The key to board design

May 16, 2010

I recently read an interview with a well known shaper who mentioned that rocker was the starting point for making a surfboard. While I don’t object to anyone holding that view, I approach making a surfboard a bit differently.

The first thing I do, whether someone asks me to make a surfboard or I decide to make myself one is; I establish what that surfboard is supposed to do. This is going to take some extensive communication with the surfer to determine and it’s likely that he doesn’t really know. Sure he’ll tell you what he wants, but there is a good chance that what he says is not actually true.  This doesn’t mean that I think surfers are liars, but rather that very few have a basic understanding of what they really want. We can see the evidence of this when we read that “Joe Hero” rode a “retro” surfboard and now that is a popular revival shape. Why? Is it because surfers have suddenly discovered that that shape suits them better or because they want to be like Joe Hero?

This has gotten to the silly extreme that some have blamed Slater for causing a decade of surfers to ride the wrong surfboard (too thin, narrow, extreme, etc.). I don’t recall that Slater was making surfboards or dictating shapes for anyone. This means that surfers and shapers were not being honest with themselves or with each other. If a surfer is riding the wrong shape (for him) it is his and his shaper’s fault. This means that if a surfer is not on the correct shape, then he and his shaper have failed the first step of identifying what that surfboard is supposed to do.

I am sure that many guy surfers got surfboards just so they could get the girls and likewise some girl surfers so they could get the guys. This is fine with me although it’s unlikely I’d make anyone a surfboard under those conditions. I would suggest they get an “average” surfboard off the rack, but perhaps customize the graphics as needed. There is one situation that I might get interested in making someone a surfboard to “get the girl”; that is if the girl was such a gem that she got my interest. In that case I’d likely see if I could make the surfboard with the idea of stealing the girl.

Once I determine what the surfboard is supposed to do (and that includes wave size range, steepness, power, speed, and more) I would start looking at length, width, rocker, fin placement and the rest of the details. All of the elements interrelate, so if you change one you better look at the others to see if they should also be changed.



Surfboard flex

April 11, 2010

Surfboard flex has been a topic of interest in surfboard design in recent years. Let’s take a look at this and see what we can learn. Basically if a surfboard flexes, the rocker changes because of bending of the board. From this we can see that surfboard flex gives us variable rocker. Is this desirable? Yes it often is but not always.

The surfboard is going to flex only when pressure is put on it; the more pressure, the more flex. Therefore, the harder you push your turn, the more flex and rocker curve you will force into the board. This will make for tighter turns, but it might slow your acceleration if you are trying to get a jump on a section ahead of you. Too much flex will definitely slow your acceleration. Note that the only part of the board that will flex is the part that is in the water. Also the flex will be controlled by where the most pressure is placed on the board and by the thickness and its placement.

If someone wanted to flex test surfboards, the task could be a bit complex. Supporting the board at both ends, putting weight on it, and then measuring the deflection is not going to duplicate what happens when that board is being ridden. When surfing, the flex will be caused by the surfer’s weight; it will be input to the surfboard where his feet are and it will be input in proportion to how much weight is on the lead foot and how much weight is on the trailing foot. Note that the force input will be greater than the surfer’s weight, while the surfer is rising from a crouch (pumping) in a turn. I don’t know how much extra force (above the surfer’s weight) can be put into the board, but leg strength, timing, and balance really count. Yes, if another surfer is getting more acceleration than you, he’s doing it harder (assuming your boards have similar acceleration/speed characteristics).

I’ve accounted for the force input, but that is only the top half of what is happening. That force is being countered by the water’s pressure against the bottom of the surfboard and since water will flow away from higher pressure, the water pressure would be evenly distributed across the contact area. Obviously trying to duplicate all this in a lab would be extremely difficult. However, by placing sensors on a surfboard and collecting the data while the surfboard was being surfed, the force and flex relationship could be studied.

Here are some recommendations to consider about flex: A heavier surfer would need a stiffer surfboard and a lighter surfer more flex. A stronger surfer would need a stiffer surfboard. A more flexible surfboard would be more useful in slower (down the line) waves. A stiffer surfboard would be better for faster waves. Tight vertical surfing would benefit by more flex, down the line surfing by more stiffness.


