“Daddy, where do surfboards come from?”

Silly question, right? Not really. Ask a guy who built his board, and most surfers will proudly point to the big name on the stringer as its divine creator. But the truth is these babies have more pops than a bowl of Rice Krispies, each of whom is an expert craftsman, relying on timing and organization — not mention miles of masking tape, 20 sheets of sandpaper and two ketchup bottles — to make sure the final product is work of art. “Everybody has to be cohesive,” says factory owner Chris Kaysen. “One mistake in the process and you ruin the whole board.” For the making of our 40th Anniversary “Surfboards” cover, we decided to build the ultimate riding machine, documenting each incredible step to illustrate everything that goes into making our favorite little miracles.

Everybody wants a pretty baby. It’s this fact that spawned board art from ’60s resin tints to ’90s pen drawings. Tom Sutherland started airbrushing boards with Hobie in 1972, decorating up to 20 a day for a total of more than {{{100}}},000 pieces of rideable art. “It’s an important job,” notes the Lost and Dewey Weber workhorse. “You get to make every board look better – or worse.”

Tom’s rack is filled with orders ranging from custom flame jobs to a dozen point-of-purchase promotions for Heineken. Normally, he’d work on them all simultaneously, moving from color to color instead of board to board. Today, he does ours start to finish, spending a solid ten minutes just prepping the blank — meticulously cleaning it, covering the stringer, and taping off the rails with paper. Carefully pre-mixing a variety of paints, he’ll gradually freehand two coats of the exact sunburst from a computer printout of our design, building concentric circles of white, yellow and red before filling in light blue from nose to tail. The next trick is to spray darker blue in between worn, Technicolor strands of fin rope to create a radiating effect along the rails before finishing with a still richer fade around the edges. “The fade is key” he beams inspecting his work. “It’s like putting the frame on the picture.”

Pumping out up to 2000 boards a year, 36-year-old Greg Webster’s world is a fume-filled lab of wall-to-wall boards between six and 12 feet. Each one’s waiting to be swaddled in fiberglass then soaked in a few pounds of resin and, if they're lucky, a few ounces of color. To contrast the airbrush, we decide on a “cut lap” — a technique that brightens the bottom and rails, but leaves the deck clear — settling on a swirling, two-tone “acid wash” with an opaque background with blue tinted stripes.

Normally, a clear shortboard would get four-ounce glass to make it lighter, but six-ounce holds the color better. Swiping a sheet of the heavier cloth off a giant roller, he lays it over the bottom and cuts around the circumference with big shears, then grabs two cups of resin, mixing white opaque into one and blue tint into the other. The “acid wash” gets it’s name from 70s psychedelia and the process can be equally trippy. With rubber gloves taped to his elbow, Webster pours the blue in a ketchup bottle with some catalyst and squirts lines around the bottom like hash marks on a clock before adding catalyst to the white. Pouring the white in the center, he squeegees the resin from out from the center nose to tail, leaving lighter blue trails in its wake. He then folds the lap on to the rails, even dipping his hands in the white and saturating all sides. Two hours later, it’s time to do the top. Although the resin — and process — is much clearer, it takes a good ten minutes just to decide where to place the the SURFING and photo laminates before grinding the hardened folds of glass off the nose and tail. He then cuts two sheets of four ounce and spreads them on top, carefully placing the laminates in between.

After dumping a dollop of clear resin on top, he checks the lams one last time before squeegeeing them place and saturating the rest of the board. In three hours or so, the board has a one-of-a-kind outer shell all for {{{90}}} minutes of glass work. “A clear board takes half that time,” he yells past his ventilator mask, “but they’re half as fun, too.” Matt Walker