Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Changing of the Tides

“I’ve never apprenticed. I’m one hundred percent self-taught. In those days there was no such thing as someone letting you come in to their shop and showing you what to do, or bringing in some hacked up blank that they’re going to glass for you and make it look nice. If you were going to do something you had to do it yourself.”

(Speaking with Surf Splendor podcast on how he learned to shaped)

Shaping and glassing surfboards are not simple skills to learn.

 The entire process is hands-on, highly labor intensive, and deeply dependent on one’s knowledge of an entire backlog of tricks and techniques. Often these tricks are less than intuitive at first. As a result, much of the industry has spent the better part of the last fifty years shrouded within  a steadfast veil of proprietary secrecy. People’s livelihoods depended on their ability to exclusively offer the greatest original designs after all.  If you wanted to learn you generally found a broken board in the trash, and sanded or planed it into something new in your garage.  If you wanted to play in the industry – you had better be prepared to set aside many hours worth of sweeping up someone’s shaping bay to earn the sparse nuggets of knowledge that were offered.  Thus, until recently, the boardbuilding industry was a sealed and self-contained establishment that opened itself up only to the determined and lucky few. Then came the Internet.

Admittedly, surfers were not the first to embrace this medium. It took a few years for the vision and innovation that technology would bring to catch up with the surfing world. Once it did however, the game would never be the same (think accurate and accessible long term surf forecasting, CAD shaping programs, higher quality board-building materials and testing, etc.). More specifically, it seems that the growth and presence of the Internet has spurred much greater interest in the building of surfboards in recent years by stripping back many of the barriers that previously existed. The mass dissemination of readily available information on all things surfboards meant that it is no longer merely a matter of whom you are lucky or diligent enough to know. It’s more rather about what exactly it is that you are looking to learn now. All of the answers are just a quick Google search away [insert sickening pun about ‘surfing’ the web here].

Slowly and steadily board-builders from around the world have developed a deep well of resources to refer to and share amongst each other. Resources that are perhaps for the first time ever available to anyone of any skill level.

 From websites and forums (i.e. Swaylocks), to YouTube channels and podcasts, and [of course] our own backlog of Foam E-Z curated resources (here and here for instance), anyone could pick up a rudimentary idea of what building a board involved if they were so inclined. 

This has been undoubtedly one of the preeminent causes for what I will glibly refer to here as the D.I.Y. Shaper Revolution that’s been running strong for the last fifteen or so years. But while this trend has gained popularity amongst the many folks who have taken it upon themselves get their own hands a little dusty, it is been met with its fair share of ire from some of the old guard of surf craftsmen.

I am referring to quite a broad range of builders spanning multiple generations who have dedicated their lives to building surfboards. These are the craftsmen and women who have spent many years paying their dues and making a name for themselves. The ones who have kept their tools honed and their craft sharp. These are the builders who have worked hard to continue to push the progress of surfboard design forward and defined how we think of what a surfboard is and can be. They have inspired an innumerable amount of curious surfers to roll up their sleeves and attempt to emulate some of their greatest designs. Conversely, they are also the ones who are at times the most critical of those looking to take up the planer and learn.

It is quite a brutal world out there for any shaper. Social media and surfboard building forums in particular make it quite easy to facelessly rip apart one another when we don’t agree with each other’s ideas or concepts. However, what you quickly learn is that in the eyes of the beleaguered veterans you aren’t a real shaper if you design your shapes on a computer, and if you like your boards a little funky and with two fins, you’re just a hipster kook. Mainly, there is an overarching theme that if you don’t know what you’re doing that it’s best to leave it all in the hands of the professionals who do. What is the source of this consternation?. Is it the fear of losing out on business from young up-and-comers?  Perhaps, but board building has never been particularly lucrative.  Is it the very real possibility that we may be becoming an industry oversaturated with ineffective designs that cannot be efficiently produced?  Or is it something more fundamental? 

