Stay Cool Dad

On custom surfboards and the nature of soul by joshglid
April 6, 2012, 10:17 am
Filed under: Just listened to ...

I’ve just ordered a new surfboard. When I started surfing, back in 1986, I had a second hand board. As I progressed, I ordered my first custom. It was an Energy thruster, shaped by Simon Anderson, the bloke who invented the modern three fin board. 

 Since then I’ve had lots of boards. I haven’t surfed much recently, but I’ve decided it’s important to me, and something I need to have in my life. The new one will also be made by Simon Anderson. 

 Over the last twenty years there’s been a real shift in the way – if not the materials – surfboards are made. That first Simon custom would have been completely hand-shaped, from a rough foam blank. Then it would have been sealed in resin-impregnated fibreglass, fins added, and delivered to me. 

 Boards are still made from foam and fibreglass. Removeable fins have generally replaced fixed fins, but handshaping is rare. Boards are now cut, using a machine. The machined blank is then hand-finished, coated with ‘glass and resin, and a fin system added. 

 There’s some debate in surfing about whether boards have lost their soul because they’re machine cut. I don’t think they have. When I contacted Simon about a new board, the upshot of our conversation was he’d design something for my needs. 

 These days, however, he designs on computer. That’s where the nay-sayers come in. Computer designs don’t have soul, they say. The heart of surfing is in the hand-made board, they say. 

 I think they’re wrong. At least up to a point. Simon couldn’t design a board – and his are in demand from touring professionals – unless he had a deep, core understanding of surfboard design. He’s among a handful of shapers who are truly world class. 

 Does it matter that the board is cut on a machine and then hand finished? Not to me. He’s still designing the board for me. It’s a custom in every sense of the word, made to my needs and specifications. 

 And that’s where surfing is unique among sports. What other sport could you go to a master, and have something made just for you – and all for (significantly) less than a thousand bucks? None. Most sporting goods are generic. Surfboards are not. Surfers need boards designed for them, and for the waves they ride. They need boards for their skill level. 

 Surfing, at its heart, is still a cottage industry. And it’s still full of soul. That a board is designed and roughed out on machine matters not a jot. It’s the process of consultation and design that’s important. 

 And I’m stoked. 


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