coffee convo Hwilsin writing


Most surfers don’t know shit about surfboards. Plain and simple. The average guy in your lineup, the kids working the boardrooms at the local surf shops, even some shapers, true board knowledge is rare to come by. After about 13 years of surfing, I had no clue what I was looking at in my 5 board quiver of all ‘performance’ shortboards. 

Now, of course I had some basic understanding of boards, same as you. I knew adding width and thickness would add volume, in turn giving more float to the board. I knew that 4 fins would be more sticky than 3. I knew that adding rocker would take away down the line speed, but fit into a steeper part of the wave better. Little things like that. The list of things I did not know, however, was much more extensive.

For example, I wasn’t even looking at boards correctly. I would really only look at a brand new shred stick from two different angles – as if the board were standing against a wall: I would look at the deck, and then the bottom. I would do the standard feel down – pick it up under the arm, shake it around a little bit, set the tail down on the top of my shoes to rub the rails up and down, finally laying it deck down on a suitable surface and rubbing between the fins – in that general area – pretending I know what concave is, or does. Yep, feels good to go. That about wrapped up my whole checking of the board.

I once worked in a glass shop for about a year, and this was where I was learned. I saw lots of different boards come through – logs, fishes, twins, single fins, shortboards, “garage” shapes, foils, wall hangers, pro boards, hand shapes, wings, machine shapes, channels, small time shapers, big brands, shop stock, you name it. Lots of boards. Being engulfed in this environment gave me a wild, newfound respect and admiration for the artists that are responsible for creating our magic carpets. But the board building is not what this post is about – it’s the finished product. I don’t want to give those crabs an inch of ego anyway, they don’t need it. 

PS – all artists are crabs.

What you might not notice in a board, like I said, the list is extensive: fin placement, fin angle, off centered rail lines, the sharp edge not matching, bubbles and dry spots in the lamination, sanding that goes down to the weave, a twisted blank – there’s a lot that can go wrong. And it takes a lot to fix those mistakes. That’s one thing that made my appreciation level jump – realizing that a good board is actually much harder to pull off than you would think. When I feel a ‘garage shape’ versus a ‘professional model’ nowadays, the differences are glaring. The important thing to note, however, is – it doesn’t matter how a board looks. It’s always about how it rides.

I once heard a story on the L8night with Choccy podcast in which former pro surfer Jay Larson took his favorite board ever into his shaper to get remade. The shaper told Jay that he had been riding a twisted blank. Times were a little different, pro’s didn’t have a garage full of 50+ boards, but I imagine Jay had ridden his fair share of surfboards. And his favorite one of all had a defect he didn’t even know about. It’s about how the board feels under your feet on a wave, not how it looks to your eyes.

Photo from Jay’s IG. @jaylars

If you want to become more informed about surfboards, my suggestions to you would be: spend some time in the shaping bay or glass shop asking questions. Don’t just browse through youtube finding tips from vloggers. I’m sure a few might be helpful, but there’s no replacing hands-on experience, especially with surfboards. Go to surf shops to look at and feel a lot of boards. Ride different shapes from different shapers. Go to a local demo day. Fix your own dings. Things like that. Maybe even study a little hydrodynamics. You should want to know and care about your equipment that brings you such joy. Don’t just pick it up when you need it and set it right down to collect dust when you’re done. It’s not a video game.

If you want to just buy it and ride the damn thing cause it feels good, well, that’s cool too. I just hope you rip. And don’t put any front traction pads on it.



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