On Craft

Dave Parmenter and Andrew Kidman discuss the art, science, craft, and romance of the traditional handmade surfboard. From TSJ 19.6.

Light / Dark

In just the kind of exercise TSJ has engaged in since the early 90s, this remarkably exploratory and uniquely down-home conversation reveals and edifies. A young shaper might be especially well served by a careful reading. Likewise, keen design hounds—from the latent to the applied—will find clues on how one might best pursue the “magic” surfboard. Enjoy. —Scott Hulet 

 Andrew: What’s the relevance of shaping surfboards today?

Dave: I give this a lot of thought. What is building surfboards nowadays in the 21st century? First and foremost it’s a craft. Craftsmanship is what it’s all about. It’s not art and it’s not a science—it’s a craft. It’s like art, but it’s functional. Although I think a lot of the craftsmanship has gone out of it, because once commercialization comes along, it’s politicized. There’s people advertising, people competing for the market, and pretty soon you have all these people that aren’t involved in it—people that don’t have calluses on their hands—telling you what a surfboard is, how to build them, and what they’re about. People in the media that have never fixed a fucking ding telling you that they’re a talisman of this, and it means this…That’s why people like Mick Mackie and Wayne Lynch are people I love to talk about surfboards with—we’re still doing it on that level and we’re still craftsmen. Craftsmanship is the ethos. It’s being proud of something you built with your hands. It’s therapeutic to do. It’s something you look forward to. You’re incredibly enthusiastic about getting out there and cutting something out with a saw and going through the whole process. I built my first board in 1975, like a lot of guys, from a stripped-down long board. I didn’t get into it commercially until 1988, but I’ve never not enthusiastically gone into the shaping room and pursued it. The business side of it drains you. You get tired of dealing with glassers and knucklehead customers and the whole political bullshit of people trying to divide it and say, “This type of surfboard is the thing, this type of surfboard is not. This is progressive, this is retro….” It’s a functional thing—they’re all beautiful and they all work—but I think I would like to marshal it all back into the shaping room, where craftsman go back to being like the Kahuna. Where we are the people that decide what a surfboard is, how you build them, and what is the best way. I’m tired of commercial interests telling me what a surfboard is and that you can build them by computers. I think that one of the biggest things that has happened is computer shaping. And by that I don’t mean the machine, that’s a whole other thing. I mean this whole new thing of this dustless environment that everybody’s talking about. That you can design a surfboard with a keyboard, change rocker, change outlines, and feed it into a computer and have a robotic router shape it out. That’s not shaping—it’s refining. It means that, no matter how brilliant of a board you turn out or how great of a shaper you are, if you’re doing a board like that, all you’re doing is building on someone else’s work, because at some point there has to be a feedstock of design data to go in there to start with. You don’t just design a board from the keel up, like a boat, on a computer screen. You have to start with a board that goes back in time, to a board that Tom Curren rode or Nat Young rode or Phil Edwards rode.

A lot of the ancient Hawaiian curves came from organic sources, from being around fish, seedpods, and coconut fronds—things that would curl up into these certain rockers—and thereby they designed their canoes.