While these are in fact legitimate concerns to consider, they seem to somewhat miss the mark. At the other end of the changes that the Inernet and social media have brought comes a lot of potential and opportunity.. The benefits of being able to easily share and be privy to new ideas from shapers from all backgrounds outweigh whatever negative may come with that. This is something we should fully embrace now because no matter what your skill level, this is the best way we can continue to grow and get better. Sharing in others’ ideas and experiences is what will continue to create better surfboards.

It’s true that not every idea you come across will be valid, and not all the opinions you read will be entirely sensible. It’s up to you to figure out what works when, and what doesn’t. It’s important to keep yourself educated, but even more important to always do so with an open mind. If I’ve learned anything from the patchwork quilt of a board building education I’ve received over the years from many different shapers, it’s that nobody does anything the exact same way. At times the methods are vastly different from one shaper to the next.  Yet somehow, no matter who’s doing it or how, they’re all still making the same things- quality surfboards. The takeaway? Well the most important is that there is no singular ‘right’ way to make a surfboard. Different isn’t necessarily worse.

The entire world of surfboards lies before you, past present, and future. So make an Instagram account and follow every shaper you come across. Read every single blog on surfboard design that you ever come across. Crack a science book and learn a little bit about hydrodynamics. Ride boards made by as many different shapers as you can and make your own as often as you can, and try to meet the person behind it. Respect what came before you, but feel free to entertain whatever wild ideas come to you. They won’t all be good, but the fun is in finding those answers. Just don’t limit yourself and grumble at the changing landscape of the board building world. The surfboard industry is open for the partaking and there’s a lot every single one of us has to learn still. Besides, if you ever begin to feel a little disheartened or stagnant, you could always just go it the old fashioned way and find a shop to sweep. 

- Joey Estrada & Joe Jeffery

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Interview with Harry Toulson of Whiskey Jack Surfboards

“Become A Surfer, See The World.” 

That’s what the slogan would probably be if the sport of surfing had some sort of regimented organization, akin to the Navy, trying to recruit people.  People would join too. That old cliché that surfers are all wanderers at heart really sells people. In this particular scenario, for every recruit lucky enough to be stationed in say Indonesia or Fiji, there would be others inevitably others who (for bureaucracy’s sake) would be stationed somewhere like England. They would bitch and moan about it initially, no doubt about that. After all, who’s ever really heard of there being any waves in England? Occasionally something will pop up in the news about some murky, freezing, monster of a swell popping up somewhere in Ireland, but England? No chance… that would be the likely assumption anyways, and in this case, a wrong one.


Though England’s surfing culture may be smaller and slightly more esoteric than those of other countries, it is definitely one that is alive and active. As with any surf destination, when trying to learn the in’s and out’s of a new spot, the most helpful and knowledgeable people to talk to would be the people who actually surf the area and the shapers who make their boards. Obviously. In light of an upcoming surfing tour of England, we’ve decided to do exactly that. We’ve enlisted the knowledge and insight of Harry Toulson, the shaper behind Whiskey Jack Surfboards who builds his craft on the fascinatingly scenic Jurrasic Coast in the southwest of England.

 Check out the interview with Harry below to learn a bit about what the surfing world in England is like and be on the lookout next month for a recap of our experiences surfing along England’s coast!

-Joey Estrada

1.    First things first, can you tell us a bit about your background and how you got into surfing/shaping?

Swell check at Lyme-Regis
            I grew up in Exmoor, on the Devon/Somerset border, just down the coast from breaks like Croyde and Saunton. I was in and out of the water growing up and have always been an enthusiastic surfer, but I didn’t really get into it properly until I moved back to South West England from Wales, where I was at university, in my mid-twenties.
            I have always enjoyed making things, and was fascinated by shaping. I got the opportunity to go and stay in Cornwall, the surf capital of the UK, and learn a bit about building boards from a local shaper, Jaxon.  Now it dominates pretty much every spare minute I have, (when I am not working to support the habit)! 

