By Chris Latronic Photos Keoki
Length, width, thickness, volume, concave, rocker, flex, composition, hand shaped, machine shaped, symmetrical, asymmetrical, nose shape, tail shape…the list of specs one needs to build a magic board can go on and on, but there is nothing more enlightening and gratifying then seeing all that math combined and finished into a beautifully crafted piece work and feeling it ride on an open, watery canvas.
Board technology is at an all time high, with new ideas blossoming across the quiver spectrum, aiding the world’s best as they blow the roof off progressive performance. Surfers are going deeper in the barrel, airs are going higher, turns are faster with more power, and transitive flow is an afterthought. Today, there’s a board of every flavor out there and the shave ice man has an extra ice cream scoop to sweeten the deal.
In the following pages, we provide a shopping list to the latest and greatest inventions of the surfboard/machine age. These creations are confectionary giants and have been fine tuned by artists of distinguished experience.
Summer is coming and now is a great time to dial in a shred stick along with that summer bikini bod, or dial in that summer bod with a shred stick. Whatever your fancy, I assure you that you’ll find some relationship to it here. Choosing a new board is an emotional roller coaster, so ride it hard. In following pages, you’ll witness the present and future potential of surfboards all while becoming a part of it. Enjoy the ride!
Are there any new innovations to the shaping industry this year?
Glenn Pang: I’ve been working with Arctic Foam lately, trying to develop a new blank that is a fusion of both poly and EPS. With the new blank, you will have the benefits of EPS, which is a little lighter, more buoyant and responsive, without the negatives that a lot of surfers don’t care for in EPS, which would be the board sitting too much on top of the water that sometimes causes chatter and not enough follow through on the turns. Early prototypes look very promising in the R&D stage, and hopefully we’ll be able to get it out to our customers very soon.
Wade Tokoro: I see that there are a lot of different types of foam, resins and the combination of them with carbon or kevlar composites to acquire a specific flex pattern. We’ve been using epoxy resins with the combination of PU blanks and receiving great feedback in terms of the performance and durability.
Jeff Timpone: There’s been a lot of small changes recently, like more environmentally-friendly boards, adding some new twists to bottom contours, fangled bottoms, things like that.
Steve Morgan: When responding to this question, my first thought is the Hawaiian saying “I ka wa ma mua, ka wa ma hope” which when translated means “The future is found in the past”. Ultimately, every new concept is in someway linked to the past. When discussing the modern surfboard, which ultimately was the creation of Dick Brewer as he introduced aerodynamic principles to the surfboard for the first time, from that time forward we have continued to explore the boundaries of these principles. The current trend for short boards continues to be shorter and wider. For longboards, tones of old school and deeper vees – for better pivot – seems to be the trend. Maybe the twin hull will still see its day in the future.
Jud Lau: Some differences include stringer placements, carbon wraps. We’re also playing with the flex in the boards, and that’s a huge component to surfboard performance.
What is the middle point between performance and durability?
Wade Tokoro: The goal is to have a board that is durable without hindering performance. In order to get that middle point, you have to find the right combination of foam and materials.
Jud Lau: The better the surfer is, the more the board is geared towards performance. For beginner surfers, it’s all about durability, because they’re not used to carrying boards, so they’re more likely to bang them around. More experienced surfers, though, are used to having a board under their arm and the focus is on performance.
Jeff Timpone: I do about 95% custom boards, and if the customer is a beginner, then I’ll guide them into the size and durability level they need. One of my philosophies is that I want people to get their money’s worth; I don’t want someone to come back in 3 months saying their board snapped. There’s ways to make the boards both durable and performance oriented.
Speaking in terms of volume, how can the average surfer judge how thick of a board he or she needs?
Steve Morgan: For the average surfer, picking out a new board can be a tricky prospect, given the hype and expectations that may exist. In regard to thickness there is a greater reliance, especially with short-boards, in regard to volume measured in liters. To a point this is helpful but more so within the context of a given surfboard model. Volume displacement can make the effect of the same volume entirely different from one board to another and furthermore, hand shaped boards are not computer built and lack volume measurements. The best starting point is relativity to a surfboard that the customer has found some level of satisfaction with in the past and from this point make incremental changes. This is true whether custom ordered or bought from a surf shop.
