“¡Buena tabla!” Nearly every time I head down the winding, cobblestone road to Playa Makaha, I get the same comment of approval on my surfboard. Occasionally, my latest self-shaped surf craft garners interest from would-be buyers, although I have to turn them down, telling them that it’s the only board I have in Peru. Even more gratifying than the shakas and nods of approval my board receives from the Costa Verde locals is the design knowledge that shaping my own boards continues to provide. For me, shaping has revealed an exciting and complex side to surfing that has only added to my intense passion for riding waves.
To most people back home in California (and, admittedly, even to me at times), my surfboard resembles nothing more than a chopped down, high-volume twin keel fish. A novelty board, fun for some surfers in some conditions, but not a board that invites much more than a curious glance. Certainly not a replacement for the industry standard, tried-and-true thruster shortboard. But if I have learned anything in my short (2 board) shaping career, it is that there is an unlimited amount of valuable knowledge that surfers can tap into by dabbling in the art of surfboard design and shaping. As I discovered, even a quick foray into backyard board building reveals a wealth of surf design knowledge that can benefit even the most seasoned surfer.
In addition to the knowledge that can be gained by trying your hand at shaping, there also comes a deep appreciation for professional surfboard shapers, both past and present. It is impossible to have a full understanding of the difficulty involved in transferring your design idea from paper to foam blank, or of the complexities associated with combining aspect ratio, rocker, foil, rail design, tail shape, and fin placement, without grabbing a hand planer and getting dusty. Since trying my hand at shaping my own boards, I have a whole new respect for anyone who makes their living designing and creating beautiful, functional surf craft. Once you have hacked and sanded your way through a chunk of foam, you will be much less likely to complain about the prices of the boards at your local surf shop – believe me.
Every surfer should try shaping, and then surfing, at least one board of their own design. You will be surprised how much you learn about surfing, not just design aspect, but also about your own surfing style. Shaping my own boards has opened my eyes to the limitless possibilities that exist in surf design and functioning surf craft, in addition to the standard thruster. My personal belief is that, in order to be a complete surfer and fully enjoy everything that riding waves can offer, you need to experiment with alternative – sometimes weird – surf designs from time to time. What better way to experiment than to create those alternatives yourself?