2.    Who were some of the people who influenced you to get into it?

            I was inspired by films like Endless Summer, Thicker than Water, Step into Liquid; but a real pivotal moment for me was watching Riding Giants in an open air cinema on Bondi Beach about 2004.  I was drawn to the lifestyle of those early pioneers, the idea of living a simple life to pursue something you love is something that still guides me today. Although the North Shore of O’ahu is about as far as you can get from the island I live on, the core principals are the same for me.

            There’s a huge list of people that make surfboards that have inspired and continue to inspire me, too many to list! McTavish, Brewer, the Anderson era has left a legacy in the world of surfboard shaping, and laid the blueprint really I think, especially with the rise of shortboards.

            With social media now, it allows you see the work of people building boards from all over the world, not only that, but you can interact with them and some of them are kind enough to share the knowledge they have spent years acquiring.

            Some of my favorites at the moment are:
Swop Surfboards, for the pure artistry, some of those boards are true pieces of art.
Matt Kinoshita is not only an amazing craftsman, he’s a really nice guy, and always happy to answer questions and share knowledge.
James Otter makes beautiful wooden boards.
I love the stuff that Kirk McGinty is doing with SUP boards, using cutting edge composites and materials, and really progressive shapes; he approaches the board building process like an engineer, and it shows.
I love stuff David at Elleciel is doing with paulownia wood, and the stuff DrewBaggett is doing with cork. There are so many that inspire me including all the amazing glassers and sanders that rarely get a mention!

3.    Let’s talk materials here for a bit, I would imagine it’s a little difficult to find
 some of the tools and supplies around England. How do you get around that?

            I can get quality blanks, fiberglass, and resin in the UK, but for pretty much everything else, I have to import from either Australia, France or the USA. I always prefer France, as it’s close and shipping is fast and cheap, also there are no import taxes as we are an EU country (for now!). But in reality, most of the materials they sell come from the States anyway, and that is often reflected in the price; sometimes you just have to take the hit and pay the import taxes and order from the USA (Foam E-Z). 

4.    What sort of materials are you working with regularly?

A cork-topped SUP shaped and glassed by Harry
            I work exclusively with RR [ResinResearch] epoxy and EPS foam, aside from the occasional repair, I won’t touch PU or poly, it’s not my thing. I have been using a lot of different carbon mixes and reinforcements like vector net, carbon/innegra mixes, aramid and carbon tapes, but they are expensive, and often have to be imported. 

5.    What are the waves like around where you live/surf? How do they affect your shapes?

            Small, gutless, often wind swell or swell that has managed to wrap around the south west peninsular to the Jurassic Coast where I live, so it is often messy. Boards need to be high volume to make the most of the conditions, and often they need to be helped along by a paddle, so my main focus is SUP boards. The north Devon coast is just over an hour away, and there are quality beach breaks there, Croyde on a good day is world class, but I’m not a fan of crowds, and it’s just mental at low tide. So I spend a lot of time driving around in my van looking for spots around here; I love getting those knee high peelers all to myself!

6.    It seems you’re a bit of a one-man show, is this by choice or necessity?

            It’s a bit of both really. Making surfboards doesn’t really make me any money, it’s something I do because I love it. This means I have to spend a lot of my time doing other jobs to try and support it, so I can’t afford to partner up at the moment. That said, I would love to work with other board builders and share knowledge, skills, and a workspace. Perhaps then I could expand. I think that with the internet changing the way people shop now, you don’t have to be based with everyone else in the mainstream surf spots, I think it can even be beneficial to be separate from that, and to try and tap into people just getting into surfing, or that travel to surf, which is a large portion of UK surfers. 

7.    What is the surfing/shaping culture like in England, would it be much different than what you would find somewhere with a bigger surf culture in your opinion?

            If you watch The Endless Winter and Blue Juice you will get a pretty good insight into the UK surf scene.

8.    Does the colder climate affect your processes at all, particularly with glassing?

            I do my glassing in a homemade greenhouse, that I can keep at about 17 degrees centigrade (63 degrees Fahrenheit) which is essential in the winter months.

9.    What styles of boards do you find to be the most popular amongst surfers in England?

                        There’s such a range of conditions around this island, it’s hard to really            have a one board quiver, but as waves in the south west where I live are often mushy and small, the higher volume wider boards are popular.