At some point, you have to start with those basic mother curves and plot it out and deviate from that. That’s all that computer shaping is: deviations from things that people started by hand. One of the things that I do, being a surfboard builder, is I use a lot of templates. These templates all work through a tremendous range: from 5’2″ fishes, all the way up to 16- to 18-foot racing boards, and everything in between. I have a huge collection of curves. I take them from any source I can get including non-surfboard sources, and this includes rockers too. One of the things that you start to see when you begin piecing together hybrid designs is that curves all the way through the design continuum—going all the way back to the George Downing era, and then all the way back to the ancient Hawaiian boards that are in the Bishop Museum—these certain mother curves come together and fit. Like, I can overlap a 1975 fish curve with the nose curve of a Dick Brewer-Buzzy Trent-Pipeline gun, and the curve of a modern tow board, and they all fit within 1/8 of an inch tolerance at certain times. It’s extraordinary. Only the people that work with surfboards on this level will understand this. You can really see the continuum, this certain DNA strand that goes all the way back to pre-contact Hawaii. It could be 1,500 years or more of certain curves. A lot of the ancient Hawaiian curves came from organic sources, from being around fish and seeing organic forms that they had: seed pods and coconut fronds—things that would curl up into these certain rockers—and thereby they designed their canoes, which were all displacement hulls— round, convex things. Their surfboards were like that as well. The amas on the canoes, the outriggers, the same kind of design, all convexity, parabolic rocker. You can see that design go all the way up into the 1930s, 40s, and 50s, until probably the biggest thing that ever happened to surfboards is they were turned upside down. They all used to be round bottoms and flat decks, and then with the Hynson/Brewer downrail, they were flipped upside down with basically flat bottoms and rounder decks. That was the big continental divide in surfboard design right there. The templates still remained pretty similar. You can see boards in the Bishop Museum that, without too many alterations and using the same basic template, would put a guy on a good Pipeline gun today, because templates are made to be moved around, altered, pulled this way, pulled that way. They are just like French curves—they are not designated to one design.

Andrew: I have a handful of old templates from you and Skip Frye, and they all kind of fit. When I first began shaping, I didn’t realize you could just move your curves around to service a certain area.

Dave: Rusty Preisendorfer taught me to use full templates. I think that was a huge influence on me because templating, to me, is my favorite part of shaping the board. I’ll take a long time to do a prototype board, messing around with it, taking it out in

the yard and looking at it from every direction, and if it’s a really, really critical board I’ll wait until the next day to look at it with a fresh eye before I commit to cutting it out. After you’ve been collecting these templates for 20 years and you look at them stacked on the shelf, as I stack them like books, the tolerances and variances on them, even on the widely diverse designs, isn’t that great. In some places it’s less than an inch, and when you get into critical areas like the nose, it’s pretty similar. Surfboard curves are not as divergent as people would think.


Andrew: When I started moving the templates around, I could start exploring different widths with the same curve. For me, life just exploded right there. And I’ve been told that you can do all this on a computer, but I don’t think it’s true. Because you’re not doing it with your hand, and you’re not doing it with your eye.

Dave: When I talk about computers, I’m talking about designing a board on a screen, with a keypad, with a program. That is akin to homogenizing something. It’s a great sterilizer. It doesn’t really let you get in there and shift those templates around. I mean, you can do all this stuff, but you really don’t need any knowledge. All you need is that whole feedstock of design data and the whole continuum that other real shapers have fed in over the last 50 years, or even longer if we’re going back to the ancient times. So, in a way, you’re basically being a remora, some sort of a parasite. I don’t care who you are, you might be some guy that won shaper of the year for Surfing magazine last year, but at that point you have stopped being a craftsman. You have to get in there and work with these things on a three-dimensional level and build them with your hands. If you’re doing production work, or you’re working with pro surfers with 16th-of-an-inch tolerances, fine, go and work on refining them on the computer, because it is a valuable tool for that kind of thing. But it’s the great sterilizer. The boards that come out of them are beautiful-looking boards, but they’re incredibly sterile. It also leads people to a certain laziness where, if they have to build a board that is out of their design field—if they’re making 6’1″ thrusters and someone comes in and says to them they want an 8′ gun—the temptation is too great for them to want to blow it up. Then you’re just creating this Frankenstein of weird curves and straights and things that just don’t work. A true craftsman would be able to go into his shaping bay and go through all his templates and probably pull three separate full templates together, from maybe 30 years apart, to make a brand new high-performance gun or shortboard. I quite often do very progressive modern surfboards using templates from three different eras of surfboard designs. It’s just the curves. You’ve got to know the curves, and a computer will never replace that. In fact, in a way, it will end up stultifying that. The further you get enmeshed in that, the further you get away from the craftsmanship.


Andrew: Do you find there’s a certain thrill or romance in pulling those templates out and messing around?