What makes a shaper?

March 28, 2010

I was reading a recent interview with shaper Matt Biolos and he had some good things to say. Among them was a comment about using computers to shape surfboards in which he pointed out that just because someone was good at using a CAD program, doesn’t mean he’d be any good at producing a good surfboard. I couldn’t agree more; however there is absolutely no reason a shaper would ever have to hand shape any surfboard to learn his craft, and even become the best shaper. He would, however, have to know the basics of surfboard design before he became any good as a shaper.

The tools that a shaper uses do not shape the surfboard; even a computer controlled shaping machine does not shape a surfboard. In every case a shaper tells the tools what to do. If hand tools are used, the shaper guides those tools with his hands; yes it is a skill and maybe even an art. If a computer is used, the shaper has to tell that computer exactly what to do. There is no difference in the degree of understanding of surfboard design needed in either case.

So how does a person learn to shape? #1 you have to want to learn it; then you just start doing it! Naturally I suggest you read my book “The Basics of Surfboard Design” but that won’t make a shaper out of you. It will orient you to the elements that make up a surfboard shape and how those elements dictate the way a board rides. You will however have to shape surfboards and ride them and see how that ride compares to the basics I wrote. If you do that and gain your own understanding, you will be able to master shaping. Do not take anyone’s word for it, no matter how stellar the shaper (no don’t take my word for it either). You have to come to your own understanding of surfboard design; reading what others say can help, providing you find out for yourself if it is true or not true for you. Hop over to: There’s more info there.


Say what??

March 19, 2010

Recently, I read a couple of on-line surf mag articles about surfboard design. Once again I was dismayed at how confused the writer seemed to be about his subject. This is easy to see by the complexity of the article, the confusion generated by the use of terms that are not explained or are not clearly explained, the use of terms that can’t even be found in a large dictionary (with no explanation) and generally a complex explanation of simple concepts.

My surf buddy tells me that Albert Einstein said.” If you can’t describe it to someone, in simple terms, that they can understand, you don’t understand it yourself.” Good words that I think we should pay attention to when we read or write something. So if the article seems overly complex, the terms undecipherable, and it gets you confused, first ensure you understand all the words being used and then start to suspect that you may have encountered a “PHD” (piled higher and deeper).

I hate to have to say this but often the “experts” try to snow us with BS. There are a couple of reasons they would do this: one is that they simply don’t know their subject well and are confused and trying to hide their own ignorance; the other is that they are trying to prove a superiority to us by making the subject seem too difficult for us mere mortals to understand. On the other hand, I have read or talked to people that really knew their subject; they were always a pleasure to read or talk to and did not make the subject confusing.

Surfboard design is not a difficult or complex subject to understand, but some of our “experts” make it appear that way. A surfboard is a simple device; its function can be understood by looking at each part separately and then at how those parts interrelate. Learn more at:


Air Boards!

February 28, 2010

I saw a report on the “Chunnel” that Slater is experimenting with. Sorta takes me back to the early 70’s when Vinny Bryan started making “Air Boards”; similar idea although Vinny didn’t use a channel. Vinny had a hole or holes going through the deck to bleed air to the bottom of the board. I believe this was Vinny’s original idea, although Tom Morey started working with him on this a bit later. There are some photos in one of the surf mags but the copy is slanted toward Morey, a bit incorrectly, I believe.

 I never tried an “air board” because it’s easy to see they will hurt you at low speed (because of the extra motion the water is forced to do to move past the extra curves, corners, etc.) Done right there is a possibility that they could work at very high speed but it will take special conditions and you’ll be slow the rest of the time.

 I rode with Vinny on Kauai (early 70’s) when he was on one of his air boards; it was real slow. He did say that when everything was right “it went really fast” and, while I don’t disbelieve him; I never saw evidence of this.

