Build your own: a retro fad?

Lots of people seem to be interested in shaping their own boards these days.

Do you think this is a retro fad, a legitimate progressive movement, a backlash to increasing non-custom production, or…?

I don’t know maybe the variety of boards ridden is increasing? Lots of “new” designs are out especially for smaller waves?

Maybe some people get inspired by movies like “Shelter”?

Maybe that the tools needed have gotten so much cheaper (Chinese made)?

I don’t know about tool prices in the US but here in Sweden the prices have dropped on tools i bought a really nice 2hp compressor the other day for 90usd!


For me, my interest is wanting to try as many different designs differences that I can, and since boards are so expensive, the only way I can see a way for me to experiment, and not loose 400-500 a board, is to do it myself. But I know I won’t be able to match designs with the shapers that have refined theirs over years and years, but atleast think I’ll be able to play around a little more than if ordering customs every 8 months.

Plus it feels like it is a natural progression for me. I’ve been surfing since 9, and now that I am approaching 30 it feels like its the next step in the evolution of being a surfer. Not so concerned with being a standout surfer as when I was younger and want to have fun with it now and experiment.

there is more information available now so anyone who has the itch to do it can find out how (sort of a progressive movement). The internet has made a big difference. Also people are riding old single fins and wide thick fishes again and love the glide and they are accepted and desirable to have, especially when people like Joel Tudor are in the limelight (that is the ‘fad’ part). Those kind of boards are easy to make and a shaping screw up does not affect the ride as much as a low volume performance board, so someone can shape their first board and because of the volume, it is fun to ride despite the shaping flaws. So the information is readily available and it is accepted (in some circles) to have a board that is different from mainstream perfomance surfboards. Its cool. I grew up surfing with my dad who shaped since he was a kid and making your surfboard was just part of surfing. It just adds more stoke. So more people are just going for stoke than trying to be the next surfing pro athelete. Its a progressive movement in fun haha. some people think it will end up being a progressive movement in design and ‘perfomance’…who knows?

I dont think it is a backlash to non-custom production because there are more different types of boards to buy off the rack now than ever before, and there is no shortage of people out there shaping custom boards.

the retro trend has people watching old surf movies, and in a lot of those you see guys foiling their own fins, pouring their own blanks, sawing balsa, making their own boards…that gets people to thinking.

With Swaylocks and the internet its easier to read up on the how-to, and buy supplies that previously you couldn’t find.

Longboards cost $700, and shortboards nearly that much - then they snap in two.

Surfing is popular again in the mass media (WAY too popular).

I for one think the “make it yourself” trend is a good thing. It leads to a little respect for your elders, at least for some people, who figure out that maybe the old guys aren’t as useless as they thought (and, hey, maybe I shouldn’t snake them on every wave, or they won’t answer my questions anymore!) It’s also a self-suffiency thing, good lesson in life. DIY. It leads people to learn ding repair along the way sometimes, which takes them in the opposite direction from the “throw-away-society”. It keeps the underground alive… Long Live the Underground!

sick of my local surf shop

dig tudor

reading and re-reading old mags from the 60’s and 70’s…some of you who post here are in those pages

always liked to ride different boards (been surfing 22 years, now 33 years old)

evolution and morning of the earth (obviously not in theater, but direct from OZ before copies were easily available here in the States)


surfers journal

bruce brown films w/ shaping sequences

tak opening to longer

steve lis

manuel caro

want to get closer to something other than $$$

sick of poorly done customs from respected shaper

moonlight glassing photos on surfer forum

everyone rides 1 inch thrusters where I am from


So I’m going to shape my first board this summer and also a paipo…first wood, then maybe a foam belly board.

Thanks everyone.

It’s something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time. I’m 33 now and have been surfing for 20 years…Now is the first time that I’ve had the “extra” funds, and an actual place to do it (big side yard covered with sand)…For me, it’s basically a “now or never” type thing. Never know where I’ll be in a year or five…Oh, and of course this whole “World Wide Web” thing makes getting info and sharing knowledge 1,000,000,000 easier than it would’ve been 10 years ago. There’s absolutely NO way I would’ve attempted to shape and glass my own board without the direction and support of this board. Period.

Do you think there is a big increase in people shaping their own boards? I have always known/heard of people at least trying it once or twice - Minimally it should give a new level of respect for what goes into the making of a board, design factors, and factories withstanding. Many folks here mentioned the availability of information re. “how to,” and in the past that may have hindered some people. As for “progress,” I am not sure that making boards will necessarily educate one on the hydrodynamics that make surf craft work - infact one could study, and learn, without ever making a board. For many of us here in the “middle,” I am supposing, both learning theory/facts of performance, as well as craftsmanship, I think is progress, because we may be forming some (here is my ten cent word) synergy here, and the is progress.

There are hundreds of reasons why people want to make their own boards. Curiosity, creativity, ego, fad, money, etc.

The World Wide Wealth of information available now definitely makes it a lot easier. I had seen about two small black and white photos of boards being made before I made my first.

That’s when my personal exploration and experimentation with surfing and surfboards began, and I commend and encourage anyone who dares themself to the challenge, to a surfer, a very worthy challenge.