Dave: Romance isn’t functional, but it’s what I get off on. But, as far as craftsmanship goes, I like to try to keep the sentiment out of it. But for me, there’s all the sentiment and romance in the world in shaping—it’s there. I feel if I take a Brewer Pipeliner from 1965 and use a section of that, and then, say, something from a board that Diffenderfer made on Kauai way back when, and then there’s a production Lightning Bolt Parrish, and I put them altogether and I blend it with a tail I might have gotten from Rusty Preisendorfer back in the 80s, and it all fits and, you know, it fits immediately the first time you look at it. It’s an unbelievable feeling to piece all those things together. I feel that I’m part of that continuum. It’s almost like being a horticulturist, where you can start splicing together genes to make the most unbelievable rose or the best apple, and that kind of grafting of superior features comes from people that have a green thumb. They get out there and put their hands in the soil and work. You don’t do it in your lab. I think that shaping a board on a keyboard is a cop-out. It totally sterilizes the seedbed of any future design. No great leaps will ever come out of it. Great leaps come from the backyard, from mistakes, from passion, from wanting to get out in the water the next day. It will never come from a sterile, dust-free environment—never. It will always be the backyarder. I think we’re heading back into another backyard revival, and I think we’ll see some exciting things come out of it, probably from people that have very little shaping ability. I think some of the neatest boards I have ever seen have been from crude environs. I remember sitting at the OP Pro, in the bleachers when I used to compete, and watching this endless line of people, all the inland surfers coming down, walking back and forth along the sand in front of the OP Pro.

That’s what I was after, this ultimate single-fin…this one board I could take anywhere in the world and ride and be able to express myself.

Thousands of surfboards a day, every conceivable shape, stuff pulled out from garages in Downey or Buena Park or wherever, and I used to love looking at all these boards. The bad ones were more interesting because in certain lights or shadows they could take on certain characteristics. I was always trying to invent boards in my mind. Riding a thruster as a pro surfer was so boring. The first thing I did when I got off tour, or had a break, was go and get a single-fin to try and cleanse the palate. I’ve always been a single-fin surfer and thrusters bore the hell out of me. They are great boards technically, but you have to ride them in a real set pattern to make them work. You can’t be a jazz [player] and go off on these riffs, these Michael Peterson-style riffs. So, I used to look at all these really bad boards and think, “If I grafted this with this, I could have this unbelievable single-fin.” That’s what I was after, this ultimate single-fin. I could take this 6’9″ or 6’10” board anywhere in the world and ride and be able to express myself and be very spontaneous on it.


Andrew: What do you mean by shaping skill?

Dave: There are a lot of really great craftsman out there using tools with a set routine. But there’s another kind of skill, which is design, knowing templates and knowing the entire continuum of surfboard design, from paipo boards to tandem boards. That’s another thing. I think that anyone that has gone out into the backyard shed and put ten boards under their belt is just as capable of coming up with the most exciting board they’ve ever ridden as anybody that has shaped 20,000 of them. Probably more so, because now the production shapers are finishing most of their boards with machines, and the boards have become sterilized. I think a lot of really good boards need some wacky component to work against: some straight spot or some weird little kink or bump that kind of lets you work against it. Some of the best boards I’ve ever ridden were boards with aberrations or twists, and the most boring boards I’ve ever surfed have been the most technically perfect.


Andrew: That’s interesting, because I know Greenough never made a lot of boards, and I know Simmons didn’t make a lot of boards either, but their contributions to the evolution of design have been remarkable.