 I’m sure that the best air board ever made was designed by Bunker Spreckles; Vinny shaped it and I glassed it (early 70’s). There is no way that board was going to be ride-able, but it was a wild work of art. It should be in a museum (not a surf museum – an art museum!) I never did hear how it rode, I’m sure Bunker discovered right away that it didn’t work the way he thought it would. It probably got tossed and not discussed further.

 Comment on Slater’s Chunnel? If the objective is to pressurize the air under the board, it would take a big ram air-intake on the deck which would add too much aero drag. Air won’t go under the board unless the pressure in the tunnel is low, or unless it is forced under, which takes energy, defeating the purpose. However I am TOTALLY for this kind of experimentation and something will be learned by it.


Patent a surfboard shape?

February 21, 2010

I’ve had some interesting search questions show up in my website statistics, but since they don’t get asked of me, I don’t get to chat with the person who searched. One was: “Can surfboard shapers patent their designs”. To get legal advice you would need to consult with a patent attorney or the patent office, however I have two patents and done some study so I may be able to help.

 Generally the answer will be: No, a shaper cannot patent his design. The test for patentability includes: Is it novel? (Something new and different) Is it unobvious? (Does the novelty produce new and unexpected results?) For the most part shapers are making minor changes to the lines that comprise a surfboard’s shape; most are not novel and most are quite obvious as to result.

 You would have to do something unusual like make a surfboard that started long, then after catching the wave, shrunk to a short board, expanded again to glide over a flat section, etc. That would probably be patentable, but the novel aspect is not the shape but the lengthening/shortening while riding.

 There is also a design patent which is for a new, original, and ornamental design. (Note that Meyerhoffer has US design patent 604,785 for his surfboard. Of course Tom Morey with his “Swizzle” surfboard might contest the originality of Meyerhoffer’s design…)

 I used the book “Patent it Yourself” by David Pressman from for my reference and if you are serious about a patent, read that book first.


Power(ed) surfing

February 7, 2010

One of the most common problems surfers complain of is overcrowded waves. I have long wanted to build surf-spots (see my earlier posts on this) but this requires serious amounts of organization, engineering and money. Currently the most common way to escape crowds and ride good waves is to travel to some remote locale and surf camps have proliferated as a result. Could there be another way?

There is another way to get un-crowded waves; ride waves that others can’t ride. I have long specialized in doing this but my greatest success was in the late 60’s when I was developing my own version of short boards. At that time in Hawaii, I was making the fastest boards (some might take exception, but there’s still enough evidence to prove it). Because my boards were faster and shorter (than almost anyone else’s at that time) I could ride further back; there was lots of room behind almost any other surfer. Even in crowds, I had the part of the wave I was riding all to myself; I was also able to ride waves that others considered unrideable. Well those days are mostly gone as most surfers are now on short boards and short or fast, a short board puts you way back on the wave (explained in “The Basics of Surfboard Design” ). I still have some success in riding waves that many others can’t make and I’ve continued to design in that direction so I could have some “solitubes” (I describe one case of this in an earlier post: “Slow or Fast” March 24 2009).

Is there another way to get waves that others and even I can’t currently ride? Well, yes there is: powered surfboards. There are a couple of variations: One is the surfboard contains some sort of engine, and the other is to use a powered craft to launch you into otherwise uncatchable waves. Tow-surfing is the latter variation, but I have little interest in that because the tow vehicle is stinky, noisy, and requires a tow operator. A surfboard with a self-contained motor would be the way to go and this has been done (I saw an early version of this at Ala Moana years ago). Unfortunately, those surfboards are too large, heavy, stinky, etc. to be of any interest to me. I would require a powered board that was no more than 7’ long and weighed less than 20#, did not make noise, and did not stink. A recent search did not reveal any promising boards although there are powered boards being developed and made. If any of you know of anything close to what I describe let me know.

The solution to a lightweight powered surfboard is in the motive power. I don’t see that earth technology is advanced enough yet but it will be at some point. I know what needs to be done and if I can figure it out I will, although my spare time is currently being spent working on my high-speed sailboat.


