It's true, surfboard building is a process...
I've recently been teaching a lot of first time boardbuilders in our Shaping Mentor Program and part of that education is explaining my philosophies on the process of board building...which basically pop into my head as I see a student screwing up royally!
(Its painful to watch a blank be desecrated by a newbie right after you demonstrate correct technique. Ugh!)
Teaching forces me think about the tricks, techniques, and tips I naturally take for granted while making my own boards but are absolutely invaluable to the novice shaper.
So far everyone who's been involved in the Mentor Program has told me I'm a good/great/excellent teacher. Cool, I'm glad I'm good at one thing at least :)
Some of the philosophies are things I've read on Swaylocks or discussed with other shapers in the shop, and some original to my brain and way of doing things. Thought I'd share some thoughts as they pop up and hopefully help our loyal customers improve their boards (whether it's your first or 901st) and have even more fun and success shaping and surfing.
I plan on publishing these randomly as part of a series over time…so let me know if you like it.
All the best,
The Less Work You do to the Board, the Better it Turns Out!!
Yeah, we all know how fun and mesmerizing mowing foam is, seeing your design take shape with every planer and surform pass... But, too many passes or focusing your shaping efforts on that one bump in the nose will render your board thinner than planned, whack out your rocker and foil dimensions, or cut a wonky divot in the rail line.
The less you touch the board, the better it turns out. That begins with efficient use of tools and effective tool technique to take that foam out of the blank just as you intended.
Make sure every pass with the planer, rasp, or sanding block has a mindful purpose and flow with it.
Want to make your boards look like Rusty himself shaped it AND improve performance?
Foil, Foil, Foil, Your Nose Out!
One of the tell-tale signs a board was shaped by a novice in his garage is a thick, bulky nose. Yeah, I too have plenty of fat looking boards collecting dust in the rafters. Keep your foil sleek, unless your board is a noserider, there's no need for extra foam in the nose. Focus on pulling that foam back to where your chest is when paddling - that's more effective use of volume. Not only do boards look more bad ass with a foiled out nose, but it reduces swing weight for quick snaps and spinning airs (although not in my bag of tricks these days)
Hate Sanding? Change Your Mind.
I'll be the first to admit I'm not the greatest sander (always improving though). I hated the pressure of shaping a nice board, doing a tight glass job, and wrecking it with my lack of sanding talent. But I wan't good at it because I was approaching it the wrong way. Sanding is an art, not a mechanical back and forth motion all over the board. When I began viewing sanding as more of a material removal art (like shaping) the end results of my boards drastically improved. Good sanding involves anticipating 'what's going to happen when my sanding pad gets there?' Not 'what's my sanding pad doing now?' It's cutting! duh. No brainer.
Sanding is kind of like surfing, good surfing is focused on what's happening down the line and where you want to be next, not where you are necessarily.
You can improve your sanding by looking at where your going and anticipate making changes in sander angle, pressure, RPMS, and dwell time. The ability to stop yourself from over-sanding is critical too. Don't try to get every little shiny spot with your initial grit, get them later with a lighter grit and less dense sanding pad.
Changing the way I approached sanding allowed me to improve and it's a proud feeling to be able to sand one without screwing it up!
2 Important tips for better glassing
It took me quite a few boards and even more moments scrambling around to learn preparation is everything when it comes to glassing.
By this I mean taking care to keep your glass clean, having all of your resins, buckets, squeegees, brushes, tints, etc. at the ready, and your racks prepared for glassing.
Regardless of whether you're using epoxy or polyester resin, the clock starts ticking as soon as the resin and hardener mix.
Make it easy on yourself and have all your tools at the ready. Freshly mixed resin is easier to work with and creates a better bond. Don't waste time looking for a squeegee or brush!
- Also critical to a successful Free Lap lamination is a nice clean cut through the fiberglass.
TAKE YOUR TIME CUTTING!!!
Focus on a consistent lap cut with no jagged edges or fiberglass strings pulled.
However you choose to flush the lap on the deck (grinder, sanding block, pushing into the foam, etc.) it'll be easier and result in a better final product with a clean lap cut.
Design your board starting at the fins
Fins and fin placement are the most underappreciated aspect of surfboard design.
Before you start mowing foam, in the design process, it is best to ask yourself "How do I want this board to surf, and in what waves do I want to ride this board?" Loose and skatey for small mushburgers? Super fast and drivey for surviving monster barrels (or more likely closeout sections)? Boosting airs?
Fin position, toe-in, and cant, as well as fin template, foil, rake, and material all combine to produce a specific hydrodynamic output.
We've been kind of brainwashed as boardbuilders with the standard 1 1/8" - 1 1/4" in from the rail, 1/4" toe-in, blah blah blah. 'Safety positions' for standard copy-cat outlines. Do those positions even work best? Or do they just satisfy the need to put fins somewhere on the board?
Ever try placing your fins 1" from the rail, less toe-in and using a smaller surface area fin? Guess what, blazing speed and great hold in steep faces. Bigger fins placed 2" from the rail? Looser feel without sacrificing drive for smaller waves...
There are an infinite combination of fin setups to use, just know there are possibilities out there if you look out of the box. At some point in the near future I will write a new Design Guide newsletter providing more detailed info on fins and fin positions...
I could go on and on but I'll stop for now. In closing here's a post-session text message from a buddy I was surfing with recently:
"Never would of thought that the wrong fin created so much havoc. what a difference just changing that 1 trailer made. Thanks for the heads up brotha!"