Okay, Rapid Fire Question Time;

Harry in the shaping bay
1.    What’s your go to board (dimension/shape wise)?

     8’ x 28” SUP (sorry)

2.    Go to fin setup?


3.    Biggest Inspiration?

     George Monbiot's books, especially 'Feral' have been hugely inspirational for me.

4.    Favorite Surf Spot?


5.    Favorite tool in the bay?
     Sanding block

6.    EPS or Polyurethane?


7.    Will England have a surfer in the 2020 Olympics?

      Yes! Go team GB!

Check out Whiskey Jacks Services Here!

Monday, October 10, 2016

Turning Down The Volume


What does surfboard volume mean?

 No, I’m not going to waste either your time going into some overly complicated explanation about what volume is. I am sure you read all about it back in, like, 2013 on The Inertia or in Surfer or something like that. It’s height X weight X width, it’s in liters, and it’s pretty complicated to figure out in a surfboard. Right, moving on.
            Taking it a step further, what does surfboard volume mean with regards to actually shaping surfboards? Well, not much really. It is a number that’s useful for the comparison of finished surfboards. To a surfboard shaper, volume will usually, at most, be a small number in the bottom screen of some CAD program that changes when you start clicking things. That’s about it.
            The more important thing to consider here is what volume definitely should not be. For any shaper, new or experienced, volume should not be a goal. Going into any shape with the intention of coming away with some particular end number in your head should not (necessarily) be your main objective.
             No matter what way you look at volume, it is actually not a design element of the board. Yes, you read this correct and would do well to forever commit it to memory; 

Volume is not a design element of a surfboard.  

Volume is merely the result of an equation. It is what you get when you add up all of the different components of a surfboard as a whole. I’m talking length, width, thickness, foil, concave, and even the weight of the glass job; i.e. the actual design elements that require much thought and planning when shaping a surfboard.
            So now that we’ve gone over what volume isn’t, it’s necessary to come back to a point I made earlier. Widespread use of volume measurement is relatively new in the surfboard building industry, but this doesn’t mean that it is just some sort of fad. It is a useful metric. It is actually an incredibly useful number to consider when comparing (and I deliberately reiterate the term) finished surfboards. The bottom line is that when it comes to a hydrodynamic vessel such as a surfboard, every little tiny detail that touches the water will affect the way a board rides. Some of them are micro features (think those tiny inevitable glassing defects, or a machine cut board that is slightly more sanded than an identically cut board) and others are major features (think, well just about anything you can actually see on a surfboard). 

The point being, even at the elite level of surfboard building, variation is inevitable. 

            So what does volume mean to you as a surfboard shaper? It should serve as a constant reminder that each element of your shape adds up, in one way or another, to every other element. Each pass of the planer you take or ounce of resin you pour onto a board should be done with every other step, previous or future, kept in mind on some level. No, volume should not be your end goal. Volume should just float somewhere in the back corner of your mind like some mystical reminder from some ridiculous shaman that everything has a purpose. Besides, if you’re really dying to know the true volume of your finished board, I’m sure you’ve got a displacement tank sitting around somewhere just dying to be filled up, right?

-Joey Estrada

Saturday, October 01, 2016

Throwback D.I.Y. Lessons

While recently perusing the backlog of Foam E-Z content, I came across tons of rad old content. Some of it went on to be posted in blogs and newsletters, others never made it past the draft stage. What seemed to be true of all of it though was that for all of the dramatic changes and differences that happen in this industry (typically occurring over the course of only a few years) there is much that stays  the same. Case and point, this surfboard glassing guide that was discovered from an unreleased 2008 newsletter. The information found within this guide remains as accurate and useful today as it was nearly ten years ago when it was compiled, and even longer before that. No matter what materials you're working with (for the most part) you should find this guide to be an indispensable reference source, whether you are glassing your first board, or you've completely lost track of what number you're on. It's a great and thorough guide on the surfboard glassing process, and a healthy reminder of how thoughtful planning and attention to detail will ensure a beautifully finished board. Enjoy. 

