Q+A | Advice to First-Time Shaper
Continuing to work through some of the Questions you all submitted for blog articles. This question comes from Jack Mendenhall:
"What advice can you give to someone just beginning to shape boards?"
I'm glad someone asked this question. Shaping surfboards is a science-driven art form. There is no shortage of theory that goes into surfboard design; but there is also personal preference, human-error, and outside influences.
Like any project, start with a bunch of research. Figure out what you want to make, and look at 10 different shapers' iterations of that thing. The internet is a great resource for photos and model descriptions, but get out of the house and go feel some rails. Visit a couple shops and feel the weights and look the boards over. Don't be embarrassed to say you're trying to shape one. Usually the shop guys can tell what your intentions are, by the way you scope out a board anyway, so strike up a conversation. We're happy to chat and share, and I know there were a bunch of guys who were willing to answer my questions 10 years ago when I was working on my first board.
Once you get a good feel for what you are trying to make, find or make a good template. Trust us, the more time you spend getting the outline perfected, the better the rest of the process will go. (That includes cutting out the outline on the blank). There are plenty of shaping tutorials available, so I won't labor over the exact how-to's, but it's definitely in your best interest to go slowly and carefully on the outline.
Taking your time is probably the crux of the advice here. There's a tendency to get impatient, and want to finish. (We get it, it's exciting to finish a board, because you can't wait to try it.) But shaping a surfboard is a process. Maybe write this with a marker on a piece of paper, and tape it to the wall:
BUILD IT LIKE THIS IS THE ONLY SURFBOARD YOU ARE EVER GOING TO MAKE.
The reality is, the material costs of building a surfboard are extremely high. You can probably buy a really nice surfboard in great condition for the same price as building one yourself, so if you are going to embark on a shaping project, don't rush it.
It's easy to get tunnel vision when working on a project like this (obsess over one area or blemish) if you find yourself overly focused on one area, set the tools down and walk away. It's soooo valuable to come back and look at the whole board with fresh eyes. When you get overly focused on one element, it tends to magnify the severity. Walking away for a while, and coming back with fresh eyes allows you to put things back in perspective a bit and keep the bigger picture in focus.
If you start to wonder if your rails are too boxy, or too pinched, take a break and go feel some rails of some boards you like.
I remember working on my first couple boards, and I had a tendency to want to play it too safe and call it "good enough", for fear that I was going to ruin my progress if I kept going. (Another great reason to pause and compare to other boards.) This serves to remind you that you aren't quite there yet.
Don't expect to shape a surfboard in a single sitting, unless you have major help and guidance from an experienced teacher.
If you are taking the DIY approach, there is really no need to hurry. Plan to work on it for an hour or two at a time, for several days, and enjoy the process.
In review, our tips for shaping your first surfboard are:
1. Do your research
2. Ask Questions
3. Take Your Time
4. Build it like it's the only surfboard you are ever going to make
5. Give your eyes and inner-critic frequent breaks
6. Enjoy the process
7. Go back and show the people who helped you what you made