Dan Ernest: More important than thickness is the overall volume of the design. Volume charts or scales are readily available online and offer a more accurate way of deciding how much foam you need based on your experience, weight or type of wave you plan on riding. Then you can take that volume calculation and have a shaper or salesman help you find the right board design to fit your needs.
Robin Johnston: Volume is your friend when you’re a lower level surfer. It’s about catching waves and getting high reps of rides to improve, so that would make less sitting around. For mid level surfers, you can go thinner.
Jud Lau: More foam is more flotation, which enables you to paddle faster and catch more waves. Catching waves is half the battle, especially for beginners, because you won’t improve if you’re not catching waves.
What are the best selling shapes/models right now?
Robin Johnston: The Vagabond tends to be real popular, it’s user friendly and really versatile. The model is slightly like a fish, a performance hybrid fish.
Wade Tokoro: The best selling boards right now are standard performance shortboards. We are also doing a lot of shorter and wider models too.
Jud Lau: Generally speaking, in the past 10 years, everything started to open up. Everyone is open to different kinds of boards and models, rather than a certain type of board. Anything and everything goes.
Glenn Pang: For the average surfer, we are seeing that they are liking boards with a little more volume, a little less rocker and fuller outlines. This gives them more paddle power and make the boards a little more forgiving in the water. There is also a resurgence in retro single fins and twin fins. Our Saint twinny has been making a big come back not only with our customers, but also with our team riders.
How important is feedback from surfers/customers, good or bad?
Eric Arakawa: Feedback is huge. For example, I’ve been working on a team contract, and one of the things I’m putting into it is that the riders cannot sugarcoat anything. When giving feedback, you have to be honest and give the bad news as well as the good news. I don’t need my ego built up. Sometimes, the best medicine is a slice of humble pie and that inspires you to do better.
Dan Ernest: As shapers and designers, we love seeing the smile on a customer’s face when they pick up their order. It feels even better when we get that positive phone call that the board works great, but I think we learn more about board design when the customer/surfer lets us know when a board doesn’t do well. Bad feedback pushes us to refine our current shapes and try new designs.
Robin Johnston: I’m constantly calling my team riders, asking them how their most recent boards are working. When they tell me one is magic, I document it. All feedback is welcome.
Steve Morgan: Customer feedback is essential and there is no such thing as bad feedback. I’m now into my 5th decade of shaping, and the only way I have managed to continue all these years is by paying attention to the needs and preferences of the surfer/customer. You’re never off the hook. Every decade creates a new generation of surfers who you must prove yourself to.
Jeff Timpone: I tell every person to call me after they ride the board, because I want to know what they think. The best feedback I get is when a customer will order another board, whether it’s a year or 3-4 years later. I had a guy who bought a board from me back in the mid 80s and he sent me a photo of it, and said that he wanted another board. As a business person you want return customers, and today, it can be hard to talk to shapers. You can order a model and such so I try and make myself physically accessible, where anyone can walk in my shop and we can talk where you’re going with your surfing and how want to progress.
Jud Lau: Feedback is the most important thing in shaping. That’s what helps you improve. You don’t improve as a surfer if you don’t receive feedback and don’t look at what you’re doing. It’s the same with shaping. Negative feedback is almost more valuable than positive feedback.
Shaping for pros vs shaping for the average surfer: are there any differences?
Jeff Timpone: For more experienced surfers, I make the boards a little more edgy, like more rocker in certain places, thinner rails, accentuate the concaves. For pros, they want a more sensitive board than the average surfer.
Glenn Pang: Shaping for the pros is probably the most demanding, because they can feel the slightest differences in design, and sometimes it’s hard to translate what they are feeling to what needs to be changed. Fine tuning a board can take a few tries to get it perfect. For the average surfer, it’s nailing down what model they are looking for and a good volume that suits them in that model.
Eric Arakawa: On a different level, there is no difference. If a pro is happy, and a regular customer comes and gets a board and is happy and appreciates it, that’s what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to satisfy customers.