Every man should own at least one fully tailored suit in his lifetime, but unless you get some dodgy polyester three-piece from a pushy Indian on Khao San Rd, you’re going to have to save some serious money to get a sartorial suit. Equally, hand-made custom Italian shoes, or even bespoke Australian hardwood furniture will set you back a pretty penny. However, if you want to stand out from the bland crowd and have your own custom fix, all is not lost. Instead of grabbing one of those boring white surf sticks off the rack, why not go to a local shaper and get a custom board?
With the international push for factory-manufactured surfboards, hand-shaping is certainly a dying art. And where it once was a burgeoning life progression for surf bums and failed pro-surfers, lately, small-time shapers have been struggling to even find grommets to come in and sweep away the shaping booth floors. It has become such an issue that lately the surf industry even consorted with Creepy Hitler (ie Tony Abbott) in a push for surf shaping to be regarded as a legitimate recognised trade that can then employ certified apprentices. See the article from Surfing World here.
The Gold Coast is littered with world-class surfboard shapers, with DHD and JS Industries creating boards for a huge proportion of the top surfers in the world. But as these boards are in high demand, the price and waiting list was a little longer than I wanted, and so after seeing how well El Rad rode a 6’1″ Stuart Surf FX1, I few weeks ago I ordered a 6’8″ version…and for just $100 more got an all-over orange spray and hand painted silver lightning bolt! And less than 3 weeks later I picked up my bespoke board, complete with my name along the stringer, handed directly to me by Stu himself. Oooh…how I love the smell of fiberglass in the morning!
There really is something satisfying about the whole process: checking out a bunch of different local shapers, chatting to them about your surfing ability and immediate aspirations, seeing the shaper work on similar boards in his shop, scoping his finished boards and lairy paint schemes, getting quotes and prices, ordering your custom stick, then picking it up and giving it that first careful test drive out in the surf…and strutting along the beach with your new colourful creation with a huge smile on your face afterwards. And as El Rad took advantage of a buy-two-at-0nce discount, we both got bespoke boards for a similar price to an off-the-shelf Studio Italia suit from Myer!
Surfing World Magazine recently had a whole issue focussing on hand-shaped and custom boards, and Base Surfboards (a co-op of DHD, Bourton, Simon (Anderson) and others) has a great page which outlines all the steps that go into making a board. Basically, cutting machines carve down a foam blank to within 70-85% of the finished board shape before the rest is sanded back by hand, then it’s fiber-glassed, artwork is painted, fins inserted and final glassing is done to the board.
And El Rad even went a step beyond the hand painted scheme that I ordered from Stuart’s collection – with modern advances in colour printing any image can be bonded to cloth which is then laminated under the fiberglass. And so taking influence from classic art, and willing to wait the extra week or more to finalise the printing that I wasn’t willing to wait, take a look at his “Liberty” HPX2 (a model which received a great review in ASL’s 2010 Surf Bible)! The half naked woman is in fact the central figure from Eugene Delacroix’s famous revolutionary painting, “Liberty Leading the People”. The board looks amazing, with a great painterly print effect – I’m jealous – it makes my orange bolt look tame, and puts the other boards in our collective quiver to shame. And not only is El Rad bringing some art to the sometimes shallow world of surf…and he gets to rub up against a beautiful topless woman every day out in the water…even if she is 180 years old!