Man and Machine
With more and more people doing it in more and more different ways, the extremes of surfing and shaping have never been more visible. Stranger takes a look across the board to show the polar opposites of techniques and technologies, craftsmanship and skills that are shaping the face of surfing in the 21st century.
Wegener Surfboards is a backyard operation run from a barn near Noosa Heads, Australia. Anyone who has seen Wozniak’s Siestas y Olas will understand that Tom Wegener is one of those rare surfers who can adjust to any board in almost any conditions. A veteran shaper of foam, and a revered traditional longboard rider, in the past five years Wegener has concentrated solely on the creation of paulownia wood surfboards, largely with a block plane. Paulownia is a common plantation tree in Australia, originally used by the Chinese to make coffins, and Wegener takes his scrap wood into the garden to mulch his own (paulownia) trees. Together with assistant and writer Lucas Wright, he creates boards with a minimum of waste and a maximum amount of pleasure.
He is passionate not just about the material itself (“It does not suck up salt water, it is easy to shape, it is amazing”), but also about the feel of riding a paulownia board. The weight of the boards lend them an entirely different glide to any foam. They will power around sections, and are rock-steady. As Wegener says: “It takes some courage to pull into a tube on a big wooden board, but you have twice the horsepower to make it back out again.”
Beyond the 12-foot tankers lies the Olo project, and beyond even this lie experiments in Paipo and Alaia design. Jacob Stuth, smooth Noosa cat and bamboo grower, recently turned heads around the Penwith area as he experimented with a flat, finless piece of timber. Not functional, true, but both Jacob and Tommy have had enough waves on functional boards that they don’t mind blowing a few in a quest for fun and a different feeling. The Olo, of course, offers riders something unique – a return to barely felt origins… “This is a side of surfing that very few people have enjoyed for the last 200 years.”
Richard Matthews is another wood-inspired shaper, an old-time Burleigh local with a unique perception of the shaping experience. A tube hound who honed his skills in the points heyday, he has spent seven years in his adopted home, the Philippines. In his first season, he kept a tally of the tubes he was scoring: 800 in six months, riding bamboo boards that he shaped himself, at spots he named himself. An ‘exposé’ in an Australian surfing magazine made Richard laugh; he’s been living with the locals and riding these waves for years. His stories of ‘69’s’, because it breaks so top-to-bottom, are enough to arouse the interest of any wave voyager.
Richard is one form of visionary; he has a particular idea that he pursues with endless enthusiasm. His goal is a sustainable bamboo weave surfboard. His perception of contemporary board shaping is critical: “It’s an old industry, a sick industry and a chemical industry.”
Richard’s alternative to fibreglass is bamboo weave, and utilises a much more simple process: “The bamboo: we cut it, strip it, weave it, put it on the board. It’s such a meditation in itself. I started making boards in 1968, started working with bamboo in 1978, and made my first bamboo board in 1998. It’s just amazing how long it took me to get it together.” Once you get Richard started on the positives that bamboo offers, pull up a chair and a beer, because the list is endless:
“A normal average 6’3” weighs six pounds. Two pounds of foam; that’s your buoyancy. Two pounds of glass – dead weight; two pounds of resin – dead weight. So your buoyancy ratio is 1:3 parts. On the bamboo board you have two pounds of foam, but it’s more aerated. It’s 95% air Styrofoam, it has more buoyancy than a normal blank. You have two pounds of bamboo, which is buoyant. Then you have two pounds of deadweight resin. Therefore your buoyancy ratio is 2:3. That’s twice as buoyant.”
Chops Lascelles of Beachbeat surfboards in St Agnes, in conjunction with Nigel Semmens of Ocean Magic, are now able to offer surfers a revolutionary new way of shaping boards. A computer programme designed by a German windsurfer called ‘Micky’, who is now based on the Gold Coast in Australia, allows surfers to watch their ideas come to life on a computer screen.
This is the first of its kind in Europe. Chops believes it is the way shaping is going. Soon you will be able to snap your favourite board on the other side of the world and have Chops email its design to a shaper with the same programme, and hey presto you have the exact board shaped in the space of an hour.
Chops has been using this programme since January. “It has been very successful,” he says. “It’s taught me a lot about design, enhancing my shaping capabilities and with the tedious part taken out, my imagination is opened up for all kinds of possibilities.”
On a more practical note, you can take your well-loved and waterlogged 5’10” to Chops who can then copy the exact design, tweaking bits that you like and don’t like to create your perfect board. The design is then filed under your name, emailed to Nigel Semmens (including details on which blank to use), and a machine will shape the board in 22 minutes – 11 minutes per side. The board can then be returned to Chops to be fine-tuned, should the surfer so desire. The boards are still glassed by hand in the traditional way.
All the boards in the Aggie Surf Shop have been designed by Chops but made by machine. Boards retail at £335 with £25 extra to have a board customised especially for you. But is this technique taking the soul out of shaping? Not in Chops’ eyes – for him it’s obvious: “The technology has been created specifically for custom shapers, not just anyone with a computer.” He argues that the boards are still designed by him, with his 35 years of shaping experience behind him – for him, it is all about embracing new technology.
Pushing surfboard technology up another level and playing with traditional boundaries of design, Salomon have launched a new board onto the market with a revolutionary design. They call it the S-CORE.
In conjunction with a tight group of international shapers known as the ‘Red Circle’ (including Eric Arakawa from Hawaii, Dave Macaulay from West Australia, Pierre ‘ZAKA’ Cazadieu from France, and our own Chops Lascelles from St Agnes), Salomon set out to create a stronger, lighter performance board that actually breathes. They have done away with traditional polyurethane (PU) boards to use blue foam of extruded polystyrene because it has a higher density than normal PU and therefore a better strength under compression, it also doesn’t absorb water.
Composed of composite materials, hydrophobic dampening foam, carbon and a triple stringer, the real unique selling point of the S-CORE board is that it is hollow. On top of that, it has a bifunctional valve to allow the board to breath and an automatic pressure regulator. Although not indestructible, the S-Core has greater strength than normal PU boards and is less likely to suffer from decompression dings – the downside however is that should you encounter a really serious ding, you might well sink.
Salomon put their baby through rigorous tests both in the lab and field to get it right; they even went to the extreme of putting pressure sensors on surfers’ feet so engineers could better understand how we distribute our weight when we surf. However, this use of high-tech design and materials comes at a price: S-Core boards retail at £550.
An offshoot of the Salomon S-Core board is the noseless board, designed by surfer Nick Wallace and inspired by skateboards. The Noseless Judge, Dog town and Noseless Gambler are responsive boards with good buoyancy making them suitable for younger /shorter surfers. Designed with kids and tricks in mind, all of the Noseless collection pushes surfing to a new generation. The Noseless board will be hitting the beach in spring 2006 RRP between £240 -£250.