Please join me in a moment of silence for my dearly departed Clark Foam-modified Hitachi surfboard power planer, which died on Thursday, Sept. 6, 2019, after 24 years of faithful service. The Hitachi came my way in 1995, when I went in on the purchase with two college buddies—pals from surfing in Santa Cruz. There was more surfing than college going on for us in those years, though eventually we all graduated from UCSC.
At the time, and in reaction to the wafer-thin boards of the day, I was shaping single fins in the six- to seven-foot range, looking to replicate the flow and glide I experienced on a special surfboard I’d come to possess in the Philippines—a 7’4” Brother’s Neilson from the Gold Coast of Australia, shaped in 1972, with a logo of waves and palm trees that looked suspiciously like sativa leaves—that I purchased from Kiwi ex-pat who owned a bamboo furniture company in Manila, and was a keen surfer.
Some of the boards I made worked better than others, naturally, but I stayed with it in the post college years—even shaping a 6’6” round pin single fin for a bike/surf trip to Ireland in 2001. A photo of the board ended up in the back pages of Surfing Magazine under the feet of my buddy Joe Curren, who I ended up participating with in a “surfing carnival” event in Scotland, masterminded by surfing mastermind, Derek Hynd.
All this to say, whereas my buddies shaped a few boards here and there, the Hitachi power planer was spending more and more time in my hands, until finally one night when we’d gotten together after some time (they’d gotten married, started families) both of them said, “just keep it at this point, you’re the one using it.” I’d offered to buy back their shares in the planer, but they were too generous and too supportive of me to accept money. The right thing to do of course, now that I’ve learned more in shaping, is to surprise them with a board a piece—a nearly 25-year investment finally offering its yield.
The learning curve (at least for me) has been long, if not terribly steep: just a continual practice of refinement and understanding that I am coming to realize I am only just beginning to grasp. The Hitachi has been an integral part of that process. As I became more familiar with the tool I found the hand placement that worked best, learning to drag a finger behind on the rail-band cuts like steering with a rudder on a boat.
Somewhere around 2006 or so, the front handle on the depth-adjustment snapped clean in half. I fashioned a new handle from a scrap of mahogany I had from my boat building project on “Cormorant,” and I laid-up a fairing-hood over the exhaust port with a couple of layers of fiberglass to direct the foam dust away from my face. I made the planer my own, and I loved it well—that forward handle worn smooth by use.
The margins are tight in a burgeoning surfboard business (as I suspect they are in a well-established one, too) so the prospect of spending $400 for a model that isn’t at all proportioned like my Clark Foam Hitachi, much less $1,200 for a deluxe Accurate planer (a beautiful, powerful machine), is a bit daunting. But I was talking to a friend of mine in Hawaii, Lyle Carlson, who shapes big wave guns (and anything else a surfer cares to ride), and he told me that he has a planer for me that he got while mentoring under the great Dick Brewer.
But not just any old planer, either. Lyle is giving me the extra Skil 100 that he has. He told me, “I can see you’re not going to quit shaping, and I want to pass the Excalibur to you.” And that’s exactly what the tool is—the masters’ sword, what shapers like Matt Moore and Al Merrick have used throughout their careers. The Skil 100 isn’t even made anymore, it’s a holdover from the great American age of manufacturing and engineering, a post-war tool for carpenters that surfers discovered for building the boards we require. I am supremely stoked. I am humbled and so grateful for my network of friends.
Christian Beamish is an editor at the Coastal View News. He is also a surfboard shaper, the former Associate Editor of The Surfer’s Journal and author of “The Voyage of the Cormorant” (Patagonia Books 2012) about navigating the Pacific coast of Baja California aboard his self-built, 18-foot beach boat by sail and oar. He lives in Carpinteria with his wife and two young children.