I still don’t really know why I decided to build my first board. It seemed like a giant, unattainable task that could quite literally go up in flames. Fortunately for me, it did not. Thanks to the internet’s plethora of how-to-videos and a few good books, I learned just about everything I needed to know before I even bought my first blank. Trial and error taught me the rest.
Each board I cut is better than the last. I add complexities to them, and through these subtle nuances, my skills continue to improve. I’m still no master, but every board I build finds its way to the water. It’s one thing to surf a store-bought masterpiece; it’s an entirely different thing to paddle out on a stick you made with your own two hands. You put so much time, energy, and love into each board that you build. When you catch that first wave on a board you made yourself, you feel overwhelmed with pride. shaping is difficult and frustrating at best. In my opinion, master shapers don’t get enough respect. Hollywood likes to portray them as burnt out stoners with bad sun burns. And let’s be honest, some are. However, the true masters have skills in geometry, physics, and a keen eye for symmetry, all of which are needed to produce the best boards possible.
The first board I shaped was a simple thruster and I was pumped after I finished laminating it. As I stared down at my masterpiece I thought to myself, “No major issues… That shit was easy!” But when I went out to check it the next morning I noticed its imperfections and asymmetries. Finding and creating a symmetrical shape is a shaper’s worst nightmare, especially for a novice like me. That board got shelved and I started over almost immediately. Before I knew it I found myself, once again, chasing the perfect outline. I got frustrated often and thought about quitting more than a few times. Eventually, after a lot of research, I came to the realization that no board is flawless, and that’s okay. I learned that the boards that come closest to perfection are probably machine cut, but even those require fine tuning which can throw off the balance. The best we can do is create something close enough to “perfection” that the average eye doesn’t notice the board in front of them is in fact not perfect at all. This is actually easy when you consider that most surfers just assume their board is perfect. The tell in knowing that your board isn’t even or symmetrical is in how it rides. If it pulls or drifts more to one side, then there is probably an imbalance, which really isn’t that much of an issue anyway. Most of us will learn our board’s sweet spot and personality pretty quickly, regardless of if the shape is flawless or not.
Imperfection is part of the craft. Much like everything else in life, it’s messy and if you’re too critical, you’ll see all the mistakes. Be positive, otherwise, you’ll become that bitter old dude talking about how it used to be. Shaping a surfboard is complex, dirty, and toxic without the right gear. It requires you to think and see three dimensionally and then transform that image into a physical representation of what you envisioned. Which, I promise, will not happen on your first board. Don’t let your success, or lack thereof, keep you from building the second. Take your time and read every damn thing you can. Watch videos, ask local shapers if you can come by and watch, and then read some more. It’s not a bad idea to see if you can find a local shaper’s class (most shaping supply shops have them).
So, when you’re finally ready to carve into your first blank or whichever passion you choose to pursue, I offer a word of warning. Some people in your circle may not do back flips when they learn of your new endeavor. In fact, you’ll be lucky if they even acknowledge it. It’s just how some folks are. Often when we pursue greatness, others celebrate our setbacks. This should never stop you from being great. That is their standard. Don’t let it become yours.