“Kickin up Dust” is a new series taken up by our illustrious, surf-crazed intern Kevin Beaugrand, in which he delves into the fundamentals of crafting his own surfboard. From pulling the right blank to mowing foam to glassing to putting his self-shaped shred stick through the paces, we’ll follow his mildly existential journey.
As much as I love surfing–and I’m fairly obsessed–there’s one facet of the pursuit I’ve always felt was missing from my personal surf journey: I’ve never shaped a board of my own.
Some of the surfers who made the greatest waves in board design history did so by applying experimental design elements to the boards they rode. Bob Simmons, Renny Yater, and George Greenough are a few pivotal figures that contributed to the transformation of the typical surfboard from a ten-foot, sixty-pound chunk of redwood to the feather-light foam and fiberglass shortboards we ride today. Hell, Simmons even drowned in 1954 while riding one of his planing hull surfboards, which incorporated designs lifted from WWII-era boats.
Aside from simply paying homage to surfing’s forefathers, my desire to shape my own stick stems from my yearning for a board that allows me to surf the funky lines that I imagine when I’m mind-surfing from the beach.
Santa Barbara-based shaper Marc Andrieni put it best when describing why he builds his niche single fin planing hulls that are a far cry from what most surfers are riding today: “My boards are my vision of how I want to surf,” he said. “Instead of just making what somebody wants, I’m building boards that capture a certain style of surfing that’s within my vision.”
The thing is, I’ve never picked up a planer and I’ve never spent time in a shaping or glassing bay. I don’t really know the process, the ins and outs, what to do and what not to do.
I can’t really put my finger on why I’ve never shaped a board. I don’t typically shy away from trying something just because there’s a high likelihood of failure.
And for residents of this great region, there’s not a whole lot standing in the way of those who’d like to try their hands at crafting their own surf craft. North Florida is teeming with seasoned shapers, who I–at least hope–are amenable to me picking their brains. (If not, there’s always YouTube!) Most importantly, if I can manage to cobble together a working board, I’ll be able to scratch my creative itch and my lust for a new board with one stone. That’s how that saying goes, right?
The first stop on my journey was to Surf Source, Mayport’s one-stop-shop for all things surfboard manufacturing. Founder Dale Christenson was nice enough to answer my myriad questions as he led me around the shop floor to find an appropriate blank for my new pet project, which I’ve decided will be a 6’8”-7’ iteration of my favorite board, a 7”6’ Ryan Lovelace V Bowls.
A blank is a piece of unfinished, raw foam that a shaper shaves down into a refined surfboard. Surf Source carries a wide variety of blanks from the two major U.S. manufacturers, US Blanks and Millennium Foam. Rather than start with a giant rectangular block of foam, the factories churn out various sizes of categorized blanks that resemble swollen versions of the boards they’ll eventually become to save the shaper time and create less waste. So a 6-foot fish blank will be shorter, thicker, and have flatter rocker than a 6-foot shortboard blank, which would be thinner, narrower, and have more kick in the nose and tail.
I was curious to find out how much this whole ordeal would cost, factoring a blank, resin and fiberglass, and the tools and supplies needed to set up an impromptu shaping bay in my garage. I figured I would pick up some cheap hand tools and build a board rack out of scrap two-by-fours, forgoing the power planer (~$400) that most shapers use to mow foam in favor of more budget-friendly, albeit slower options.
When I told Christenson about my plan, he gave me a half-cringe before letting me know it’d take forever to whittle down the wide, chunky funboard blank he chose for me, a US Blanks 7”4’ SB. He did, however, offer me a solution.
“We’ve got a shaping bay here that you can rent out for fifteen bucks an hour,” he said. “There’s a planer, tools, everything you need in there.”
This revelation piqued my curiosity. Instead of hacking away for days on end, maybe I’ll be able to shape out a usable sled before the next hurricane hits. The money I’ll save on tools that would likely perform poorly will go toward my use of a real shaping bay with a curated arsenal of hardware at my fingertips and proper side-lighting that allows the curves and imperfections of the snow-white foam to show. I told Dale I’d be back next week to buy my blank and schedule my first few hours of shaping.
Other than simply getting a new board in hand, I’ve got a few questions that I’d like to answer when I complete this undertaking:
- Financially, is it worth shaping a board versus buying a used or new board?
- How many hours of hard labor are required to shape a board, start to finish?
- Can I actually make a surfboard that works?
Check back next week when Mystic Surfboards shaper Jim Dunlop gives me some lessons on making templates and using a planer before I hit the shaping bay at Surf Source and start mowing foam.