Surf School: Surfboards 101

Not all surfboards are created equal—while some are manufactured, others are handshaped. But in the end, finding your perfect surfboard is a personal journey.

Webster's New World Dictionary defines a surfboard as a long, narrow board used in the sport of surfing—but in reality, surfboards are so much more.

With a lightweight polyurethane or polystyrene foam core and a hard resin coating, surfboards are made to ride everything from "foamies" (the whitewash of a wave) to the biggest waves ever surfed across the globe.

Surfboards have come a long way from the days they were made out of wood. Boards were once long, then short, then long again and so on. Some surfers prefer to only surf short boards, and some prefer only long boards. There are also a few surfers out there who like both types; which one they use depends on the conditions of the surf.

Surfboards come in many different shapes and sizes; they are not one size fits all. There is neither one surfboard design that fits every rider nor one that fits every wave.

A surfboard is a personal preference—a personal fit. A professional surfer will use a high-performance board with a fin set up that works for his surfing style. The same board likely would not work for the average surfer who isn't as skilled.

When a surfer finds the sweet spot on a board for the first time, it feels great.

While some boards are mass-produced by manufacturers, other boards are made by hand by shapers who shape a board from a foam block with a thin strip of wood down the middle. This is the core of a surfboard.

The thin wood strip that runs down the middle of the surfboard from nose to tail—front to back—is a called a stringer. The stringer is added for strength and is added to the foam before shaping.

A shaper will painstakingly plane, file and sand the foam blank until it is the desired shape, width and thickness. This process takes several hours and lots of patience.

Once the board is perfect (including fin choice) from nose to tail and deck to rails (top to sides), as well as has the desired rocker (bottom curve), the board is ready to be glassed.

In the simplest terms, the board is coated with fiberglass cloth, though some shapers prefer using carbon fiber, and laminated with different coats of resin/hardener. This will then cure at a specific temperature for a specific amount of time, depending on the material used.

Some surfers prefer to have fins that are glassed into the board, while others opt for fins that are removable or boxed in, which allows the surfer to move the fins according to the size and speed of the surf. This also makes traveling with the board easier.

Of course, I have simplified the process here, but this gives a brief look into some of what shapers do to make the perfect surfboard. I have been told that although making a surfboard is a lot of work, the end result is very rewarding.

I really respect shapers who have perfected their craft for the sport they love. I have never shaped my own board, nor do I think I have the patience to do so, but I was fortunate enough to see some of the process when my surfboard was being shaped specifically for me. It was a really great experience I won't ever forget.


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