Monday, 27 June 2016

Is Surfing's Relationship with "Cool" its Downfall?

Is this board cool?!

One of the great things about shaping your own boards is the freedom it offers you. Freedom from brands, stock shapes, the mythology of shapers features and your apparent downfall if you buy a shortboard without carbon rail tape on it - for example. I absolutely love surfing my own boards and discovering that despite their flaws they work really well. The think I realised the other day was that, apart from shaping my own copy/version of a Tyler Warren "Bar of Soap" the boards I'm thinking of making are largely not the same as boards I was previously thinking of buying; that I was wanting. Why is that? I can only think it's the influence of 'cool', brands and received ideas.

It's subtle as well as unsubtle. The magazines we look at, the surf films we watch. Flashes of templates, fins, what's Joel Tudor surfing? Hey, Slater's cutback was amazing, just like I want to do. If I could just lay into a cool bottom turn like Al Knost... We believe the big double page Billabong ad is not sucking us in, we're above that. But even if that were true, the cool photographs, video clips, Instagrams are all constantly filling us with desire to emulate. How many boards or fins do you quietly and quickly think you'd like to own per day? Jamie O'Brien even makes you want to get a big foamie!

But unlike other sports surfing has a special relationship with 'cool'. Even outside of the world of people who take part in the sport it has a whole spectrum of desirable signification. Surfing is used throughout movies and advertisements to signify someone who is 'cool'. Stupid unwaxed surfboards are always in the background in movie scenes. We can't escape it. When I tell people I surf they often say "oh, cool!" When I tell them I have a shaping bay and make custom surfboards they say "oh, that's really cool!". Roland Barthes muses over the manipulation of meaning in the media in his book "Mythologies" and discusses how objects in the media are given extra meaning (meta-language) over and above its straightforward meaning. Surfing really struggles with this and further complicates surfing's appearance. Loads of people would love to go to Hawaii. Lots of people want to be tanned. We want to be fit and healthy. We want to be risky, dramatic, impressive. We want to be sexy (yeah baby!). A single photograph of Julian Wilson or Stephanie Gilmore getting barrelled can give us all those things in a single photograph. Sure, there are other sports that give us lots of those things (footballers, tennis players etc) but they are just not as 'cool'.

So, as surfers, the appearance of the sport we love in the media is always messed about with. Mythologised. And it fucks with our desire if we're not careful. I haven't been beyond thinking I'd love a Merrick "Semi-Pro". The thing is (apart from the mass-production) these are good shapes. A Channel Islands "Mini" would be a great shape in the waves I go out in. But the the way we're fed the brands is with an extra dose of sugary sweetness that coats them in an "Emperor's New Clothes" of desire. When people ask what longboard I have I'll inevitably first say a Christenson "Dead Sled". Rather than the truth: a 9'6 traditional single fin log, with slightly narrowed nose, pinched rails and a nice fat cedar stringer. The second answer has more actual surfing meaning. The first tells more of desire and brand.

The worst thing for surfing is that because it has to appear 'super cool' to the general public there will inevitably be big 'brand destroying' fluctuations in popularity and finances. (There is also big financial problem that the viewing of the sport doesn't generate income in the way that football does for example, people want to look like surfers, but aren't so interested in watching the World Surf League and standing on the beach is free.)

My point really is that surfing has this wonderful undercurrent of purity and idea of being spontaneous and in touch with nature. The unfortunate thing is that the way we lap it up on a day to day basis has a tendency to cloud all that and fill you with materialistic thoughts and distracting judgements about the 'coolness' of things. It's hard to strip away the myth and just stick to the craft under your arm, the wax and the sand between your toes. At this point it has to be mentioned that the "craft" under your arm is important: there is a difference between the beauty and craft in a well made surfboard (which is delicious to enjoy and savour) and it's 'coolness'. Peeling the veneer of coolness from the board - or any other product - is what I'm thinking about.

I've wanted lots (and lots!) of boards over the years, but a lovely surf the other day on my own board, getting fun waves, getting muddled in the froth, tumbling and gliding in the champagne foam that was glistening with sunlight reminded me what it's all about. And what it isn't. The sea is wonderful, beautiful, never resting, ever-changing and ties thousands of surfers around the world together in a unified global skin. When I sit in the water and look at the Atlantic stretching off to meet surfers on Long Island it's heartwarming to think of people sitting there on their boards too, looking out to the horizon. It's got nothing to do with being cool.

