I had almost nothing to do with the first surfboard I ever made. I was learning to shape and glass from a friend, but I was letting them take the reigns on the whole thing for the most part. I made a few passes with the planer here, took down parts of the stringer there, and even worked in some resin during the lamination, but mostly I watched. I was intimidated. I had convinced myself it was altogether too overwhelming for me to handle on my first go and had resigned myself to a position of observation. On my second surfboard I did even less. I second-guessed myself every step of the way and was constantly in need of someone to step in to fix what I had done. The inferiority complex had already begun to set in. I would never be a great surfboard builder. I was going to quit.
The only thing that had convinced me to shape one more actually, was the fact that I had previously purchased a third, extra blank in a fit of excited anticipation previously (before the heartbreak of board number two of course). Rather than risk enduring the karmic wrath that would surely ensue by letting a perfectly good 5-10 RP waste away and brown the way a rotten banana would, I decided I would hit the shaping room one last time. This would be my third and final board I had decided. I swore to myself that I would do this one all by myself no matter what. If it turned out horrible, well, I was well aware that there was a perfectly good dumpster just outside of the box.
So I shaped my third board. It was slow going and it was more than just a little frustrating at times, but I was determined and stubborn as hell about finishing the shape. A couple of hours of sweat and dust later I amazingly (surprisingly) had a board that was more or less what I had set out to shape. I had me two rails, a couple of (mostly) symmetrical concaves, and a stringer that wasn’t too terribly chunked around the foam. Soon enough I had a board that was laminated and even had a neat little checkered fabric-inlay even. I was stoked. This board was actually coming out like, well, an actual surfboard. Pretty soon I was going to be on my own little 5’10 single fin, and it was one I could finally say that I did all myself. Honestly, I was even a little proud of the thing.
Naturally, I felt I had to keep that all to myself. It was a secret stoke, a secret pride. I reckoned that if I let anyone who actually knew anything at all about making boards about that I was actually pleased with the way this board was coming out they would surely laugh in my face. It was admittedly pretty far from the type of “actual” surfboard you would find in a shop after all. Luckily, all that was left was one quick and easy little hot coat and then the board was off to the sander and I was free to enjoy my own hand-made guilty pleasure board in secret whenever I pleased. I was nearly in the clear.
There was always one shaper however who was always around with some advice and opinions. Up until that point he had been my biggest critic with the boards I had made. He had been shaping twice as long as I had even been alive and was well respected by the people he had worked with. Somehow he had always seemed to catch me just as I was in the most damming part of my creations, always the parts that needed the most fixing. Somehow he was always there to point out what I could and should have done better.
“Just leave it to the Pros” he would always tell me, only half joking. This time he had caught me right as I was cleaning up my hot coat and about to take it to the sander. Three minutes later and I would have been in the clear, three minutes later I would have gotten it there without anybody seeing it. I was so close. He walked up and began inspecting the board as he usually would. He lifted the nose and looked down the board, felt the rails out, held it down on its side to check the profile. He hadn’t said anything yet about it yet, just scratched his beard and inspected.
I couldn’t let him know I was secretly super into this board. I had to be coy. I shrugged and said only “Yeah it’s whatever.” I hemmed and hawed and began listing everything I thought was wrong with the board. If I pointed everything wrong with it out first then surely I wouldn’t look totally clueless I reasoned. He said nothing still. I stood there for a second feeling like a fool. I began to wonder why had I bothered with this third and final board! After an excruciating amount of time he finally put the board down. I had expected him to agree that there were some glaring flaws and point out even more things, to really show it for the amateur shape it was. Instead he shrugged and said a thing that I hadn’t expected, a thing that unexpectedly changed my whole philosophy on making surfboards.
“Yeah well, water isn’t that smart. The thing’s still gonna float. It’s still gonna surf.” He had turned and started to walk away, throwing back “you’re getting better though, better than the last two!” as he walked out the door and around the corner. Water isn’t that smart, I thought to myself for a while after that. What a strange philosophy.
So I rode the board and surprisingly it was way more fun than I expected. In fact, all three of the boards up until that point had been, despite their relatively rough nature. Throughout the first session, those words stuck with me in a surprisingly reflective way. Sure, it’s important to have a plan and consider everything you’re doing when it comes to shaping/glassing a board. Hell, it’s even important to know (at least on some level) how and why certain things work. A lot of people have done a lot of work to learn that valuable information. But for every tiny detail that goes into making a surfboard work, it’s a relatively simple thing that we’re doing, and it’s oftentimes best not to overthink that.
To accept your limitations and always be open to new ideas and learning from the people who know; that’s what makes shaping a worthwhile undertaking. It should go without saying that that wasn’t my board I’ve made. In fact, by now I’ve made boards of all kinds and am well in to the double digits in only two years. While some certainly end up better than others and I still get a little frustrated now and again, I have yet to have made a board that won’t surf.
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