5 Reasons Why You Should Buy a Custom Surfboard (and get the board of your dreams)
First and foremost there is no greater joy as a surfer then paddling out on a board that was made for you based on your surfing ability, the waves you surf and the conditions you surf in. Looking for a step-up for the days when it's overhead and hollow at your local beach break? Shapers are in the know about what you should be riding.
Spending time with your chosen board builder, giving them your size, weight, ability, how you like to turn off the bottom, draw out turns or hack off the top, will help provide them the information they need to make some recommendations. And even though many shapers use software tools like Shape 3D and CNC machines to mill blanks, the relationship between a shapers understanding of your needs and their rendition of materializing it in foam, is still very much an artistic pursuit.
Your board will be an interpretation based off their years of experience. You want a board that's easier to paddle? He'll add a slight bit of volume here. You want a board for bigger waves? He might suggest to pull in the tail there. You looking to surf thicker, heavier, hollow waves? He'll add an extra layer of glass.
These little details can be the difference between stroking into the wave of the day, getting shacked and spit out or getting into the wave of the day late, getting pitched in front of your bros, and then surfacing to find your board buckled or creased. And no one can dial in the details like a shaper making you a custom surfboard.
Now this isn't meant to be judgmental. It just is. The second reason for getting a custom surfboard made is, well, because you know who's making it, it's a personal relationship. Now let's stop for a second and look at how most of the 400,000 boards sold each year are made. Somebody, somewhere, makes a surfboard design. It's then put into board making software, maybe prototypes are made locally, tested and refined, but when the design is done it's sent overseas to a large factory to be mass produced.
Now even if there's a well known name attached to the design, and the design has been proven with numerous pros, is this really the way you want to get a board made? By nameless/faceless factory workers in a far away land, who certainly aren't full of stoke and love when building the boards, most likely they're getting paid a pittance of a wage and working their asses off just to feed their families.
And feeding a family is an honorable pursuit, but is that really a reason to buy a mass produced board? Shouldn't surfboards in our "connected to the ocean" sport be slightly more personal than your latest consumer electronics being mass produced in these countries? Again it's not meant to be a judgment, but isn't it a bit at odds with most surfers core beliefs? Shouldn't the surfboards we buy be the one thing that's made purposefully with Aloha, love and stoke?
Like it was when wave riding began, you know when it was the sport of Kings and commoners in Polynesia. I mean this isn't NASCAR, surfing is centuries old. Imagine the thoughts of Captain James Cook in 1778 when he was sailing the HMS Discovery and Resolution into the bay of Kealakekua on the big island of Hawaii. And seeing the surf with twenty or thirty natives each taking a long narrow board, rounded at the ends and riding waves and then paddling back out on these home made creations.
He must have been awestruck. And perhaps as an ocean going mariner, dependent upon currents and winds in a vessel constructed of wood, he felt a kinship. Here were Kings and commoners in love with ocean, riding the energy of waves generated by storms thousands of miles away, on boards crafted from trees grown on their tiny Pacific Islands.
And it's funny, if you talk to many non-surfers they often connect the sport of surfing to the feelings of connectedness to nature, after all we're immersed in the sea. And back when the Hawaiians were riding boards made of local ulu (bread-fruit), koa (hawaiian mahogany) and wili-wili (hawaiian balsa) trees, boards that when their lives ended decomposed, providing nutrients for the next generation of trees, well, at that point, maybe surfing had a true connectedness to nature. But now, with overseas mass produced boards that are made with cancer causing VOC's and polyurethane blanks that end their life in landfill, not so much.
And this kind of bring us to our third reason to get a custom surfboard. As a surfer you have direct control of how your dollars are spent in the marketplace. When you make a board purchase these dollars go cascading down the supply chain like a row of falling dominoes. After all a board is really just the sum of its parts, parts which are paid for by the board buying surfer. So this is an opportunity for surfers to be the catalyst for change toward more eco-friendly board building. There's no greater ability to create change like a one-on-one relationship, such as that between a surfer and a shaper.
We'll go into detail about eco-friendly board making materials and methods of construction in future articles, but here's the deal. If you're an eco-minded consumer then find a shaper that's open to talking to you about using eco-friendly processes. And know that if you improve one aspect of the supply chain, even if it's just for your board, well, then you'll be moving the needle forward. And even if you just get a board shaped without any consideration for the environment you'll be stoked to know your dollars are much more beneficial in the hands of a shaper you've gotten to know, versus say, a big box store at worst, and a big name surf manufacturer at best.
And now for the last two reasons to buy a custom surfboard, technology and innovation.
Technology has helped lower costs. Giving you the opportunity to get the board of your dreams for the same amount or less than a board off of the rack, depending upon the shaper of course.
It's also allowed shapers to create boards with minor changes without blowing through dozens of blanks. And while the "solely hand made from polyurethane blank" board shaper will always be revered, no one should sneer at technology, at least not unless you're paddling out on a alaia made from a Paulownia tree grown in your back yard.
Surfboard design shaping software and CNC machines are firmly entrenched in board making, and we all benefit from it.
Lastly, innovation, innovation, innovation. Has there ever been a greater time to explore the types of boards to ride a wave? Asymmetrical, traditional log, fish, funboard, big wave gun, and on and on, the "ride anything" movement is here and thriving.
The most amazing part is that many of the world's greatest and most prolific board makers are still in the game, creating boards and refining templates from four, five, six plus decades ago. And at the same time we have a host of newcomers on the bleeding edge, exploring the bounds of board design by integrating new concepts with those of previous generations.
Lucky for us, nearly all of these board builders take custom board orders.
So really. What are you waiting for? Pick up the phone, call a shaper, and get started on making the board of your dreams. You'll thank me for it.
About the Author:
As a surfer the past four decades I've had the good fortune to work with over a dozen or so super talented surfboard shapers, rarely have I purchased a board off the rack, maybe only a couple of times. For me there is just something special about a small scale board making shop with a team of passionate board makers working away, and who when the surf is good might be known to forego a morning or afternoon's work and be out in the line-up next to you catching some waves.