Tom Wegener re-introduced the ancient alaia surfboard in 2004 and they have rapidly become a staple board in surfers’ quivers around the world. What is it about these simple planks of wood that fascinate a community that seems so fixated on progression? Is it the speed they maintain as they glide across the face of a wave? Is it their historical significance, their reduced environmental impact, or the fact that just about anyone can shape them in their own backyard? Whatever it is that is causing these wooden ironing boards to grow in popularity, it can be measured in the smiles of the surfers riding them.
Alaia surfboards first appealed to me because they looked fun to ride and seemed like an opportunity to explore a new dimension in surfing. I started shopping around to buy one, but once I realized how accessible they were to shape, I had to try it… I immediately stocked up on tools and materials and shaped my first alaia! My bubble burst in an instant when I snapped it the first session because the article I read online didn’t specify that I needed “waterproof” wood glue. I’ve shaped several boards since then and discovered one of the best things about these boards is that if you don’t like them, you can re-shape them and if they break, you can just glue them back together! Alessandro Rodrigues and alaiaDIY.com produced the following short film, “Against the Grain,” about one of the boards I shaped and shared with friends.
If you’re interested in creating your own surf craft, the alaia is a great place to start! Though they’re very difficult to ride, building one is a simple process that’s affordable, doesn’t take too much time and can take place in your own backyard. We created this video to help you visualize the process…
Check out our list of basic materials, tools and supplies below and click on any of the links for more information on applications and where to find them. We strongly recommend buying a pre-fabricated blank for your first alaia build (available in our Wood Shop), but we’ve included instructions to make your own if you prefer to start from scratch. Do your research and when you’re ready to make some noise and kick up dust, throw on some old clothes and play some radical tunes, cause shit’s gonna get weird!
- Paulownia Blank (or lumber, clamps and glue)
- 2 Sawhorses
- Hand Plane
- Electric Sander
- Dust Mask and Eye Protection
- Boiled Linseed Oil and Mineral Spirits
1.) Glue the Blank. Lay down a tarp to catch excess glue and align each plank of wood on its thin side across the sawhorses. I inserted two redwood stringers and a mahagony tail block in this demonstration, but we recommend keeping it simple for your first build. Glue up the sides, flip the boards on their broad side and clamp em quick! Tighten two large clamps near each end and sandwich the bottom and deck with small clamps and scrap wood. Spread out three more large clamps, tighten them up and let it sit for 24 hours. This is a good time to create a template from a sheet of masonite if you need one (most blanks come with an existing outline, so you can use this instead if you like the design).
2.) Cut the Outline. Remove the clamps and trace the outline from your template. Using a jigsaw, cut along the outside of the line. You can always follow up with sandpaper to remove excess wood, but you cannot add wood if you accidentally cut inside the lines. Save your scraps and store them in a dry place; scrap Paulownia is perfect for hand planes!
3.) Plane It. Use a block plane (and electric hand planer if available) to shape your board. For optimum flex and to reduce weight, try to maintain about half an inch throughout entire center and start tapering down to a quarter inch along the rails. Down-turned rails along the back two-thirds and up-turned rails along the front third are desirable, but don’t be afraid to get weird! Remember to stop periodically to calibrate your block plane. If there is a bow in your blank, this can work to your advantage, just make sure the center of the deck is bowed up with the rails pointing down.
4.) Sand It. A belt sander is ideal, but an orbital sander will to the trick. Start with rough grit and finish with fine grit. Avoid sanding the rails and nose of the board with electric sanders so you don’t fuck em up… Give these areas some love and sand them by hand.
5.) Oil it. Finish with three to four coats of boiled linseed oil. Linseed oil is a natural preservative, and is very effective in curing wood and if you thin the oil with 50% mineral spirits, it will dry much faster (odorless spirits are recommended; the smell of turpentine will put hair on your neighbor’s chest). Use an old T-shirt or a pair of crusty boxers to rub in the oil. Boiled linseed oil and thinning agents are highly flammable and can spontaneously combust — I’ve actually experienced this — so carefully read all warning labels and dispose of rags properly!
6.) Ride It. This absolutely is the most challenging part, but waist high waves have never been more fun! It helps to do some research on techniques and wave selection, but with a little humility and patience you’ll experience a new dimension in surfing… and you’ll likely be in the best paddling shape of your life.