Shed a tear for our shapers. They were poor before poverty became the new Family Guy (more popular than ever, but nobody laughs at it anymore). And now? Where does that put the board-building community intra-recession? The answer is shocking – planesmen living in their shaping bays on beds of foam dust, shivering under blankets as thin as their sales margins. If they could all collude to raise prices by around 100%, I don’t think surfers would complain much (barring a month or so of sticker shock). What exactly would the testimony be? That a year of surfing isn’t worth $1,000? Pish posh. We’d gladly pay.
The thing I’m curious about is how this period of cutting back (not the wet kind, the frugal kind) will affect what might be called Surfboard Polygamy (or Surfboard Misogyny). This isn’t the same as having a broadly useful quiver; it describes, rather, the habit of retaining more equipment than experience calls for and regarding it as disposable. Pros certainly need the best boards they can get, and conditions change enough to require multiple iterations (that’s not to mention a pesky tendency to break in half without notice). But it seems that – especially among young surfers – having a stack of crisp, white sticks borders on the self-indulgent and impractical; more of a status symbol than a genuine need.
One might point a finger at shots of pros’ garages and board-sheds as the culprit: seeing the crafts – more Sasabune Ahi than Chicken of the Sea – nonetheless lined up like anonymous robots, indistinguishable one from the other, is unhealthy. It objectifies surfboards like Maxim objectifies women. Quiver photos in the magazine often show a set of boards, all from the same shaper, with the same (or no) paint jobs and identical sticker placement – as if each is a dispensable foot soldier in an army of available sleds. Breaking a board is a perverse badge of honor (“Yeah, I charge”) – and besides, there are plenty more just like it.
If we placed the same value on our surfboards that we place on other things that proffer similar enjoyment, we’d pay loads more for them and tend to their upkeep a lot better. We’d see our shaper like a wife or husband, conceiving a labor of love together that we’d then get to know and take care of. Maybe? There was a time when “trunks” were cutoff canvas pants, “surf wax” was household paraffin, wetsuits were nil or borrowed from scuba diving, leashes and track pads didn’t exist, and the only kind of cloth carried by the rare surf shop was fiberglass, not cotton. Surfboards are the only thing that’s organically ours, the only thing we can’t go surfing without. Perhaps the tightening of our industrial belt will give a nudge to new (old) priorities: form following function.