Review: Firewire’s Custom Board Design
I got a pretty great email a while ago. It came from the folks at Firewire, those makers of Taj’s hearty surfboards. To be honest, I’d never tried a Firewire before, and had no urge to. They just seemed so… extravagant. There is a lot to be said, of course, for supporting your local shaper and what-not, but there is also a lot to be said for something little more durable than your standard fiberglass – or polyester, whatever you want to call it – surfboard.
As I’ve already stated before, I’m a sucker for free stuff. If someone offers a free thing, anything, even if I clearly don’t need or want it, chances are I’ll say yes. This leads to an annual purging of my house and almost all of its contents, much of which are in varying states of disrepair. But hey, they were free. But back to the email.
“Would you be interested in trying out our Custom Board Design and writing a review?”
Wait. Does that mean I get to design a surfboard, have Firewire make it, then try it out and write about the results? Do they know how thoroughly unqualified I am to do that?
“Yes,” I replied. Suckers.
And so I was sent a password and a link to a part of their website they’ve dubbed CBD, for obvious acronym-related reasons. From there, you can choose a basic template from their most popular models. There’s a bunch to choose from, ranging from the Taj to the Dominator. Then you can decide what tweaks and adjustments you’d make on the Firewire design team’s already successful shapes and have it sent to your house in a big box for a price not much more than you’d pay elsewhere. What fun!
So, like a kid on Christmas, I sat at my computer, chose the Dominator, pushed out the width at the nose a bit and sucked in at the tail. The rocker, already reasonably flat, was made a little bit flatter to manage in the waves I surf most: mushy ones. When you’re finished, you hit a button, and feeling like somewhat of an engineer, out pops a pdf that shows what your surfboard will look like. You can click and rotate the board around, getting a good look at all its sexy underbits and generally exciting yourself to no end. Then what happens is that Firewire makes it for you, mails it to you, and there you have it. A custom Firewire, built more or less to your exacting specifications.
I emailed my digital surfboard off and commenced what seemed like the longest wait I’ve ever waited through. Every day, I’d wake up and sit up in bed, visions of a new surfboard with Firewire’s signature balsa rails showing up at my doorstep. Mother Nature, though, had different ideas. She sent a deluge to the country of my design’s origin, flooding farms, cities, and of course, the factory where it was built. This added a bit of a delay. It was like Christmas was postponed for an indefinite amount of time. But I realize that my surfboard takes a bit of a backseat to a natural disaster, so I included patience in my daily routine. I am not a patient man.
The guy at Firewire sent me an extremely apologetic email explaining what happened, like it was somehow his fault. It was all very friendly.
I had a trip planned for Nicaragua, and was hoping desperately that I’d get this thing before my flight left. Amazingly, just the day before I set off, a box showed up. A box with my surfboard in it. I promptly lost my mind, gibbering like an idiot and rushing around the house banging off walls and falling down stairs. I hastily hacked it open with an axe, which for some reason was the only sharp object I could find, and unleashed what they had dubbed the “Alexandro” to the air. Wrapped snugly in bubble tape and cardboard sat my 5’10×20’4×2’2×33.5L surfboard, smiling up at me, just waiting to be surfed. I smiled back.
After an airline screw up, I arrived by myself in Managua a day late. My surfboard had arrived unscathed from the notoriously cruel hands of the airline workers, and because of the screw up and one winking employee at the check-desk, it arrived for free. Things were looking up again. Now I’m sitting in a beautiful, fan-cooled cool tile house on a dirt road just outside San Juan del Sur, covered in mosquito bites, sweat, and sunburn, battling a hangover with a finger of Flor de Cana in my coffee. I can hear monkeys yelling at each other in the trees, and a mangy dog is lying in the morning sun a few yards away. I’m about fifteen minutes from Madera, and the forecast is looking amazing, and I have a brand new surfboard. Things are not just looking up; they are up.
Here enlies the main problem (of course there’s one) of the CBD program. I am not a surfboard shaper, and even the slightest difference in shape can have drastic effects on a surfboard’s performance. When a person goes to their shaper, ideally the shaper will be able to take your general idea and turn it into a workable reality. I did not have that luxury. The board I designed doesn’t work very well in waves under head-high. That, however, is my own fault. It’s a bit too thick, too flat, and generally unwieldy. While it is a fast surfboard, it’s slower than I would’ve thought, and pumping down the line is difficult. The upside though, is that it gets into waves with incredible ease. Even in Nicaragua in March, where the near-constant offshore winds threaten to blow you off the back, I barely have to paddle. This is great for the lazy surfer (read: me). It has a five-fin set up that allows for basically four different boards, so it’s an almost perfect travel board. As soon as waves got overhead, though, this board shone. Something about the back end just makes it stick. It feels almost impossibly easy to surf on. And I know this shouldn’t matter, but oh my gosh, it is the best looking surfboard you’ve ever laid eyes on. I spend hours each day staring wistfully at it, just waiting for the tide to change.
So here is my advice, should you want it: If you want a Firewire, and if you know exactly what you want and what to change about a surfboard to make it do that, Firewire’s Custom Board Design is a pretty amazing option. Or, (and this is very unlikely) if you’re on really good terms with your shaper and can somehow trick him into helping you out, try that. If you do decide to order one of these, just be aware, as I’m sure most of you already are, that small changes make big differences. The entire process is incredibly fun, from designing the board to playing the oh-so-painful waiting game. And they put your name on it! What fun!