going to do something you had to do it yourself.”
(Speaking with Surf Splendor podcast on how he learned
Shaping and glassing surfboards are not simple skills
dependent on one’s knowledge of an entire backlog of tricks and techniques.
Often these tricks are less than intuitive at first. As a result, much of the
industry has spent the better part of the last fifty years shrouded within a steadfast veil of proprietary secrecy.
People’s livelihoods depended on their ability to exclusively offer the greatest
original designs after all. If you
wanted to learn you generally found a broken board in the trash, and sanded or
planed it into something new in your garage.
If you wanted to play in the industry – you had better be prepared to
set aside many hours worth of sweeping up someone’s shaping bay to earn the
sparse nuggets of knowledge that were offered.
Thus, until recently, the boardbuilding industry was a sealed and
self-contained establishment that opened itself up only to the determined and
lucky few. Then came the Internet.
medium. It took a few years for the vision and innovation that technology would
bring to catch up with the surfing world. Once it did however, the game would
never be the same (think accurate and accessible long term surf forecasting,
CAD shaping programs, higher quality board-building materials and testing,
etc.). More specifically, it seems that the growth and presence of the Internet
has spurred much greater interest in the building of surfboards in recent years
by stripping back many of the barriers that previously existed. The mass
dissemination of readily available information on all things surfboards meant
that it is no longer merely a matter of whom you are lucky or diligent enough
to know. It’s more rather about what
exactly it is that you are looking to learn now. All of the answers are just a
quick Google search away [insert sickening pun about ‘surfing’ the web here].
have developed a deep well of resources to refer to and share amongst each
other. Resources that are perhaps for the first time ever available to anyone
of any skill level.
From websites and forums (i.e. Swaylocks), to YouTube channels and
podcasts, and [of course] our own backlog of Foam E-Z curated resources (here and here for instance), anyone could pick
up a rudimentary idea of what building a board involved if they were so
will glibly refer to here as the D.I.Y. Shaper
Revolution that’s been running strong for the last fifteen or so years. But
while this trend has gained popularity amongst the many folks who have taken it
upon themselves get their own hands a little dusty, it is been met with its
fair share of ire from some of the old guard of surf craftsmen.
multiple generations who have dedicated their lives to building surfboards.
These are the craftsmen and women who have spent many years paying their dues
and making a name for themselves. The ones who have kept their tools honed and
their craft sharp. These are the builders who have worked hard to continue to
push the progress of surfboard design forward and defined how we think of what
a surfboard is and can be. They have inspired an innumerable amount of curious
surfers to roll up their sleeves and attempt to emulate some of their greatest
designs. Conversely, they are also the ones who are at times the most critical
of those looking to take up the planer and learn.
building forums in particular make it quite easy to facelessly rip apart one
another when we don’t agree with each other’s ideas or concepts. However, what
you quickly learn is that in the eyes of the beleaguered veterans you aren’t a
real shaper if you design your shapes on a computer, and if you like your
boards a little funky and with two fins, you’re just a hipster kook. Mainly,
there is an overarching theme that if you don’t know what you’re doing that
it’s best to leave it all in the hands of the professionals who do. What is the
source of this consternation?. Is it the fear of losing out on business from
young up-and-comers? Perhaps, but board
building has never been particularly lucrative.
Is it the very real possibility that we may be becoming an industry
oversaturated with ineffective designs that cannot be efficiently
produced? Or is it something more
they seem to somewhat miss the mark. At the other end of the changes that the
Inernet and social media have brought comes a lot of potential and
opportunity.. The benefits of being able to easily share and be privy to new
ideas from shapers from all backgrounds outweigh whatever negative may come
with that. This is something we should fully embrace now because no matter what
your skill level, this is the best way we can continue to grow and get better.
Sharing in others’ ideas and experiences is what will continue to create better
and not all the opinions you read will be entirely sensible. It’s up to you to
figure out what works when, and what doesn’t. It’s important to keep yourself
educated, but even more important to always do so with an open mind. If I’ve
learned anything from the patchwork quilt of a board building education I’ve
received over the years from many different shapers, it’s that nobody does
anything the exact same way. At times the methods are vastly different from one
shaper to the next. Yet somehow, no
matter who’s doing it or how, they’re all still making the same things- quality
surfboards. The takeaway? Well the most important is that there is no singular
‘right’ way to make a surfboard. Different isn’t necessarily worse.