HOWTO Learn To Shape a Surfboard (Step 1)

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The start up cost for surfing can be daunting. If you live in cold water regions (I do), you’ll probably want booties (check), maybe gloves (yup), and perhaps a hood (nope), in addition to a wetsuit (I wear a 3/2*). All that could set you back somewhere around $300-500 for relatively-decent new gear — and that’s not even counting the priciest, must-have item: a board.

I was lucky to get a 9′ loaner from a friend. Five months later, though I’m still a beginner, the time has come to graduate to my very own longboard**. New boards can be obscenely overpriced due to store markups. So I tried Craigslist. Some deals, some ripoffs, as usual, but the idea of riding a virgin board built with the shape, dimensions, feel, color and design of my choosing is too great to resist.

So I’m going DIWF.

Find out what I mean, after the jump…

*3mm thick on the body, 2mm on arms/legs. Other folks who surf Northern California prefer 4/3. I’m never cold (even in January) in 3/2 — though it’s worth noting I wear 5mm-thick boots and 3mm gloves. For more info, here’s a good guide to wetsuits.

**My reasoning for the longboard is that it’s more buoyant, doesn’t require larger waves, and I am old school.

photo by David Torch Do It With Friends

My shaper buddy Elias, who loaned me the first board, has promised me a front row seat to the whole process, from nondescript foam blank to finished board.***

As we work out of his home studio, I’ll be posting updates for the next few months, or however long it takes. Though Elias will be doing all the real work (I want my board to be rad), I’ll be lending a hand wherever possible, learning whatever I can, and marveling at the art of shaping.

Until then…

Step One: order a blank

There are numerous suppliers, and a variety of materials to choose from: polystyrene foam, polyurethane foam, expanded polystyrene (EPS) or beaded foam, extruded polystyrene (XPS) foam, TDI polyurethane, fiberglass, epoxy, and green-er options, like recycled polyurethane blanks. There are pro’s and con’s for each: density, buoyancy, ease of shaping, resiliency, water absorption, availability. Surfer Steve (no relation) posted a good assessment and guide.

We’re going with a water blown, Toluene Diisocynate-based polyester polyurethane blank from US Blanks.

Says Elias:

US Blanks offers many different sizes, densities, rocker, and stringer options. (PDF of catalog)… I get these types of blanks because they offer the most variety, and they are the most similar to the old ‘Clark Foam’ blanks in terms of the way the foam shapes. [ed. note: Clark ceased production earlier this year in 2005****]. These are also the easiest for me to get. In terms of the green options, the foam doesn’t work as well as the US Blanks.

To each his own.

In terms of density, US Blanks has options. The more dense a blank, the sturdier (and heavier) it will be. Since I’m far from a pro ripper, we will not be using a super low-density foam. Instead, we’ll be going with “Green,” the third lightest, which is about 4.5% – 6% heavier than the stock blank.

Other suppliers:

Step Two: determine shape

Next we’re going to head out into the water, chat about what I like/don’t like about the 9′, start sketching, and eventually come up with the dimensions. Can’t wait to get started.

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***The cost to me will be in the neighborhood of $500-$600. Not cheap, but a lot of used longboards that require repairs cost about the same on Craigslist.

****Founder Gordon Clark’s farewell letter is worth a read. He says he decided to shut down due to economic reasons and pressure from the State of California, which was concerned about the use of TDI in Clark’s foam manufacturing.

image by Elias Crouch

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6 Responses to HOWTO Learn To Shape a Surfboard (Step 1)

  1. jasbw514 says:

    I have learned lots of useful things from this article. I have found it very much interesting. Thank you for sharing it. Vintage Vase || Paid Surveys

  2. Felix says:

    This is awesome! I’ll definitely be watching how everything progresses. Good luck :)

  3. ryan-t says:

    Awesome tutorial. I am going to forward to the surfing singles among my friends.

  4. Tim Maddux says:

    Clark Foam shut down in late 2005. The letter was only published recently by Surfer magazine.

    Looking forward to seeing how your board comes out.

  5. kaiza says:

    Awesome, looking forward to this even though I don’t surf. Love the fact that you’re getting into the nitty-gritty details, don’t leave out anything!

  6. Steven Leckart says:

    Ah… thanks, Tim.

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