Wednesday, June 30, 2010

the challenge

After taking my new alaia out on the weekend, it was far more difficult to surf than I had realised, I think we surfers may just take our current boards for granted. With the amount of bouyancey we now have, it makes paddling into surf very easy in comparison to what has been used historically. Up until this point I had always thought of surfing as a sport which was no where near as easy as snowboarding or skateboarding where you are up and riding more or less straight away, after a couple of hours on the alaia I can now appreciate the skill which people must have had to ride these boards, and it's not like they had the luxury of cutting their teeth on a nice light polyurethane foam board and eventually progress to smaller/harder to paddle boards.
From the clip you can see how low I am in the water which makes paddling anywhere a mission, one good point tho is that it duck dives deeper than any other board i've riden, infact it might make a better submarine :). By the end I was starting to get a better feel for how to react when paddling for a wave, and as hard as it seemed, it's just a totally different style of surfing which I really wouldn't mind getting used to.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

craft - design - technology

Working with wood I can't help thinking about the connections design has to craft and technology, especially when I'm trying to use CNC technology to cut a historically hand crafted material like wood, to enhance it's natural properties in a way that would be very difficult/impossible to do by hand.
Design combines craft and technology. The intimate knowledge of materials and the advancing processes which can be used to manipulate it are also opportunities for designers. The two problems facing a lot of aspiring designers is the time it takes to learn a craft and limited access to the advancing technology available. We can have the best ideas in the world but if we a) can't make it ourselves and b) can't learn how new technologies can be applied, then we have a very limited means to work within.
This got me thinking about how great designers can work across such a broad spectrum of disciplines, from cars to furniture to pasta shapes, how do they have enough time to research all they need to know?
One thing they probably have learned to do well, is rely on knowledge and skill which others have spent years perfecting. Participatory design, action research and co-design, are all based around the idea that the designer is not the one man band and that we need to involve the expertise of others in the process of arriving at our outcome.
I have spent hours in conversation with local surfboard shapers and read pages of online forums and web articles, all of which are hard to record and summarise but have been crucial to the building of my own knowledge base which then goes on to inform my decision making.

And as for that alaia... surfed it on the weekend and yes it is a lot harder than I thought, managed to get a wave but without the buoyancy of surfboards I am used to, it is like learning to surf all over again! I have some photos so will post some soon.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

build 1

I have yet to try out my alaia, but have recently finished the relatively simple construction process. Supposedly the oldest and purest form of surfing, I decided to keep the overall design as pure as possible but use modern technology (CNC) to carve out the shape and get a perfect double concave throughout. I probably wont be able to notice the difference the perfect concave makes as I've never surfed this style of board before but the combination and balance of this old style and new technology seems to work really well as a process. I thought it might almost be sacrilegious to CNC cut an alaia instead of hand shaping it, but during and after the process I've been inspired by other possibilities the CNC could add to and enhance the construction of these old boards. I can see how purists would say the hand shaping is an equally important part of the process as surfing the end product, as this apparently adds a deeper connection to your board. However i would estimate that only a small percentage of surfers end up shaping their own boards, and most would buy them from the local shaper... who in this case might have more of a personal connection with the product he is selling, but is essentially acting just the same as a CNC would to produce custom products for a market. So wouldn't it make sense to add even greater precision and the option of customization to a product which is going to be sold to someone you may not even know.
There is something quite nice about hand crafting objects for someone you do know well, maybe it's just the romantic notion of pouring your own time and sweat into crafting something which somehow adds even greater value for the person receiving it. But I think this can only apply if there is already a relationship between producer and consumer, as the product is not built for display but to function and perform in the surf as a surfboard. Not to totally discount the fact that surfboards are beautiful objects in themselves, as these days a large part of the customization involves the artwork on the board, i.e. the spray job, stencil or resin tint unique to the board. This involves the consumer in the production process or can collaborate with practicing artists to add value and create one-off or limited run productions which some board manufacturers already do.
So this combination of precise technology and unique design creates the same feeling of personalised craft whilst increasing performance... I'd go as far to say it's better than growing your own tree then chipping out your own board with a stone adze.

Seeing the trailer for Thomas Campbells new film 'The Present' and hearing a bit about it, it sounds like it may be a better portrayal of surfing than what I constantly see in most movies and magazines. What you see and read around surf-culture is mainly based around competitive surfing where as a massive percentage of surfers don't compete and their surfing lifestyle doesn't look anything like what is portrayed. This all adds to surfers wanting labeled boards which they see pros riding and stops them experimenting with different equipment and surfing styles to discover what they enjoy for themselves, instead being channeled into a 'correct' way to surf with big hacks and aggressive turns which score points in competitions not local beach breaks.
I think the alaia could be a great escape from competitive surf culture while still being a tough skill to master and providing a great material to work with... wood (no foam, no resin, no fiberglass) , unlike the recent stand up paddle boarders (SUPs) who carve a path of destruction at breaks when they fall off and their boat is left to plough through unsuspecting surfers and swimmers, don't get me started.
Something to watch again... I've just posted a little vid of my making process for the alaia, hoping to add a surfing section soon, it's a great way to record and reflect on the overall process.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

the slide

Tom talking about his alaia's and how they surf.

Thursday, June 3, 2010


I managed to escape to raglan for the weekend and surprisingly surfed an uncrowded and very lully 2ft indicators on Sunday morning under clear skies and warm sunshine. Not such a common event, but it was small enough to keep the crowds away and provide the odd fun little wave... a much needed escape after completing my methodology essay.

Speaking with some older friends who have surfed most of their lives, I was interested to hear that when shortboards became popular, they described it as a week in the early 70's when everyone went home and chopped their longboards in half, and began surfing with more 'carving and radical turns'. This highlighted to me that maybe shortboarding could also change in a instant from being the popular 'style' of surfing, to something completely different which changes board design and the way I surf... my surf style. It seems surf styles are so varied now, between stand up paddle boarders (SUPs), longboarding, shortboards, bodyboards and a few kneeboards. The increase in longboarding in NZ has been massive, from 10 years ago when there weren't many to be seen and everyone was crazy about shortboards, to nowadays when people are more willing to admit that breaks like Raglan actually work really well for longboarders. So with the combination of preferred surf styles and wave types around the country/world, it is very hard to pin down a generic shape for a surfboard that suits everyone and everywave. Seeing as I'm not as concerned with shape as i am with finding a material that lends itself to creating great surfboards, then high performance shortboards are a good shape to design for, as they require the lightest strongest materials. Then again if everyone suddenly decided that Alaia's (which are growing in popularity)were the new cool then the sustainability question could be answered quickly and change surf style for the better, using a historically proven method of surfboard construction. But is this just taking the easy road by dismissing where surfing has progressed to by returning to old traditions? Surely there's a way to keep what we have and add to an already historically rich experience that is surfing by finding readily available materials and processes which help iron out the unsustainable areas of surfboard construction.

I question what has most influence on surf culture, weather it's the surf industry, or surf professionals... for example what would happen if Kelly Slater won his tenth world title on an alaia??
Will alaia's be the next craze?

Check out Tom Wegeners thoughts.