Dave: Well, you’re talking about times when things were moving fast and the design field was pretty much wide open. Today it’s harder to do, because ever since Simon came out with his thruster over 25 years ago, it’s all just been a period of refinement. There’s nothing new yet. Really, the only new kinds of surfing are tow-surfing or stand-up surfing, and even those surfboards are hybrids of other surf craft. There’s nothing new yet. The Simmons’ and the Greenoughs’ get to a point where you get your ten boards under your belt and you can control your tools, and you can put out a board within a 20- or 30-percent variance of what’s in your mind’s eye, that’s the important thing. Some people can do it after ten boards. Some it takes 100. Some never get it. I’ve worked with a lot of people that are in that first dozen or so boards, and with the right discipline and blanks being as good as they are today, they can hit it. It’s tremendously exciting. I try to tell people, as much soul as we try to impart, it’s still plastic, not in a negative way, but in the fact that the very word plastic used to mean malleable, shapeable. The thing can be glassed and ten years later you can go back in and grind it down, reshape it, rebuild it, re-glass it, change the fins. That’s the good part of plastic.


Andrew: I’ve seen a lot of older guys that aren’t really interested in anything else other than feeling how their boards go, grinding their fins down, knocking them out.

Dave: You can’t be afraid or impose these boundaries or limitations on what you think the surfboard is or what you can do to it. You can take a grinder to it and do almost anything to it, even after it’s been built. For me, it’s easier to start from scratch and build a new board, but for a lot of people it’s easier to go and Frankenstein something from an existing board, and that’s how you learn a lot. That’s what I like a lot about the removable fin systems that you see today. I wish I had them when I was younger because I spent so much time trying to learn about fins and fin configurations. But with the removable fin systems today, you can learn so much about one board even in one surf. Where before, with fixed fins, it used to take years.


Andrew: How did the Widow Maker come about?

Dave: I remember seeing Crystal Voyager and really following the whole mantra that Greenough was after. He was after this neutral feeling in the boards, whereas thrusters are built in overdrive. They are like a Maserati, built to go straight to a super high speed. I like a single-fin because whatever you put into it, it gives back. If you want to go fast, you can go fast. If you want to slow it down, you can slow it down immediately. When I would go to Jeffrey’s Bay—being a down-the-line surfer—that was my ultimate wave. And I would try to ride a thruster and it was so frustrating because, in my mind, I had these lines of Terry Fitzgerald, Jonathan Paarman, and Reno. That’s how I wanted to surf, and I would try to do that on my thruster. I could not control the thing. It didn’t respond to the upper part of the wave when you were going Mach 2. So the next year I came back with a real forward center, single-fin outline—wide point up, bladed out. I had a single-fin with little side fins that I’d seen on Reno Abellira, Brewer, and Owl Chapman’s boards back in the early 70s. I reasoned that you’d have a single-fin feeling off the bottom, a neutrality and power—that single-fin power.

There’s a heap of components out there that you can put together in an infinite amount of combinations and just enjoy messing with that for the rest of your life, and that’s kind of what surfboards are all about for me.

And, since the genie was out of the bottle on thrusters and we already knew what it felt like with that kind of turning axis, I figured that, off the top of the wave, having those little winglets or finlets would give you that little bit of Thruster bite, but it wouldn’t override the single-fin. Sure enough, I went to Jeffrey’s Bay and it was one of the greatest surfing experiences I’d ever had in my life: to be able to surf that wave the way I wanted to surf it, to be doing full Fitzy speed runs and, at the same time, the minute I came into Supertubes and it got hollow, I could do the classic Cheyne Horan pit stall and just stop dead and not get sucked up the face like on a thruster. It was just like playing jazz riffs. That was in 1988, so all my guns have always had that fin configuration. I’ve never gone back to riding a thruster in big waves. There’s too much drag.


Andrew: How did you come up with putting the single-fin up into the cluster of the side fins? I’ve seen some of these 70s versions and it seemed like the side fins were way forward of the back fin, with the back fin more toward the tail.

Dave: It was strictly neutrality. I had the rear base of the side fins even with the leading edge of the center fin, and I figured that was the perfect arrangement for the thing to always behave like a single-fin when I wanted it to. But then, in the upper part of the wave when there’s a lot of speed, there’d be just that little bit of that thruster claw-like turning axis. I really never had to change it much. I think it works well. It’s just been perfect.


