The Evolution Of Custom Surfboards

One time, in Indonesia, we went on a $500 per week boat trip with a bunch of Germans. The captain was drunk the whole time and all the bunks smelt like motor oil — it was perfect. Another time, at one of those feisty Mexican beachbreaks, we saw a few swimmers stuck in a rip with the fear of death in their eyes and we worked together to pull ’em out. And then there was the time we stayed up late into the Orlando night trying to figure out who or what god really is.

I’m fortunate enough to be close with my shaper.

Our relationship is a relic of the past — of the days when few people rode surfboards and even fewer people shaped them, and you had to be an active member of a certain community in order to obtain a board custom-tailored to your taste. These days, though, all it takes is a credit card and a dream.

That’s a good thing. The expansion of the board-building industry is a result of the expansion of surfing, and the expansion of surfing is the expansion of joy. Entitlement be damned.

But joy is expanding in a complex way. The video at the peak of this page? It shows Craig Anderson ordering a board on an iPad. Except he’s not just ordering it, he’s designing it. Pressing fingers to a screen, pulling the strings as a pixelated version of his new best friend dances like a puppet in front of him. Wild, right?

You can try it for yourself here. Or try Channel Islands’ custom board builder, which has been around for a little while now, here. Or you can order a Domino’s pizza in a similar fashion here. Seriously.

deroulet-3053_1Dylan Graves. Photo: Seth de Roulet

You don’t have to be too tuned in to realize that life is going digital. We’re communicating more and more through screens, which makes perfect sense when it’s 3AM and you’re too drunk to resist the temptation to yell something about serpents when ordering a pizza. But surfboards aren’t pizza, and they are definitely not Domino’s pizza. There’s something sacred about a custom board. The vision, the intent, the investment of energy, the truly one-of-a-kind result — it’s all so personal. So in gaining this technology, are we losing something else?

I don’t think so.

Bigger surfboard brands, like Haydenshapes, are only getting bigger. They’re using their size and resources to invent a future that’ll benefit all of us. Meanwhile — and maybe as a result of that — the backyard shaper is experiencing a resurgence. Weird boards are becoming more common, and most people have ditched their fear of foam dust. Probably, you have a friend who shapes a few boards. You may have even shaped one yourself. So the sacredness is still there. It’s right next to the machines.

Really, we’re entering an era that makes everything more available. Maybe you want an asymmetrical thing with a cool paint job from your neighbor. Or maybe you want a finely calculated CI Sampler, tuned by your Macbook Pro. Whatever you’re craving, it’s there.

My only suggestion is that if you’re ever in Indonesia, find the $500 boat. And make sure you have a good board with you.