Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Why Surf Custom?

Recently, we have overhead kids at surfshops telling customers that custom boards don't work. We've even heard them saying they NEVER work. Now, I realize they are just trying to move all their made-in-Thailand boards and aren't experienced sales people, but its been starting to irk me. I'd like to share with you some of the history of surfboard building and why custom boards are still around today.

Hawaii is said to be the birthplace of stand up surfing. Construction of surfboards, and surfing, was a deeply spiritual undertaking. Boards were hand-crafted from solid wood for the individual intending to ride it. There were ceremonies involved and the Hawaiians performed rituals to bless the boards, to summon waves, and the act of surfing was held in high regard. Surfing provided training for the chiefs, resolved conflicts, and was a courting ritual. Surfboards were prized possessions that determined social standing.

As materials changed, so too did the art of surfboard building, but the surfboard shaper was always an integral part of a surfer's experience. In recent times, surfing as become a commercialized sport with businesses realizing the money-making potential of surfing and surfboards. I see nothing wrong with this as it is the natural progression of a free-market society.

What I do have issue with is the trend away from custom surfboards. When surfboards are built for surfshops, shapers make boards that will work for most people in most conditions. For someone that is new to the sport, buying a board of the rack may be the easiest way to get a board to get started. Once that person has learned to maneuver their basic surfboard, they are ready to begin to refine their gear for the conditions they surf in. Today, shapers don't even make most boards offered in surfshops. Machines and workers have replaced talented craftspeople and surfboard design is starting to suffer.

When someone asks me why they should buy a custom board, I like to relate an analogy. Think of a surfboard as a basketball shoe, if you want to run faster and jump higher, you don't go buy the same exact shoe Michael Jordan wears, you buy a shoe that fits your foot. You might even go through those treadmill tests where an expert examines your gait and pairs you up with the perfect shoe for you. Surfboards are kind of like that. If you want something specific out of your surfing, say to surf faster or ride in the barrel better, you should go to an expert who can examine you, your stance, and your surfing. This expert, or shaper, will then pair you up with the right surfboard for where you want to take your surfing and knows how to refine a basic shape or model to compensate for factors you might not even consider like if you turn with your front or back foot, wether you are goofy or regular, and how much push the wave has. Its the little details put into a surfboard that will determine the success you have with your new board.

The surfer-shaper relationship is not a thing of the past. If you have a good shaper, they will be interested in the feedback you give them about your board and how its affects your surfing. They can explain how the concaves and rail shape will be expressed in your surfing so you know what to look for when riding it. Then, when you are ready for a new board, they will ask you again what you would like to change and where you would like to take your surfing. A good shaper wants to help you improve your surfing experience.

If custom boards didn't work, do you think that all of the best surfers in the world would only ride custom boards? Make no mistake about it, the guys and gals you see winning contests, surfing death-defying waves, and in videos all ride custom boards. Even if you don't want that for yourself, you will be doing your surfing a disservice by always buying boards off the rack. In order to progress, you need to understand hydro-dynamics and surfboard design, if only superficially or intuitively. An expert shaper can help you understand how your board will perform and the limits of the design you choose.

So I invite you to order a custom board and start a relationship with a shaper. JP Holeman is our shaper here at HSD, and he has dedicated his life to improving your surfing experience wether you are a beginner, just trying to learn some new tricks, an aspiring pro, or trying to qualify for the world championship tour. Each surfer offers an exciting set of challenges for JP, and he looks forward to seeing photos and hearing stories about your new board. JP is unique in that he wants to offer consultations to people ordering boards, he wants to see you surf, and he wants you to understand your board. JP invites people to watch him hand-shape their board so that he can explain the details he puts into the board. He wants to share his knowledge with you so that you can provide feedback for your next board, and he hopes to be able to work with you as you progress in the type of surfing you want to do.

HSD was founded by JP and Andrea because they wanted something specific out of their surfboards and surfing, and were having a hard time getting it. JP built boards and rode them, then had as many people as he could try out the boards. Over the years he has developed some tried-and-true designs that he can tune-up for individuals. Yes, its a business, but its also a passion. Surfing is still a spiritual experience for us, and we still value the surfer-shaper relationship as an integral part of the modern surf industry.

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