With the days getting longer and the lush green singing off the hillsides, thoughts of summer days with the family down at fourth beach begin to stir. Never mind the past two days of 45-knot winds, cold air and the dump zone that the beach has become, summer is out there waiting for us all. Of course, when summer comes there won’t be much surfing in the immediate surroundings, but there hasn’t been much surfing in the past six weeks or so anyway—the storm track bringing much needed and appreciated rains, but hardly any waves to speak of.
Those of us registered for the Rincon Classic watch the forecasts closely, starting each week thinking maybe this weekend, only to realize by mid-week that the comp won’t be on yet again. Of course, the surfer with the pressure on his shoulders is Rincon Classic Director Chris Keet of Surf Happens. But in his 19 years running the show, he has never not found the best weekend of the year on which to run the iconic event, even last year with the community still reeling from our rocked world of fire and debris flow. While the surf wasn’t all time (as it usually is), Keet used the contest as an opportunity to bring the whole Rincon crew together in healing and gratitude. The event is dedicated to the memory of Chris Brown this year. It’s still hard to understand that he is gone. All the area surfers and the fishing fleet out of Santa Barbara feel his absence. Peace be with you, Brownie.
So, it’s been an interesting few weeks in the shaping bay. A parent from one of the middle schools got in touch to ask if I could help her son make a surfboard for his class project. We sat down together to discuss the timeline, then set off on the journey that is shaping a surfboard. The first stop, naturally, was Fiberglass Hawaii in Ventura, which, aside from carrying premium surfboard-building supplies, has the best staff imaginable—the only problem being that I get to talking story with either Cliff, Lester or Wade and I might as well belly-up to the bar I’m down there so long jawing. There are worse “problems” to have. I realize that these are the blessings of life: doing business with a well-run company that offers reliable service, and a knowledgeable, friendly staff. It’s not a little thing. To me and the other board builders around, it’s a very big thing indeed. So, my young charge and I picked up his blank and drove back up to Carpinteria on one of those mornings after a rain when the very air seems scrubbed clean. One could see the details of cliff faces out on Santa Cruz Island and the cove anchorages of Scorpion and Chinese. The hills must be bursting in green out there, and I hope Chuck Graham has a report for us all soon.
Of course, I suggested that the young fellow I was working with should consider a Twin Fin for the board we would make. He saw the logic of having a short, maneuverable surf craft and I gave him reading assignments to ground his upcoming work with some historic reference. He was to first read about Duke Kahanamoku, as it’s important to keep a touch of Hawaii in one’s surfing life—some aloha. I told him to find out about Bob Simmons and the planning hulls he designed from 1947 to ’52, since through various twists and turns Simmons’ concepts surface in the high-performance Twin. And, since we’re talking Twin Fins, I had him read up on Mark Richards, the four-time World Champion in the late 70s/early 80s who invented the modern Twin. Once back in the bay, we laid the outline down and studied it from 10 paces out, and even my young student could see that in shrinking the board down to 5’4” the tail ended-up being too wide. So, we re-templated the board, finding the correct proportions the second time around. And this is the joy of hand shaping, cultivating one’s eye for symmetry and balance.
Over the course of five sessions, I brought the thickness down in the blank and explained to my student how each step worked into the next. If we were to pursue a true apprenticeship instead of a one-off project, I would have him begin to work with the planer, but I chose to have him use the hand planes and Sureform instead, giving him the opportunity to feel the nature of the blank and the cut of tools but avoiding the potential for damage from power equipment. In the end, with a hand in most of the steps, my student helped craft his board, and he came up with a color scheme to make it more fully his own.
The next board I did was for a friend in the area who is in his late 20s and surfs with joy and precision. I’d made him a “mini-Simmons” keel fin board some time ago and he really enjoyed it, so we circled back to the concept. He’s riding finless quite a bit these days, letting his surfboard drift across the face of the wave, sliding through 360-degree loops. We decided that the board might better meet his requirements if the toe-side rail ran a bit longer than the heel-side, so I cut a scythe-like shape in the tail, rounder on one side and more-square on the other. Four grooves (called “channels”) run through the tail block and two stabilizer fins will be optional additions. Also, the board needed to be quite thin, so he can really sink the rails and utilize them for control and propulsion in the absence of traditional fins. Again, this process demonstrates the utility of locally-based, custom-ordered, hand-shaped surfboards. Now we just need some surf!