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

My Second Board. My Own Design. The "Fishish".

I've finally finished my second board. Lots more mistakes and lots of learning - including the special act of drilling FCS plug holes in the wrong place (and one right through the board!). Black makes it hard to see the stringer/centre line. I had to forget the idea of a trailer fin option! It was a bit of a fancy anyway... I crossed out my mistakes. That's what I was taught to do at school.

It surfs really well. It's basically based on my Bing Dharma, but with pulled-in nose with more rocker and a slightly pulled in tail. Twin fin rather than quad so it's ended up feeling a bit like a Dharma crossed with an MR Twin I think. Yesterday I had the most amazing surf: pink sunset water, brushed head high rights chugging through at Saunton and not many out. Really found the sweet spot for my back foot between the fins thanks to the extra time on the wave that Saunton gives you.

The crucial aspect of this board was trying to copy what I loved about the foil of the Dharma: that is a thin light nose and thickest part of the board behind centre. The Dharma has a lovely balance - I've had more than one board that feel a bit 'front heavy' for me or that simply don't seem to balance nicely under my feet. The Dharma and this board - I'm delighted to say - seem to me to have a good balance. I'm thinking that the foam distribution compared to outline shape is perhaps the most key aspect to shaping a board that feels good.

  Two

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

The Eddie 2016

Can't wait to watch "The Eddie" (Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau) this afternoon! On for the first time in six years this event that only takes place when the waves are over 20 ft on the North Shore of Oahu. Eddie Aikau was a big wave surfer and Waimea lifeguard who was tragically lost at sea. The event has only taken place eight times!

Watch it: on the WSL website.
Read about it: on Wikipedia.

Amazing line-up of surfers. The only person missing, as far as I'm concerned, is our own UK big wave surfer Andrew Cotton! Ha ha! #cottywouldgo

UPDATE: Spoke too soon. It's not on today.

Friday, 5 February 2016

Surfboard Design, Fins & Dave Parmenter

One of the hardest things about shaping surfboards yourself is working out what is true and what isn't. It's one thing copying a board you own or copying a familiar design like a Lis Fish. But when you're actually thinking about concaves and fins on a design that is more your own blend - it  takes a lot of reading along with experience of surfing different boards to try to remove the flotsam of received ideas that you've been fed by surfboard ads and popular media.

I really like Dave Parmenter - inventor of the Widowmaker surfboard design and champion of single fins and channel bottoms - who I discovered through Andrew Kidman's movies, especially "Lost in the Ether". He's very articulate, incredibly experienced in terms of both shaping and being an excellent surfer and as interested in deconstructing received ideas as developing his shapes.

The reason I'm writing this now is that I've just read the most marvellous article of his in "The Surfer's Journal" (25.1) called "Must We Burn the Single Blade." Sometimes I wonder why I spend a fortune on "The Surfer's Journal" and every so often an article like this comes along that reminds me. Not only is it nicely written with his usual wit and depth of knowledge (he refers to thruster surfing as surfing you're constantly "starting a lawnmower"!) but in it he describes how the speed that you get from a thruster is actually based on increased drag. That sounds counter-intuitive but what he explains helps you to grasp the fact that the thruster design is about helping you to grip the wave face in order to be able to generate speed by quickly pumping or turning. To me, as someone who hand shapes boards now, that is such a wonderfully key concept - and he describes it beautifully. We often forget the key elements of design by being caught up in the whirlwind and hypnotic detail of contemporary design fashions. It's great to have a voice that calmly reminds you to keep 'right mind'. My Dad used to say that moving to the countryside taught him how to tell the difference between horse-shit and bull-shit. Much thanks to Dave Parmenter for trying to help us with that in surfing.

(I should also mention that I contacted Dave a while back about trying to get hold of some of his Widowmaker fins. Not only did he reply but he took it upon himself to ask about the board they were going to be for and emailed back and forth a few times, volunteering information and advice - I was amazed and delighted that he showed such totally unexpected interest and generosity of his time.)

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

I've Made My First Garage Board (Solo)!

