Archive for June, 2009

Vee or convex tails?

June 28, 2009

In “The Basics of Surfboard Design”, I discuss Vee-bottom boards and how they were a “solution” to the problem of rolling (banking) a wide tailed single fin board over onto its rail for a turn. The vee-bottom tail did make it easier to roll the board into a turn, but it slowed down the response of the board. In watching the boards being surfed, I could see the board shift from one flat (side of the vee) to the other, and then the turn would begin. I never did like that lag or that the board would favor being on one flat or the other.

I did make a couple of vee bottom boards for a friend, but didn’t continue with that design feature. I have always been striving to make boards that are “neutral” in response. What I mean by that is that the board will respond instantly to what the rider demands by his weight shifts, it doesn’t favor one position over others, and the response is even. This allows the rider complete freedom and total control. Many surfboard designs have shortcomings that the rider must compensate for and often surfers get so used to compensating for these design “flaws” that they think it’s the normal way a surfboard should ride.

At one point I decided I’d experiment to see if I could make a surfboard that would roll into a turn as easily as a vee-bottom but without the flats. Instead of vee in the tail I made the tail with a low convex from rail to rail. This did eliminate the flats and the tendency of the board to favor riding on one flat or the other; the board did roll easily into a turn, but it still had a lag from the time the turn was started till the time the fin “bit” and the board actually turned. I had improved on the vee-bottom design slightly, but the lag was unacceptable to me.  I stripped the glass off the tail of that board, reshaped it flat and the board rode great.

Many design features on surfboards are the result of an attempt to solve a problem with the surfboard. Later refinements can make those features obsolete, but often a feature has become so much a standard part of board design that it gets retained by diminishing it without eliminating it.



Pop-out or custom?

June 14, 2009

There has long been a controversy over “custom” surfboards verses “pop-out” (molded) surfboards. A lot of noise and BS has gone round about this; let’s see if we can make sense out of it.

 At one extreme is the pop-out in which the shape is fixed when the mold is made; the fiberglass is placed in the mold, the liquid foam inserted and the mold closed while it all goes off. At the other extreme is the totally custom board in which the shaper establishes a totally new set of lines (curves) and even fin placement. If templates are used they are only for a rough guide and the final lines will be unique to that board. Between these two extremes, we have most “custom” surfboards.

 My own definition of “custom” is: a surfboard that is made specifically for one surfer (I’m not talking about color or graphics etc. just the shape.) Yes, that means if you buy a hand built surfboard off the rack, since it wasn’t made for you, I don’t consider it to be custom. I am not trying to be elitist or snobbish about this, I just want us to get a broader understanding. The important point is not whether a surfboard was popped out of a mold (along with a zillion other identical boards) or if it was totally hand made (and I could just about shape a good surfboard using only my teeth and nails) but does the surfer like the way it rides?

 In my view, most surfers probably never got a truly custom board. The only new board I ever bought from a shop would have been called custom by most, but it wasn’t really. I specified the style of board I wanted and the finish, but the shape was what they were making and had nothing to do with me. At that time I couldn’t have made an intelligent choice for a custom shape anyway. I have long been an advocate of molded or machine shaped surfboards for most surfers; only when a surfer has a desire to have the board tailored to his specific needs should he go truly custom.

 Let me point out that my definition of custom does not mean that the board was necessarily hand made. Shaping by use of a computer that controls a shaping machine will result in a custom board, providing the shape was made specifically for the surfer ordering it. If a second identical board is also made and sold to someone else that would not be custom. For that matter if a mold was made with a specific shape for a specific surfer; the resulting “pop-out” would actually be a custom board for that surfer only. Once again, it doesn’t matter how the board is made, it matters if you like it.

 If you want a better understanding of the surfboard shape, go to:


Fools laugh at…

June 12, 2009

I was looking at some articles that talked about Slater’s surfboard shaping. First I want to say more power to anyone who shapes his own surfboards. Slater is of course on a learning curve, but has a big advantage over most by being able to draw on Merrick’s extensive knowledge.

 What intrigues me the most though, are some of the comments about his boards. There are reports of surfers laughing at the shapes, calling them ugly, and even saying he shouldn’t be riding them in contests. My view is he should ride what he wants (as any surfer should).

 When someone laughs at or belittles someone or something, it’s a form of rejection and most likely the one laughing doesn’t understand the thing or person being laughed at. Probably all innovators and creative people get laughed at, but eventually many of those innovations become the norm. In truth the laughter is from some sheep that is afraid to move out of the herd and envision a brighter future.

 Let’s expand our understanding, encourage those who explore new possibilities, and thereby help to bring about a better future for all.