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.

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