The Keys to a Solid Lam Job by Thomas Go'offe

You might not know this but the Laminating Coat could quite possibly be the most important strength component to your glass job. This is where it all begins! There are five key components:

1. Choosing the glassing schedule
There are million ways to skin a cat here but what is most important is to be sure the cloth combination is appropriate for the board you are building. The most common combo for a high performance short board is single four (4oz) bottom with a double four (4oz) deck. Stock long boards are traditionally glassed with single six (6oz) bottom with a double six (6oz) deck.

2. Cutting a smooth outline
Most people overlook this step as being an important one but it truly is. If you cut your cloth with a smooth line you can alleviate many pitfalls down the road. A smooth cut helps minimize the fibers from coming unraveled therefore helping to keep the overlap smooth.

3. Saturating the cloth thoroughly (including the rails) and working the resin in
The key here is to use enough resin to saturate the cloth entirely but not waste a bunch on the floor. The resin should be poured on the flats of the board and worked in with a squeegee angle of about forty-five degrees. This relatively flat angle gives you the ability to move the resin around and push it through the cloth. As you move it around the resin will drip off the rails, at this time you should drizzle the last of your resin above the rail line and use your squeegee as a backer to the hanging cloth. This will help to "wet out" the rails.

4. Extracting excess resin out and adhering the cloth to the foam
Now the task is to pull the excess out and insure that the cloth does not float above the foam. After your board is saturated in resin you will need to steepen the angle of the squeegee to approximately seventy-five degrees and methodically pull the resin back out. The idea here is to move the resin out from under the cloth in an attempt to adhere the cloth directly to your shaped blank. For high performance boards (light) you can really pull hard till you hear the cloth scream but be careful not to leave it too dry. Most other board styles don't require such an extreme extraction of resin. Once you've adhered the cloth to the flats of the board you will need to "wrap the rails". By this time the hanging cloth should drain a bit. Start from the middle and work your way out. Pull the cloth from the top of the rail under the board fairly tight and push your resin towards the stringer area.

5. Sanding the bottom lap completely flat
This step takes some time to master but is an invaluable step to creating a flat and highly bonded lam. First cut any hanging strands of cloth off with a sharp razor blade. Using white 80 grit sandpaper you will need to carefully sand the edge where the cloth meets the foam on the deck. The can be extremely touchy if you have an air spray in this area. Go slow and try very hard to sand only on the resin/cloth and not on the bare foam. If you have done a great job on step 4 "wrapping the rails" your task here will be minimal.
As you can see this is not rocket science but it does take some good instruction and gets better with experience. Each step is critically based on the next. Following these tips and using these professional secrets will help you in your first step to glassing your board. Spend time getting your lamination right and it will pay off in the long run with a strong and resilient surfboard.

Monday, September 19, 2016


 Photo Credit: Andre' Beriau
   It is a played out stereotype that all surf adventures involve exotic locales and tropical waters. Adventure, by most definitions, is an experience that must involve some degree of unusual and uncommon elements. To go truly off of the beaten path, one must do more than merely step off of a paved road and onto some tropical beach. Sometimes it involves finding a new way of doing things entirely, finding a new type of beach. 
       For 32 year old New England shaper Jacques Beriau of Sea Love Surfboardsthis has involved leaving the perennially sunny shores of San Diego for the biting chill of the East Coast. Since 2010, Jacques has been shaping up boards for a different cut of surfer. With snowy lineups and heavy winds taking the place of palm trees and crowded beaches, Jacques has been able to carve out his own path along the often overlooked breaks of Maine's coast. The result has been his own unique design and aesthetic, that is evident in his boards, that are the result of a different kind of surfing community and environment. They have a quality that you wouldn't find in some typically tropical or suburban surf town. There is an element of ruggedness to the designs, a sense of the hours spent in less than hospitable conditions developing the craft. There is a sense of true adventure and wildness to them. 
-Joey Estrada

First things first, can you tell us a little bit about when you first got into shaping, and how?

