How to Shape a Surfboard

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The Art of Surfboard Shaping and Design

The Surfboard Blank.
Watching your surfboard as it's shaped is a bit like watching your baby being born...just a little. If you haven’t stood in the shaping room during this wondrous birth and felt foam dust waft up your nostrils as it blank to fully designed, you are missing out on a special moment. It takes the relationship between you and your surfboard to a deeper level, and may just lift your surfing to another level.

So if you have never watched a lifeless hulk of surfboard foam transformed into something magical, this is your chance to do it. To walk you through the surfboard shaping and design process, I enlisted none other than big wave charger and master shaper of Impact Surfboards, Charles Williams, as he sculpted one more magic stick, adding to his already impressive list of thousands of boards that includes standard high performance surfboard models, big wave guns, tow-in boards, stand-up paddle boards, longboards, and even classic balsa boards.

At the Impact Surfboard factory down in Ft. Pierce, Florida, Charles Williams has been quietly shaping insane surfboards for hardcore surfers for more than 25 years. Hang out with Charles as he takes us through the process from a rough blank to a completed surfboard design ready for glassing.

Above, Charles starts with a standard foam blank.

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The Basic Surfboard Outline

The Basic Surfboard Outline.
Most shapers have cut out wooden templates of their best surfboard shapes. Using one of these templates, Charles has sketched out the general outline of the surfboard shape right on the foam blank.

Here, you can see that this one is looking like a standard six foot high-performance model. The surfboard outline is usually the most striking feature of a surfboard. A clean, flowing outline is your first indication of a good board.

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Cutting out the Basic Outline

Charles Cutting out the Basic Outline.
Using a handsaw in this case, Charles cuts out his outline and is left with the general idea of how this surfbboard will look upon completion.
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Measuring Tail, Nose, and Center Point

Charles Measuring the Surfboard Shape.
After “truing” the outline to eliminate all the rough spots (the bumps and lumps that may come out of the sawing process), Charles lays the rough cut blank out.

Then he measures and marks the nose width, tail width, and center point.

The standard nose width is about 11 ½ inches. The standard Tails width is about 5 inches. Standard center point width is about 181/2 inches. Most blanks have what is called “close tolerance” which means that very little work needs to be done with the rocker (bottom curve).

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Marking Guidelines

Charles needs to be sure at this point that he marks his maximum guidelines, so that he knows how far he can sand down the board without going too thin and he uses these guidelines to monitor any sanding deviations. If a shaper sands the board beyond the surfer's specification, he is essentially shaping the board for someone else and must start again on a other blank
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Planing the Surfboard Rocker

Charles Planing the Surfboard Rocker.
Using his Skill 100 old school electric planer, Charles manually manipulates the depth of the cut, thus making a gradual curve in the tail. Tail rocker is powerful in its effect on the board’s turning radius under the back foot. This is the most important curve in a surfboard's shape since it indicates the maneuverability of the board itself; therefore, correct planing the surfboard rocker is crucial.
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Charles Planing the Surfboard Rocker.
In the same motion, Charles must sculpt rocker into the front (nose) of the surfboard. Less rocker is generally needed in the nose since too much curve will push water, thus slowing the surfer's paddle speed and wave catching ability. Therefore, most surfboards have a “low entry” rocker which lessens the friction of the water under the nose.

At this point the nose and tail have their rocker, but Charles now has to blend them seamlessly through the center of the board in order to add flow to the surfboard's bottom. Any deviation can greatly affect the surfboard's overall performance.

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Rail Panels

Planing out the Rails.
Charles now planes out the rail panels. These flat sections create the overall thickness the surfer feels as he holds the surfboard and can affect both the flotation and performance of the surfboard.
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Sanding the Rails

Sanding the Rails.
Like a true artist, shapers must envision the rail that they want to sand out of the rough rail panels of a surfboard. A lack of vision and confidence in this process can lead to uneven, over sanded, or just plain wrong rails.

Surfers often specify whether they want their rails hard (sharp) or soft (rounded). Too much sanding can lead to a thinner overall surfboardboard, which will not match the original vision or plan for the board.

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The Final Shaped Surfboard Blank

The Final Shaped Surfboard Blank.

Also, at this point, the shaper has to decide where the “release point” will occur. The release point is where the softer, rounded rails end and the sharp turning edge begins. The sharp edge near the tail is the driving part of the board that a surfer uses to carve from side to side and generate speed. The rounded rails are used to move the board around on the face of the wave.

Charles has “roughed out” the board, and it simply needs some creative tuning and cleaning up with the sander. This Impact is almost is ready to ride. The next step is the glassing process.

For more information on ordering an Impact surfboard from Charles Williams, inquire at