Andrew: So that design came out of your knowledge of surfboards?

Dave: It came out of a frustration with surfing what I consider the world’s greatest down-the-line wave, for somebody that considers themselves a speed surfer, finally getting to a wave like that and wanting to surf like Terry Fitzgerald and not being able to do it on modern equipment. It’s certainly nothing new. Back in the 70s we had these little fins called control fins. They were like these plastic Lexan fins they sold with two-sided adhesive tape on the base and you’d just plunk them on your single-fin. This is back in 1974. So we had tri-fins back then. I remember seeing Owl Chapman riding one of those with two little half-moon keel fins in Morning of The Earth, but they were behind the center fin. For me, it just seemed like the perfect thing. I still have that original Widow Maker. It’s incredibly crude, but it worked better than any of the surfboards I was riding from mainstream shapers or boards I was riding on the tour. It was the first board in a long time that let me surf how I wanted to surf. That might have been in the first 15 or 20 boards I’d ever shaped.


Andrew: Shaping it yourself got you closer to what you were trying to feel than what you could have gotten from a master shaper.

Dave: Rusty Preisendorfer made me the best high-performance thrusters. I still think about the surfing we did on those things. They’re just fantastic boards. But when it came to wanting to go on my own path and this fixation on single-fins (it’s almost like Michael Mackie and his real desire to follow the path on these split-tail boards he’s making), it was an absolute obsession with me. A lot of it was a reaction to the stale surfing on the tour and the whole four-to-the-beach thing, but I just loved single-fins. I’ve always been a single-fin surfer. I went through the twin-fin era. I went through the thruster era. I loved thrusters. I loved getting on them and rocking and rolling, but I just loved single-fin surfboards. I think they’re the best all-around boards. They do need a bit of power. I come from an area on the central coast of California where the waves are terrible, just closeouts. So, to finally get to places like Margaret River, Sunset Beach, Jeffrey’s Bay, Cape Town, and all of a sudden realizing I’m not surfing the way I want to surf, I was able to go into the shaping room and make boards to surf the way I wanted to surf.


Andrew: Purely from an observational point of view, the equipment really determines the way a surfer is going to surf. I look at the tour and the majority of the surfers look to be riding very similar equipment and there’s very little difference in the surfing that I can see.

Dave: Well, today, athletically and performance-wise, it’s unbelievable. We didn’t even have guys in the cartoons in the surf movies in the 70s and 80s that could surf the way these guys do. But you know what? It just bores the hell out of me. The surfboards, the surfers—it just bores me. The boards are so gutless and so underpowered. To get power and speed out of them they have to follow body kinetics where they all have to be the same. To get the utmost out of the boards, they all have to use their bodies to behave in a certain way, and it’s boring.

The word “waterman” is used so frequently now that it’s lost its meaning. But I like the idea of frontiersmen, the outdoorsmen that could handle themselves in any conditions, any element—practice self-rescue.

It’s insane to watch it, but after watching about five minutes of all the highlights from the last year, I look at it and think, “That’s incredible, but you know what? Put on MP in Morning of the Earth, put on Fitzy….” It’s not because I’m from that generation, a lot of that surfing was done before I was ever formed as a surfer. I just consider it better. Just like I would rather listen to classical music than hip-hop. I wasn’t alive when Mozart was making the music, so it’s not like I can claim that it came from my time. I just think it’s better. And I think that single-fin surfing, to me, is the classical music or jazz. It’s something that’s timeless. To me, it’s better. I’ve done all my best surfing on single-fins.


Andrew: Is that just the feeling of it? Because really, it doesn’t matter what it looks like if it feels good.