I first started shaping surfboards while I was living in San Diego. I’m about 5’4” and 130lbs soaking wet, so it was hard for me to find off-the-rack boards that were exactly what I was looking for.  I had a few customs made, but it was hard for me to explain the feeling that I was searching for, and then have someone translate that into a shape for me.  I felt that I needed to take care of that aspect of my surfing.  I was surprised with the first few shapes that I made for myself, and a few years later decided to offer some of the shapes I was creating to the public.    

What made you decide to move to the East Coast?

My family is here, and my roots.  I grew up here in New England, and after chasing California for a while I felt more settled and even keeled coming back.  Sometimes you have to leave a place to see the beauty in it.  I moved back to New England in 2010 for an opportunity to finish a teaching degree.  I teach 7th grade science, and at that time, there weren't a great deal of teaching positions open in Southern California.   Some of my best friends in the world still live between San Diego and HB, so I get out west a few times a year, get a burrito, see the homies.

Sea Love Surfboards 
Photo Credit; Andre' Beriau
 Were there any shapers you considered to be mentors of yours?

I have never actually had the opportunity to learn from another shaper inside the shaping bay.  When I started, I just figured that I’d learn what I could teach myself because the boards were only for me anyways.  I read everything I could get my hands on that involved surfboard design or the craft of shaping.  I’ve always been plugged into the historical aspect of surfboard design.  I just wanted to understand why these boards were created, what actual waves they were made for.  So I did all the research I could, and tried to get my hands to create what I was reading about.       

What are some of your most popular kinds of shapes like?

I’ve been riding a twin keel fish pretty much full time for a while now.  They work so well for they type of surfing I like to do.  I’ve always been a skate rat, and that shape is about a close as I’ve come to deep-end bowl carving.  I also ride a mid-length single fin, a piggy log too.  I dig the feeling you get out of shapes like that.  Just like riding waves.  I’m not crazy about fighting them. 

How are the waves around you and how have they affected/changed your shaping style?

Here in Southern Maine we have a pretty wide variety of surf.  Some great beach breaks, a few critical points too.  I’ve always shaped surfboards with particular waves in mind, and for the surf here, I’ve been into mid-lengths a bit more lately.  We get some heavy off-shore winds, so I’ve been adding a bit of belly to the front of my personal boards, seems to cut that off-shore texture pretty well.  

What's the surfing/shaper culture like on the east coast, what makes it unique?

Photo Cred; Andre' Beriau 
There are some great surfy people in my area, really good folks.  We have Grain Surfboards here in town, their crew puts on some great community events throughout the year and they are exceptional craftspeople.  As a whole, East Coast surfing has always been in the shadow of its California counterpart, but that’s ok I guess.  Its cold here for a big part of the year, and we definitely don’t have the surfboard design history that Southern California has.  It can also be difficult as a surfboard shaper to find materials, but you folks at Foam E-Z have made that piece so easy for me.  Cold empty waves, vs crowds though?  Snowflakes falling straight down on glassy chest to head?  A handful of your homies sharing it?  Those are the parts that keep me here.       

Who are some of the surfers you enjoy shaping for and working with?

Shaping boards for homies is always the best.  Especially homies that I get to surf with regularly, my brother Andre’ is probably my all time favorite person to shape boards for.  I know exactly how he rides, so I while I’m in the shaping bay I can translate that into his surfboard, he’s pretty good at letting me tell him what he wants haha.  Plus, he’s my brother, so even if I shape him a turd, it's a turd shaped with love.

Alright rapid fire question time;

Favorite tool?

My new racks, welded by my good homie Stu Gingras.

Favorite blank to shape?

US Blanks 7’3”A Red Density.  1/16” Redwood Stringer. 

-Favorite place to surf?

York County Maine

Biggest overall influence?


What're your go-to board dimensions/set up?

5’2” x 19” x 2 3/8” Fish, wide point 4 ½” forward.  Glass-on Fiberglass “Beatty” Twin Keels from True Ames.    

If you're interested in ordering a board from Jacques, you can contact him here:

Instagram:  @jacquesberiau