Friday, April 22, 2016

good shapers and good boards.

What makes a good shaper and a good board?

When I was young, I bought a board from an in-experienced Texas surfboard blank sculptor named Jeff Miller (JAM boards). I showed the board to my friend Rob. Rob laughed at the board, calling it a piece of shit. Jeff had told me the bottom of the board had a double concave. Rob felt the alleged double concave and said it wasn’t a double concave, rather it was the shapers inability to effectively bring the stringer down to the foam. I didn’t care. I rode the board anyway. It was an o.k. board. 

These days all kinds of humans are using various devices to sculpt surfboard blanks for wave riding.

I understand some consumers value the capacity for a shaper to consistently reproduce a shape accurately. Don’t robots do that?

A community saturated with social media provides the opportunity for one human to purchase a surfboard made by an inexperienced surfboard blank sculptor for practically the same price as another human purchasing a surfboard made by a very experienced shaper. Both boards were entirely built by one person, out of the same materials.  Both surfboards are throughly enjoyed by their riders. Doesn’t this imply a lack of correlation between shaping experience to cost and shaping experience to enjoyment?

This raises the issue: what is a good board? If I ride a board and enjoy the feeling it provided me, then doesn’t that qualify it as a “good” board? It sure as hell does in my book. So…when a surfboard blank sculptor sculpts a surfboard blank, and I like the way it surfs, a good board has been built. 

A shaper is good when they shape good boards. A good board is subjective. So…the very idea of a good shaper becomes subjective.

When carnival freaks like Ryan Burch can surf masterfully (this, by the way, is an objective observation) on any piece of flotsam, one has to accept the idea of some one telling YOU what a “good board” or a “good shaper” is as the marketing gimmick it is.

If a shaper can shape a board whose rails are symmetrical and whose curves flow well, then is the shaper considered good?

Speaking of symmetry , a recent example of the good board / good shaper marketing gimmick is the hysterical trend in asymmetry. I like to think a man with a big hat ( or funny glasses) mixed up the template of a board way back when. At the time, he didn’t notice his mistake. The board was built, and delivered to a team rider. The team rider pointed out the asymmetrical accident to the man in the big hat / funny glasses.  In an effort to avoid reshaping a board, the man in the big hat / funny glasses claimed it was built like that to make turning backside easier. The team rider rode the board and decided (like I did with my JAM board) this board with the messed up template was an o.k. board. However, the team rider asked that his next board be built with a symmetrical template. So back in the day, the asymmetrical trend never caught traction.

This theory could be true. If one reads the book that discusses (among other things) the practices of surf shops of yore: Velzy is Hawk, one could understand a shaper making false claims. How does this theory have anything to do with the proliferation of asymmetrical surfboards today? Easy. Surfboard brands need gimmicks to be competitive in our saturated surfboard market. A gimmick that can appear to have historical significance… BAM! consumers LOVE that shit.

Regarding historical significance and surfboard trends, I’ve already demonstrated the false marketing scheme that math has some contribution to the “goodness” of a board. A rider’s skill level and their particular desires are the root of the subjective nature of evaluating surfboards.

I’m not hating on board builders for peddling their products with gimmicks. At the end of the day, if a consumer enjoys that product , then the board builder made a good product for that consumer. I am however calling out the marketing gimmicks that fuel many high output commercial participants in the surfboard industry. All the words in the dictionary won’t make asymmetrical boards better or worse than symmetrical boards, or thrusters better or worse than single fins. Moreover, paying to attend a surfboard manufacturers convention doesn’t guarantee the consumer they will find a good board or a good shaper.

A board can not be valued prior to riding it. So,  the valuation of a surfboard is only relevant to its rider. Thus, a public proclamation of a board’s functionality becomes absurd. However, if a rider is so fucking hyped on their experience on a particular design that they feel an obligation to start a blog and a social media account devoted to said design, one mustn’t see fault with that.. (clearing throat) Wink Wink Nod Nod.

It is an amazing experience to find some old forgotten relic of a surfboard shaped by some anonymous person and have it work for you. It is a glorious experience to go to a craftsman and have them listen to you and deliver a highly functional wave riding platform. May we all find our good boards and our good shapers and experience radiant joy on beautiful waves!  


  1. My surf session yesterday confirms your assurances on what is a good board, I rode a Jim Phillips magic ham for most of the session a modern take on Nat Young's Magic Sam blended with some attributes of a pig and it worked great for me and stoked me out, I then swapped boards with my friend Dan and rode his brown banana Gordie 66/67 transition style mid length and had some fun waves on this old one off shape from a bygone era. Both boards are opposite ends of surfboard building attributes one a foiled modern board with rocker and rails so different from the old Gordie that they almost seem like opposites ,yet both boards gave me the rider a great feeling under my feet and a bucket load of STOKE TO MINE.