It’s not for everyone, but have fun anyway.

I agree completely with Keith M. – backyard shaping seems to be enjoying a resurgence for a number of reasons. First, as we are all aware, there is a retro thang goin’ on, and surfers caught up in the excitement of this exploratory trend see shaping as an integral part of the surf lifestyle. Look at who is at the forefront of the retro movement – it is not the 45 -55 year old surfer, who is already familiar with these older boards/designs (and who may have always been riding them). It is the young guys, 22- 35, who are exploring and enjoying these old shapes as alternatives to the skinny thrusters that they were weaned on. Also, there ARE a lot more surfers out there in the world these days, so naturally, more are going to be interested in the craft of surfboard building.

I am 33, and I haven’t shaped a board yet, though I would like to, because in doing so, I believe I would be paying homage to those who came before me, thereby connecting myself to the essence of what it is to be a surfer – one who is dedicated to all aspects of riding waves.

Have you hugged your shaper today?

Thanks to all who mow foam.

My first backyard board was in the midsixties.Back then there was no information out there on how to do it with the exception of some Kits you could buy out of the magazines,Even back then it seemed as if most surfers were fascinated with board building and wanted to do at least one.With all the info and acess to materials out there now it is lot easier to build a board.Swaylocks has had something to do with it for sure.I can remember when Jim Phillips and I would go to the old Surfboards Hawaii factory in Hawaii to sniff around and we were told to haul ass.It was a big secret back then.In my day you had to kiss ass and beg for a floor sweeping job(which you did for free) just to get in the door of a factory.I slept in factory boiler room for a whole summer just to learn shaping (thanks Jim).You young whippersnappers have it easy nowadays by golly.Jeeze I sound like my Grandpa…hell… I am Grandpa.

I couldnt say about other peoples reasons for getting into shaping, I really dont know. But for someone just starting out like me (im in the middle of #3 right now) here are (some) of my reasons. 

Soul. I dig soul. I was born with it and will be forever thankful. And surfing being one of (if not THE) most powerful sources of that, then what could be better than riding on my own creation, wrought with my own heart and sense of what a board should be.

Cost. Man, I am strapped for cash these days. Initially, with buying tools and all, it may not be cheaper, but having my own board is worth so much more than paying for something I really didnt have any part in, and if there is something about the board I am not satisfied with, then its a valuable learning experience. Not a bummer and a waste of money.

Knowledge and self sufficiency. Already since starting to learn about board design and shaping principals Ive gained a much more thorough understanding of surfing. And to me it seems the logical next step on my path with surfing, to be fully involved with all aspects of it. It kind of completes the cycle of the whole experience to me.

So for whatever that may be worth, those are the reasons I began shaping.

And man it wouldve been alot harder to get started and be where I am without everyone at swaylocks. many thanks

More than one has mentioned the cost of tools. I am not making boards for $$$, so I am not worried about speed, but you could make a board with some wood blocks and sandpaper - electricity not required. Oh, to be sure, it comes in handy, but please… Can someone convince me why, other than speed, one needs a power planer? Am I missing out on some step, other than rough shaping, that you guys do with it?


I’ve stated before, my first 50 were done without power, other than lights.

I bought my Skil around #25, but didn’t use it except for skinning until 50.

Nowadays, with close toleranance blanks, I don’t believe you NEED a planer, except for the small, 3" hand plane for the stringer.

And I sanded more than 80 without a power sander!

I don’t think you need a power planer, but then I’ve never mowed foam with one. I just finished making my first three boards (hopefully to be “resources” soon), and I didn’t use a power planer on any of them. Sure, it took me a long time to thin out the blanks, especially on the fish and the egg, but I knew that I couldn’t easily make an “oops” cut with my lil’ol’ surform.

I did use a 1/3 sheet $20 orbital sander from a pawnshop to take down the hotcoat, but that was it for powertools.

The reason I shaped my own, after only surfing for less than two years, is simple greed… I wanted a gorgeous custom board with acid-splash tint job and flowing pinlines. I started looking into having one made, and quickly figured out that I could buy the supplies to make THREE boards for what I would pay for having one of those pretty custom sticks made up. So, I did.

I spent countless hours surfing swaylocks and the design forum on, looked all over god’s green earth for supplies, researched some more, made a plan, researched some more, ordered my supplies, then started cutting templates, consulting swaylocks before, during and after EVERY step in the process. I took it very slowly because I wanted to do as close to a perfect job as a beginner possibly could. I didn’t know if I’d be shaping any more boards anytime soon (I’ve got the quiver I wanted now, and I’m sure as hell not going to shape any for anyone else!), so why waste time on “beginner’s errors”? It took me about two months from start to (almost) finish, but thanks to swaylocks, they turned out better than I ever dreamed they would.

A testimonial to swaylocks: I have never watched someone else shape, glass, or sand a board, although I did buy shaping 101. All my glassing info came from this website right here.