The ultimate surf access vehicle

December 16, 2009

In my “other life” I’ve been developing a high-speed sailboat. I started the project because as a surfer I wanted to be able to get to any surf-spot with a minimum of hassle and expense. A boat can get you to any surf-spot and a sailboat can get you there with no fuel expense.

The best choice would be a cruising sailboat – free energy for travel, a place to live, quiet, non-polluting, and in harmony with the elements. I only encountered one slight problem with a sailboat, I like to go fast and sailboats are pretty slow.

Along with being a surfer, I’m an inventor and sometimes I just can’t pass up a good problem. “If I could just develop a high-speed sailboat…” So I did; the craft exists as a prototype upon which a larger version will be based.

Recently, I decided that as long as I had developed the technology for a high-speed sailboat, I might as well go after the World Sailing Speed Record; I just can’t resist a real challenge (gets me in more trouble…)

Those of you that would like to track the development of the ultimate surf access vehicle, visit my blog on High-Speed Sailing.


We are responsible for our playground

November 14, 2009

I see that “Wave Tribe” liked my last post so much they left a comment. Be sure to visit their site and see what you can learn. I am in agreement with their basic premise that we must safeguard our environment. We must also improve it. As surfers, we are in more intimate contact with “Nature” than many other people and it is our responsibility to take care of our playground (up to and including the planet itself).

 The most important thing we can do to help our environment is to educate ourselves as to the truth about it. Beware of rabble rousers and false data (note that most “news” articles are actually carefully worded and placed PR pieces. As an aside this also applies to the surf mags – those of you that submitted really good articles, guess why they weren’t published?)

I’m going off in a different direction than a strictly surfing theme, but if we don’t take care of our playground, eventually we won’t have anyplace to surf. Most of us ride in cars or other motorized transportation to get to the surf, so we should be concerned about fuel and pollution with respect to our ride. In one of my “other lives” I’m an inventor and I have been studying such things as non-destructive, non-polluting energy production. Guess what the most important thing I learned is? Not that if I invented a magic pill, which if put in a gas tank full of water, would make fuel to run the car and eliminate the need for demon oil. That pill has existed for over 100 years; it’s called calcium carbide and is used to produce acetylene, which could power a car! No, the most important thing I learned is: all the technology we need to reduce and eliminate pollution, provide abundant, renewable, non-polluting and inexpensive fuel, already exists, it’s just that most of us have been told otherwise.

As a quick example, I’ve been reading the book “Alcohol Can Be A Gas”. It lays out the whole story on alcohol as a fuel that can power your surf ride with a non-polluting renewable fuel, eliminating toxic gasoline. I’m sure most of you have seen the false PR attacking alcohol as a fuel, I have – for years. Get the book and see for yourself; like I said education is the most important step to a vibrant, pollution free planet.


There is no limit!

October 19, 2009

I’ve been having a good time “chatting” with Dave (a beginning shaper) about board design. I’ve already suggested “hot-rodding” the blank he’s got to better achieve the desired shape.

One point I’d like to make is don’t let your materials limit your creativity. Years ago, I stopped buying surfboard blanks, because much of what I was experimenting with lay outside their boundaries. My first move was to the blue Styrofoam insulation. It comes in 2ft X 8ft X varying thicknesses. I bent the rocker into the blank and could make any shape with no boundaries.

Blue Styrofoam is 2# per cubic foot and tougher than polyurethane of similar density. It does require epoxy for glassing, since polyester resin dissolves Styrofoam. Well the price of Styrofoam went up and I shifted to expanded polystyrene (EPS).

During this time I was also developing “Sailien”, my exotic high-speed sailboat and EPS was the best core material for the waterborne parts. See:   I started using 1#/cu. ft. foam and I can buy a billet and cut my cores (hot wire) out of that. I now cut the bottom rocker curve and deck with a hotwire. Note that 1# EPS is not strong so extra glass is required, but the core is very light and again, epoxy resin must be used.

What I’m doing would not be good for a production shaper, but I just wanted to tell you that not only can you “think outside the box” but you can also “shape outside the blank”. There is no limit to what you can create, except the limit you put on yourself and that is simply the limit of your imagination.