As a long time surfer and Surf Shop owner, I have been through a lot of boards since I started surfing as a kid, from hand me downs to my own purchases when I could finally afford them.
Like most people, I used to go into a surf shop and get a recommended board off the shelf. This was great but a lot of the time, it was a lucky draw and the advice could also be geared towards a sale for the sales person rather than what was best for me. This resulted in some hits and misses, some great boards and some terrible ones.
This was also in the days of hand shaping where surfboard shapers hand shaped boards out of a big block of foam and their skill levels were akin to great artists. The problem with this hand shaping was if you broke your board or it was old and ragged, it was very difficult to reproduce the same board and every reproduction felt different.
Now days, the shaper’s work is on the computer. Shapers use 3D design software to design perfect shapes and tweak boards to the smallest levels to improve performance and shapes. Where surfboards were previously measured by their size, most are now measured by volume. A machine grinds down the foam to exact specifications of the 3D design and the shaper’s job is easy as he scrubs off the board, cleans it up and adds finishing details. This means that 90% of the board is done by a machine and the other 10% is where the shaper adds his magic, but in essence a lot of the magic has been done on the computer before this has even started.
The advantages of this are immense for production and design as the volume can be calculated and adjusted to fit the shape of a board. For example, a surfboard that was previously an 8’0 minimal can be shrunk down to a 6’6 with wider and thicker dimensions. This has been great in terms of beginners’ surfboard design where the traditional longboard or minimal for learners is being offered in a smaller and more maneuverable design. This has also been fantastic for small wave boards and there are some epic designs on the market that allow surfers to ride the smallest, weakest waves on a short board when traditionally you would have to use your longboard. For reference, check out the Lost Surfboards range which offer some great, small wave rippers as well as shapes that can be adjusted to suit the beginner to intermediate levels.
Production times have also improved greatly and there have been some real advances in manufacturing. Materials have also been updated with EPS (Expanded Polystyrene) being used instead of standard PU (Polyurethane). EPS is considerably light, has excellent flex properties and floats about 20 – 30% more than PU so it’s a great choice for small wave boards. Lighter equals faster in junky and weak surf.
Nowadays, I only ride custom-made surfboards. I very seldom ride boards mass produced in Asia or from shapes that haven’t been worked and tweaked by an actual surfboard shaper. I feel this is true to the artform and I like working directly with shapers to get the best out of my performance and get boards the way I like them. Almost all the WSL (World Surfing League) surfers ride custom-made surfboards and most even get into the shaping bay themselves to personally tweak and produce boards. Surfboards companies like Al Merrick’s Channel Islands actually have independent shaping bays for these pros so they can work on their own to develop their perfect surfboard.
The advantages of getting a custom made surfboard is that they cost the same as your off the shelf board but you get to tweak and customize the board as much as you like for your own surfing needs. You also get to improve your surfing a lot, as each year you can tweak your favorite shape or go with the next years more refined model. You can also tweak the length down to an inch, the thickness to 16th of an inch, select your volume, add channels, choose you fins set-ups and choice of foam – from strong and heavy to light and softer. You can also choose your glassing from ultralight to super strong and add artwork as well as your name, leaving you with a truly great board every time.
Most surfers (like myself) choose their shapes based on what styles we like. For Oman, Sri Lanka, the United Arab Emirates and other local conditions, I get EPS foam as it floats better, gives me great paddling advantage and allows me to ride my boards about an inch or two smaller than I usually do. I also try new styles of fins such as FCS II set-up, futures as well as experiment with fin set-ups of “quads” versus “tri-fin” to get the best results.
All of this allows the average surfer to really step beyond the old days of lucky dips, magic one-off boards and be able to work directly with the people who design, shape and ride the best boards on the planet.
For more information on custom surfboards, please visit www.surfshoparabia.com.
Words by: Carl de Villiers
Photos By: Abdel Elecho