A Handmade’s Tale

Theories on the art of shaping surf craft by hand.

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As generations of wave riders continue passing through time and space, the shaping of surfboards is becoming increasingly automated, thus making shaping by hand something of a lost art. That’s neither good nor bad; it just is. However, part of the personal connection one gains to the ride becomes lost in the machine. As the intimate understanding of the shaper’s intentions for the behavioral characteristics of the form dissipate, the rider becomes less connected to the wave through that shape.

In hand-shaping surfboards, there’s a delicate combination of fixing your mind’s eye on a shape that exists within the blank’s given volume, actualizing that vision within the foam blank, then using stages of removal to lead you to what your brain saw. Overall perception of the blank’s mass and a methodical system for removing its excess to leave exactly the desired form, via an efficient, minimal execution, is the key. As the saying goes, “Each touch creates a bump,” meaning the fewer and more-profound strokes of any tool used, the more intended and artful the result. Make no mistake: Hand-shaping is art.

There is no perfect shape. Inexactness doesn’t necessarily equate to better or worse function. It merely indicates a shaper had more or less control—meaning the shape is more or less intentional. Many a “best ever” board was shaped by a kook craftsman who could surf well and thus was aware of and able to achieve a few basic strong points—namely a flat and stable bottom, a good tail, non-grabby rails, a proper fin, not too much nose rocker. And voila! Beautiful art forms exist in the eye of the beholder.

Enjoy your ride!

[Feature image: Andrew Doheny, finding that deeper connection and understanding that comes from riding craft whittled by one’s own two hands. Photo by Grant Ellis]