Cardboard Chaos

Doc Lausch and Signal Surfboards cut a cardboard surfboard

If you thought the “Ride Anything” movement that defined the last decade had run its course, think again. Recently, Southern California-based shaper Doc Lausch and a team from Signal Snowboards created a functional shortboard composed almost entirely of cardboard. While the idea of riding a paper board may sound absurd, through a mountain of trail and error and a whole lot of patience, the end result was a board that actually worked.

So why make a board out of paper? "Because we love to create new things," said Signal Snowboards' Dave Lee. "We have a project called Every Third Thursday at our company where we get together and create something new. We get weird and try off-the-wall things until we get it right. The majority of what we come up with has been centered around snowboards, but we wanted to try our hand at surfboards. So that's where this idea came from."

While this wasn't the first time Signal ventured off the mountain and into the lineup, this project proved to be the most difficult. "We actually created a surfboard that doubled as a snowboard a while back, but this project was a lot harder," added Lee. Surprisingly enough, this wasn't even the first time anyone's created a board made up cardboard. In 2010, a backyard shaper named Mike Sheldrake—using a rib and cardboard skeleton system—crafted a cardboard longboard and has been selling them, along with the kits to make them, to a niche audience ever since.

However, the team behind this particular project was looking to take it one step further and cut a user-friendly shortboard by actually shaping the cardboard itself. When it came to designing the blank and strengthening the paper, the crew from Signal worked with Ernest Packaging, who supplied the cardboard and was able to utilize a honeycomb paper weave coupled with a water-resistant seal to both strengthen and shield the blank. And while it was no easy task in its own right, the difficulties of formulating a blank made of cardboard paled in comparison to actually shaping it. That's where Surf Prescription’s master shaper Doc Lausch came in.

"This was hands down one of the hardest projects I've ever worked on," said Lausch. "I've been shaping for four decades and have worked with the guys at Signal on a few other projects, but nothing compared to this."

According to Lausch, it took a total of three months and eight different prototypes to arrive at the finished product. "I've got about a half-dozen cardboard carcasses in my shaping room," said Lausch with a laugh. "But we finally got it to work. This was a project that really challenged me on a number of levels, both from a creative and artistic standpoint and from a mathematical and engineering standpoint. To make one of these things work, you have to be able to pull from both schools of thought and be ready to make a lot of mistakes."

The biggest hurdle—and according to Lausch there were dozens—was creating the rocker and shaping the rails. To give the board a bit of rocker, the team inserted a cardboard stringer. To cut the rails, Lausch devised a system where he hot-glued layer upon layer of cardboard strips to the rail, which he was able to shave down and later shape. And as if that wasn’t enough, they even conscripted Futures to build out a set of paper fins.

All this aside, it naturally boils down to whether it would actually work. Knowing that it was a beta version, a slight degree of anxiety hung in the air when it came time to test it. But once they got it in the lineup, it was clear their R and D had paid off. It wasn’t perfect, but it worked. "It paddled really well, caught waves really well, and you could actually surf it," said CJ Kanuha, the test pilot. "I'm pretty amazed at how cardboard actually surfs."

When asked if he thought there was a future for the cardboard surfboard, Lausch was honest about their potential. "I'm not gonna stop making boards out of foam, but if someone came to me and asked me to take another stab at it, I think we could improve on the design and board really quickly. I would even venture to say that if we spent some tweaking it, we could actually make a solid high-performance shortboard out of paper. It would take some work to get it right, but it's definitely possible."

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Doc Lausch showcases his cardboard sled. Photo: Glaser
It floats! Photo: Glaser
And it floats! Photo: Glaser