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Dan O'Hara, eyeing his craft. Photo:  Mary-Ellen Kennedy/Solid Surfboards

Dan O’Hara, eyeing his craft. Photo: Mary-Ellen Kennedy/Solid Surfboards


The Inertia

Ordering a new board is a pretty special ritual. It doesn’t get old, no matter how many times you’ve waxed up a freshie and taken it out for the first time. But learning to order the right board is another story – you can’t grow or really change much without refining your equipment. Getting a lemon sucks. It’s a waste of time and money. Here San Diegan shaper, Dan O’Hara of Solid Surf Co. sheds some light on what you should be asking your shaper when ordering a custom board.

1. Know What you’re Looking For

“I think every shaper pretty much rolls their eyes when somebody comes in and they’re like, ‘I want a board I can ride when it’s ankle-high, but can also surf when it’s ten-foot and pumping. And then I want it to paddle really well and be super floaty, but also really responsive so that I can turn it like my shortboard.” Dan says. “It’s like asking for a car that you can get fifty miles a gallon, but can also drive off-road and bring forty surfboards with you.”

Before you head down to the factory, ask yourself a few basic questions that relate to the board you’re ordering:

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  1. Where do you surf and where do you want to surf?
  2. Where are you at, ability wise?
  3. What are you riding now and how is it working for you?

Try to be a bit more specific than asking for a board that goes in every condition possible, because you’re not going to surfing that, anyway. What happens when you try to blend all these things is you end up getting a board that’s mediocre at everything.

You obviously do get magic boards that go in all conditions, but said boards are often under the feet of people experienced enough to surf in all conditions.

2. Bring Your Boards With You

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“Bring your boards with you,” Dan says. “That helps. Shapers always relate better to what you need or want if they can see what you’re currently riding. If you’re just talking theory on what might work for you, that’s not as clear as seeing what you’ve actually been riding and currently enjoy – or liked in the past. Even if it comes down to round tails versus squash tails versus swallow tails  – if you’ve always had swallows in your quiver and your shaper is trying to sell you a round tail, you might not be stoked.”

3. Choose Your Shaper

“Don’t try to get something out of somebody who doesn’t make what you’re looking for. If you’re looking for a gun, go to someone who makes a good gun. If you’re looking for a retro fish, go to a guy who specializes in retro fishes. If you’re looking for a traditional poly longboard, go to someone who specializes in traditional poly classic longboards. You’ll get the benefit of a great board by going to the person who specializes in making them.”

4. Order The Board For You

People often reference the 90’s, when folks were ordering those awkwardly thin, narrow canoe-shaped boards that Slater was riding at the time. Nobody could ride them like Kelly. Ordering a board based on someone else’s ability is no less kooky than someone from the Midwest screwing their fins on backwards, as Dan explains.

“The board is only going to work as well as the surfer is. As the saying goes. it’s not the wand, it’s the wizard. A shaper can only do so much. No board is going to turn you into Kelly Slater. If you need a bit of extra volume, take it. Don’t under-gun yourself because you want to look cool.” And most shapers can tell a whole lot from a few simple things. “A shaper can gauge where you’re at by where you surf and what you’re riding. If you surf Blacks and you come with a handful of broken shortboards, that’ll be obvious, or if you surf PB and you bring in a brown fun board, it’ll be clear.”

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5. Getting Color

Getting artwork on your board will make it take longer and cost more. That’s the long and short of it. “Make sure you have the exact design you’d like with you, unless you’re going to a shaper who has a spray artist on hand who likes to freewheel designs. But basically the best color is clear. If you want your board done quickly, don’t get color. It involves an whole extra human being who has to do work on your board, plus more materials and time. The more intricate the color, the more time it’ll take and the more it’ll cost.”

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