Dave: If you’re lucky enough to grow up in Hawaii as a menehune on the beach, if you start surfing before you become self-conscious or self-aware and it’s still play, you get that. Where you’re surfing for a feeling, for it to be fun, to be radical. Then you go through that phase where it’s a write-off. You just surf for a look—you surf to be fashionable, surf to be considered hot. Then, maybe after that, when you’re in your thirties, you can walk away from it and say, “I don’t give a shit. I surf the way I want to surf. I don’t care what anybody thinks. I don’t care what the hot kids think if I’m an old cruiser. I surf how I want to surf and for what I want to feel.” We also have certain values. People that have surfed at our level have certain values. It goes back to people that we admire, like the Fitzgerald’s and the Ian Cairns’s and the Shaun Tomson’s and the M.R.’s—I still think M.R. is the greatest surfer that’s ever lived. I watch that surfing, and those are my values: good off-the-bottom, off-the-top surfing. It’s a bottom turn at Sunset, not three wiggles and then an off-the-top. Maybe you’re prejudiced when you get older, but you have to hold true to that. But within those values, you still want to go off and rip, like a jazz maestro, if you’re confronted with a perfect point wave and you’ve built your own equipment and there’s been no mediator, no middle-man. You’re transferring your vision through your hands, to the board, to that wave, say Jeffrey’s Bay or Bells. That’s pure surfing. That’s not a cliché, or pseudo-nouveaux, retro, hippie, or whatever—that’s the real thing. That’s when you can go out, and if you want to attack you attack, if you want to trim you trim—it’s whatever you want to do. Reacting to the wave, riding the wave not the board, not doing what you think Surfing magazine or Surfer magazine want you to surf like. Once you get beyond where you care what people think, you can build components into the boards that work rather than being fashionable. There’s too much fashion in boards now. Tom Morey once said, “Your boards are rubbish. You’re all just trashmen riding garbage.” Those boards bore the hell out of me. They are fun to shape. I love shaping modern boards, but they are boring. There’s a heap of components out there that you can put together in an infinite amount of combinations and just enjoy messing with that for the rest of your life, and that’s kind of what surfboards are all about for me.


Andrew: For me that’s what you get from the whole shaping experience.

Dave: Well, that’s what I’m trying to explain. You don’t have to shape a thousand boards to get that. Whatever it takes to get a little bit of control, that shaping experience—even if it’s in a garden shed with just a Surform—it blurs into that surfing experience. There’s no difference. It’s like that great sequence with David Treloar in Morning of the Earth: The whole time you’re in the shaping room you’re anticipating jumping off the rocks at Angourie and surfing it. Then, when you’re actually in the water, you’re thinking about being in the shaping room again. It’s such an unbelievably, positive feedback loop. For guys like us, we go into places where there’s really good collections of boards and it starts everything effervescing and popping. You just want to get back in the shaping room. A lot of the time, for me, it’s a toss-up. I’d rather go in the shaping bay than surf. There are no crowds. There’s no surf rage.


Andrew: It was fun the other night. I was in the shaping bay with Mackie and we were messing around with this design, and mentally we were already surfing.

Dave: Well, yes. Getting back to what we were talking about before, it’s a lonely thing as well. That’s why I like coming down and hanging out with you or Wayne or Mackie. It’s hard to share that passion about shaping nowadays. Not to be an elitist or anything, but when you do try to share it you get guys edging away, maybe a little bit contrite, like: “I haven’t picked up a Skil 100 in years. I just do everything on a machine.” Or they say, “I could probably do that if I used my 1002 program and maybe blow it up a little bit….” But that’s not shaping. You can’t share passion for surfboards and creating with people where it’s just become a business thing, and surfboards have become a unit to produce.


Andrew: What do you think about what Wayne Lynch has been doing with his quiver, going back and revisiting some of his older designs from the 70s and then modernizing them?

People that get into shaping now, they just want to be rock stars, and amass some sort of a cult following—and they do it via computers and logos.