Good grief, so it's come to this! I've copied as closely as possible my 5'4 Tyler Warren (Hobie) "Bar of Soap". Really pleased with the shape, I've managed to get closer than I thought I would with the rocker, foil and rails. There's a slight difference in the nose rocker and I've got a little more volume in mine as I've left a bit more foam by having a flatter, less convex, deck.

My main problem was that I didn't mix enough resin for the first lamination (the bottom). I know it's the first rule "mix more than enough" but I got a bit muddled about quantities - largely because of all this talk of "quarts" on Swaylocks and stuff. Stupid quarts. I only mixed 800mls. I'm on my second board now and I mixed double that!

I hand foiled the fins from marine ply, glassed them on (should've doubled up the rovings because I don't think they were quite thick enough). Made a leash loop because since I wasn't drilling fin plugs I thought it would be nice to not drill anything into the board at all. Also, I simply wanted to try as many techniques as possible to learn as much as I could.



Here's a Flickr gallery with more photographs of the process and showing a comparison of my board to the original "Soap":

One

Friday, 2 October 2015

This is Getting Seriously Close to Being Real: A Garage Shaper!?! Me?!

I can't believe that buying a surfboard a few short years ago has led to this! I've been working hard to convert a garage into shaping and glassing bays. I've got fins to make... materials to buy... decisions to confront...

Building a Shaping Garage

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Sennen Cove

I really enjoyed surfing Sennen Cove recently. It's amazing how different new beaches feel. It was a bit messy and funky and then as it neared high tide it became clean & fun head high almost beach-break waves. All the kids appeared popping airs and getting covered-up. A really different fun performance vibe from where I've been surfing recently. Maybe it's the tropical looking water?

I enjoyed my 5'4 Tyler Warren "Bar of Soap". Love this board - it's thinner and more lively feeling than you might think. A bit of a bugger to paddle but really, really fun on a nice clean wave, steep or not. It does prefer clean waves though. Chop tends to throw it off its game. It's no 3" thick Mini-Simmons floater-bloater that's for sure!

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Making a Shaping Rack

This little Flickr gallery shows how I've made myself a shaping rack. Hope it works! I used wood I'd found in the garage so a lot cheaper than buying expensive metal ones online. Still got my Mum's empty garage to convert though so there's lots to do. Hope I'll be buying a blank before too long! Making My Shaping Rack This surfing journey is becoming more than I expected!

Thursday, 27 August 2015

I've Made My First Surfboard

 

This is very exciting!!! A whole new step along the path to, well, I guess my whole life being absorbed by what started out as a dip in the water a few years ago. (Actually, I've labelled this board "Number 0.5" as it's not really my first because I made it under instruction.)

I went down to visit Chris Hartop of Lovefoam and he showed me how to do it at his workshop. I'd highly recommend it if you've ever had an inkling that you'd like to make a board. The main think is that I've ended up with a board that I want to surf and DO enjoy surfing. It's not a 'first board shocker' pre-prepared for the local tip! (Focussed on the foil not being too thick.)

I took the measurements of a Lis Fish and compared them with my Bing Dharma and the Skip Frye fish discussed by Andrew Kidman in his recent Surfer's Journal article. Basically ending up with a fish with 12" between the pins and a slightly pulled in nose.

I've started clearing my Mum's garage... uh oh!

Friday, 21 August 2015

Stoke Is...

...seeing your daughter catch the first little wave ever surfed on the first surfboard you've made yourself!




Thursday, 19 March 2015

I Like the Silver Colour of Winter Surfing




Just took a few photos of people enjoying the waves at Croyde on Mothering Sunday. Instead of surfing I was cooking lunch and then walking to Baggy Point. I didn't mind though - I've just been discovering the joys of a good swell at Saunton combined with my 6'6 Archie's Left. Plenty of nice clean waves last week basically and a promising few days to come. Nice, joyous waves, after a frustratingly dark winter of paddling through tons of work rather than surfing.

Monday, 26 January 2015

A Rare Photo of Me Surfing


Ben Barnes took this photo of me near Woolacombe - he did well managing to get a few snaps after the drop before the waves closed out on me! They were breaking too fast at the shit pipe the other day. He'll take photos of you surfing for a few quid. Get in touch with him via Facebook here >>