[This piece originally appeared in SURFER magazine Volume 59, Issue 8. Click here to subscribe.]
I shaped a board once. Just once. I did it a few years ago, and, up until recently, I thought that was more than enough for this lifetime.
It's not that there was anything wrong with the board—a wide, thick, almost-rockerless, chop-tailed 5’5″ quad that had plenty of giddyup in gutless knee-to-chest high surf, and could turn on a dime because, well, there really wasn't much board to turn. It was just that I knew someone else—say, a 50-year veteran shaper like my dad, Robin Prodanovich, who makes all my boards—could make me a much, much better version, and they could probably do it blindfolded with plastic cutlery.
Sure, I could try to put in the 10,000 hours to master mowing foam, but that's a lot of time to spend in a hot, dusty room with unwieldy power tools that, if I'm being honest, kind of freak me out (planers just don't feel right in these keyboard-softened hands). I have always had the utmost admiration for our culture's craftspeople: the men and women who can see a surfboard in their mind's eye and then actually bring that board—with planer kicking and screaming— into the physical world. But I just never felt particularly crafty. Why even waste a blank trying?
All that changed in early November of 2018 when we decided to rally some of our favorite surfer-shapers to build boards and chase waves together in Northern California for a magazine feature and short film, titled "Handmade." The idea sounded simple, but turned out to be an enormous pain in the ass (not unlike shaping a surfboard, come to think of it).
We found a house with a barn that we'd use for shaping boards, then we'd take them to a local glass shop and hopefully we'd be riding the fresh sticks before the end of the trip (anyone with real shaping experience already knows where this is going). The problem, of course, is that shaping decent boards requires a workshop, so my dad and I spent days putting together what would become our mobile shaping bay. There was a lot of measuring, cutting, sanding, drilling, screwing, painting and pouring of concrete. There were power tools.
With a combination of hard work and a lot of luck (the barn stall ended up being barely big enough to shape a board in), we ended up with a useable shaping bay. And in that shaping bay, I watched Ryan Burch, Tyler Warren, Jared Mell, Derrick Disney, Andrew Doheny and Zack Flores build boards and talk design with contagious enthusiasm, and I started to look at shaping in a different light.
WATCH “HANDMADE” BELOW:
You see, you can ride great surfboards off the rack, or order customs from the most skilled shapers in the world, and your surfing will progress and you'll learn through surfing what designs work in which conditions and maybe even glean some insight into why. But surfing is an act of self-expression, first and foremost, and if you want to surf as you as possible, eventually you're going to feel the planer's gravitational pull. Your self-made boards might not technically be "better" than a custom, and shaping your own boards may not even necessarily make you a better surfer. But creating what you ride to indulge the type of surfing you prefer seems like the ultimate peak you can summit in surfing.
This issue is all about surfboards and what they say about us. Besides our Northern California shaping retreat, you'll find images of a group of surfers committed to the highest-tech, highest-performance approach to surfing, which they put on colorful display in the equally-tech venue of the Waco, Texas wave pool. You'll also find a twin-fin retrospective, in which features editor Justin Housman and twin-fin aficionado Richard Kenvin examine the incredible and enduring magnetism of two-finned designs.
We often take our surfboards, and the immense thought that goes into them, for granted. But we certainly shouldn't. Surfboards are the fun-generating engine that propels this whole culture forward, whether we recognize them as such or not. So let's geek out a bit. Let's get technical. Let's dive headfirst into a design rabbit hole and see what we find down there in all the foam dust.
I've got a fresh blank in my garage, just waiting for me to finish this issue, and then I'll hack, plane and sand (clumsily, of course) until it somewhat resembles a surfboard. I'm still not sure what it's going to be, exactly, but I'm sure it's going to be me.