Dave: The guys that I looked up to when I was in the garden shed in Cayucos, California, going at it with a Surform and a Hamilton Beach turkey carver were Wayne Lynch, Simon Anderson, and Terry Fitzgerald. Terry’s idea of being the total surfer, a world citizen that traveled everywhere, may or may not have been a professional surfer, but he shaped his own equipment, learned to read weather maps, was the guy on the spot. That, to me, was the ideal thing. The word “waterman” is used so frequently now that it’s lost its meaning. But I like the idea of frontiersmen, the outdoorsmen that could handle themselves in any conditions, any element, and practice self-rescue. I think that was the model for what surfing was for me. And one of the key things for me was to have control over your equipment. Wayne Lynch, the ultimate surfing outdoorsman—he’s the only surfer-shaper-designer that I’ve talked to that understands certain key things about the energy boards have, when they have a certain foil and a complementary deck line. Nobody else that I’ve talked to, not that they don’t know, but I’ve never had anybody understand that, and it’s something that I’ve only understood intuitively as a surfer-shaper. I just think he makes the most beautiful boards. The single-fins that he’s making right now are probably the most beautiful boards I’ve seen since the Lightning Bolt era. I’m a huge fan of the Parrish Lightning Bolts and Reno Abellira’s boards. I still get chicken skin when I see those things. Wayne is just one of those guys—and this is the ultimate compliment—when some disinterested party will see a board that you’ve built and they’ll say, “I can just tell a really good surfer made that board.” You see it with Simon Anderson’s boards, but Wayne’s especially. There’s something in the DNA of a board that you can tell that the board came from the very best surfer-shapers. You look at other boards that are on the market, from guys that are just really good shapers that are maybe working with pros, and it just doesn’t have that. I don’t know what the quality is, but it just doesn’t exist. I look at Wayne’s boards, and I see all those decades of surfing incredible barrels down in Victoria. All the years in the shaping room and all those lines that he has in his head that he wants to draw on the wave. It’s hard to put it into words. There are so few surfer/shapers left—it’s a dying breed. We’re almost like blacksmiths. People that get into shaping now, they just want to be rock stars and amass some sort of a cult following—and they do it via computers and logos. Precious few people want to do it because they love to just build surfboards with their hands. Wayne, Simon Anderson, guys like Mick Mackie, it gives you heart to see it. I’ve ridden some of Mick Mackie’s boards and they’re just beautiful. There’s an element in there, something you can work off of to make the board go. Oftentimes, I will switch some of the boards that I ride with other surfers that are riding conventional, modern, progressive shortboards, and I’ll get a wave on it, and it just bores me. I’ll end up just sitting on it, waiting for my board to come back. It’s not because I can’t ride them—I can still ride those boards they just bore me. There’s too much curve. They’re all drag components, the hips are in the wrong place, everything is to make the board incredibly submissive. I still dream of those days when guys like Terry Fitzgerald would take off on a ten-foot wave, almost at Centreside at Bells, and their first turn would cover more area than Kelly Slater’s do now on the whole wave—their first turn eats up more green. Nowadays, when the guys do a turn on a modern board, it has to lead immediately into the next turn. In our day, you could pump down the line for four or five strokes and then down a big roundy, or break it up with some enormous Michael Peterson like….you can’t do that now. It’s almost like the difference between pelicans and barn swallows flying.


Andrew: Do you have any advice for people that are interested in shaping?

Dave: Be interested in everything. Try every surfboard you can get your hands on—if it’s a modern alaia, a paipo board, a bodyboard. I rode every single surfboard I could get my hands on. I was always interested in it, and I’ve never been incurious about them. Take templates off them—it’s easy to do start amassing a library of curves and seeing where they vary and where they don’t. There are no rules. You’ll be surprised. You can turn templates around and use the tail for the nose and the nose for the tail to get a certain curve. With the blanks we have available today, anything is possible.


Andrew: There are some amazing materials to build boards with these days.

Dave: I love polyurethane foam. Good polyurethane foam is a dream to work with. People that want to get into this dustless environment and sit in the glass cubicle and tap away at their computer, it’s tired, it bugs. It really bugs. You can be a businessman, an industrialist, the captain of the surfboard industry, whatever you want to call yourself, but you’re not a craftsman. It’s that simple.