In the end, the process of constructing these (in my eyes) gorgeous works of art was infinitely more satisfying than ordering a custom could ever be. Sure, they have imperfections that wouldn’t have happened in a production facility, dog hairs in the glass, a little bleed on a cutlap, pinholes, etc… But I made them with my own two hands, and for that reason they are more valuable to me than any Al Merrick, Robert August, or even a moonlight-glassed GH could ever be.

Look for “Mostly Harmless” surfboards numbers 0001, 0002, and 0003 to be posted to the resources in the next couple of weeks.

I started shaping just to try it out about 8 years ago. My friend told me that i had a talent for it and i shaped a few more then stopped when i moved back to hawaii. I started shaping again when i had a very large back yard and a garage to set up shop along with a need to play around with the designs i see in my own mind and not an interpretaion of what i told someone else.

I started shaping when I wanted a new board and could not afford the high prices. Then I finished board #1 and realized that I couldn’t ride it because I had to keep it as a memento (although I did ride it a few times ). So I shaped #2 for my personal use. My buddies quickly got interested in it and wanted to test ride #2. They liked it and wanted me to make boards for them. And thats the end of that chapter…

I definitley think many are taking the leap to shape because of all the information that is provided on the internet now. Theres nothing to be afraid of since there are so many people to offer advice.

Good question. I haven’t seen as many people making their own boards, or making a few for themselves and friends, since the late '60s/early '70s when any old longboard was thought of as a usable blank with an inconvenient layer of glass on it.

Plus, now you can actually get the stuff to make a board someplace other than Southern California and get it at a reasonable price.

Retro… I hope not. I was there then, and it wasn’t that great. Lots of Really Bad Boards got made out of those inconvenient long blanks.

Progressive… I hope so. Likewise a backlash to increasing schlock and non-custom, non-progressive junk from popout makers and those production makers that cater to the ‘surfer’ who owns a SUV or more than one.

I’m in the surf biz, running a surf shop, and I haven’t seen a whole lot of new and interesting coming out over the last ten-fifteen years. Same guano, different year. Same thruster or retro log or ‘performance longboard’, all of 'em made weak and trashy, peddled to the masses with hype and contests and so on. No advances, static designs, Selling surfboards, besides being not too profitable, has become boring. Customer comes in and it’s a #3, a #5 or a #8. Thruster, log or three-fin log. Bohhhh-rrrring.

And how do they surf 'em? Either #3 slash slashslash with attempted and failed air if the overamped turns didn’t make 'em stall, a #5 log pose portfolio while going straight as an arrow 'cos logs can’t turn or ( my favorite) the #8 lightly built longboard on a head high day snap-in-the-closeout.

Dull. So dull that I almost wish neon wetsuits would make a comeback, just so there’d be something out there to comment on.

And the guys who want to surf a little different, do performance stuff that ain’t flashy non-functional contest moves…well, they have to start making their own, or have their pal Louie down the street make 'em one, 'cos the surf shops haven’t got anything but #3, #5 or #8. The Underground.

Want, say, a fish from somebody who not only understands the fish but maybe has taken it a bit further than Lis and Frye? Ya gotta go with the Underground. Want a quad or five fin critter that works and isn’t just a way to peddle more fins and delude yourself that you have some kind of versatility ? Underground it is. Want a board that’s meant to work at your home break instead of being set up for one or two breaks in LA county that the owner of Amalgamated Surfboards Inc. likes? Well, who ya gonna call?

The mainstream surfboard makers. The bigs. Looking back over 30+ years, trying to think of one, just one major innovation that originated with a big company and not some guy in a garage with a planer and a few blanks and resin on his shoes and dust on his nose… and I can’t think of even one. The bigs jump on it when it has developed a following, yeah, but not a moment before that. They are interested in cranking out product and precious little else, always have been. Innovations come from someplace else.

Long Live the Underground


INTERNET was the difference for me. A few years ago I simply wanted to make

a paper template and hand to my local shaper. Researching designs I came across

a web site with a X-step hand shaping process and to my surprise…no power planer needed! I was stunned. It seemed too easy. EVERY time you saw a photo of a shaper in the mags he was using a skill100. I felt bamboozeled.

Interesting enough, I’ve tried to get stoked surfer friends into it but they won’t.

I guess Im just a gear head.

The retro thing? I guess I’ve been leaning backwards as I’ve gotten older and needed a board with full rails and template to compensate for age and lack of ability. Not all the way back. God, I had some shitty boards in the seventies. Some good ones, too,from Minard and Holly. I was influenced by the media hype of the early seventies. I wanted to ride like Lopez. Only, I was surfin San Diego mush,not the Pipe. I still want to surf like him. Or, BK, Eddie and Hakman. Smooth and powerful. I shaped my first board after 30 years of surfing and wishing I could. I always respected guys that rode their own boards. And now I ride my own boards too and have never had more fun. I did’nt discover Swaylock’s until my 16 or 17th shape. Wish I had it before board #1. I’m not saving any money by making my own. I used to buy customs once a year or so at 400 to 600 bucks. Now I’m averaging one a month for 150 to 200. Do the math. Of course, some were for friends,some I sold for more materials cash, and some I gave to friend’s kids. I can’t wait to shape my next. Mike