Shapers that can't use a planer, does it matter really.

Recently on Surfline there was a piece on shapers from the UK. I know at least two of them, (naming no names), could’nt produce a board without a shaping machine. Is there a trend now for this? I’ve found shaping software unsatisfactory for design but maybe I just need to put a lot more time into it and I can’t be arsed. For me having an idea and then working on it and watching it develop full size before your eyes can’t be bettered. I’m set in my ways I suppose after 15 years of planer, pouring over computer images of surfboards software creates does’nt work for me. It seems to me the incremental development of design is suited to software but computer design would hamper you the more off the wall you went from a template. Still if a surfboard works it works whether shaped by machine, planer or cheesegrater, in fact I’ve seen some first class shapes done with surform and sand block, therefore a planer is not the be all and end all. So production methods don’t matter but are we heading into a design vaccum.

    I think so.      For a ‘‘ridge sander’’ to hold themselves out as a shaper, is not only a joke, but a bad one in the bargain!

Just like Sup’s stole the name “paddleboards” from those sleek beautiful arm paddling PADDLEBOARDS. Machine “shapers” are computer designers stealing the name “SHAPER” two different things whats in a name? And yes I have a cheesgrater hanging on the wall just waiting for…

To a lot of people, I’m sure it doesn’t matter.  Myself, I’m very skeptical of the new era of CNC shapers.  Not that the machine can’t make a satisfactory surfboard, it clearly can.  

But what I find disturbing is that the skills involved in taking a default shape found on a computer program and tweaking it are sooo minimal compared to the hard yards of wrestling a board from a chunk of foam.  Semi-skilled and even unskilled people can now call themselves a “shaper”, without paying their dues.  (note: I’m not talking about long time shapers who have added computer design skills to their repertoire!)  Respect for hard earned craftsmanship skills is diminishing, and ulitimately disappearing.

When those with nothing more than the advertising hype to promote themselves rise to the “top” of this celebrity culture, where the appearance of success trumps actual accomplishment, then charlatans and poseurs will rule the day, and inevitably the craft and the sport will suffer, IMO.  

I like to think that a strong “underground” (pro) and backyarder (hobbyist) contingency acts as a natural resistance to the soulless corporate / computerized takeover of the surfboard building world.  


in my first few years in Hawaii, before I got my hands on a Skil Planer, I was a Surform, cheese grater (really), block plane, sanding blocks. In '63 I got the use of a stolen Skil until the thief got a buyer for it, then back to lesser tools. In the spring of '65 Bill Wise had a Skil at the Eastern Surfer in OC, Md., I “shaped” up what blanks they had, later that summer I would wind up on LI, NY at Micris surfboards, my first real factory to work at, Lou had a Skil, but I still did much with the Surform. The next spring after bidding Lou a farewell I wound up at Bob Ribles in Belmar, NJ, he had all the tools, but I still relied heavily on the Surform, but by late summer I had been recruited by Carl “Tinker” West at Challenger Eastern. One of the first things he said to me was, “don’t bring any Goddamn Surforms in my shop”. This was the turning point, I was instructed, taught, shown how to use a Skil like it was a surgical tool, take off a thousandth of an inch, take off an 1/8". My lines improved over night, bumps vanished, I learned how to see twists and how to remove them, skin decks, skin and thin bottoms, rocker nose and tails, drop on rails bands, fair them out to where there was only a 1/2" remenant of the original plan shape.

You might think a surform shape looks pretty good, but run a planer over it on zero cut and you’ll see an entire different tale, 50,000 shapes later and the planer is my go to tool. A contributor years ago posted that shaping isn’t rocket science and anyone can learn how to do it. Then why is there such a turn over in fledgling board builders and the many old timers that bow out. Hand shaping requires the ability to use tools well, be able to “see” the shape before you touch the blank, too many “shapers” run out of foam before the board gets completed. It also bleeds ones cash flow to death before a decent board comes off the shaping rack, the planer speeds up the time frame of completing a shape, keeps it truer. Big names need scrubbers to keep up the numbers and consistancy, there was a nice piece by Harold Iggy, Weber had 8 shapers and each one did his version of the models, Harold set into motion the way to have each model look the same, they were profile machined and he did the rails on each one with the line shapers finishing up.

The day I need to start Surforming is the day I’m done

My first “shape” had no clue what to do robbed grandmas kitchen of a cheese grater and had at it. Years later Greg Noll was in my shaping room and was going to give me some tips…“Cheese grater cheese grater where is the G.D. cheese grater” I did not have one so he found a block of wood I had glued some 14 grit or something ridiculous on for something I had forgotten about. He proceeded to bash the s%^t out of the blank. “Make em like this” he said…It actually came out pretty good I guess he scared it into shape. I have had a cheese grater on the wall in case he returns again.

As a hobbyist I continue to hack away by hand with the tools that I have but I see and understand what is happening in the world of commercial manufacturing of anything (including surfboards.)  There may always be a place for the few artisan shapers out there but I believe that even they will eventually see how easy it is for a computer to replicate and/or tweak existing designs at an accuracy that few if any hand shapers can equal.

For the dialed-in pro-level competition surfer of today, a hand shaped product might even be viewed as a liability.  I’ve certainly heard kids refer to hand shapes (with a sneer) as inferior.

The times are changing… better start swimming.

If you produce boards via a planer you are a shaper. If most of the work that bears your name comes off a CNC machine, you are a designer.

I believe a lobotomized circus monkey can sand out the grooves on a CNC’d surfboard blank. Computers have made hack craftsmen look like hero’s. I shape and design all my surfboards in my shaping room. By hand. Not a little computer screen. On a 1st quality blank, my vast collection of outline, rocker, and rail templates, my Skil-100 planer & my own two hands. No computer-aided anything!

Shaping machines have been around for 30 years.

All major advancements in surfboard design have been made by handshapers. Not machines.

My only surfboard file.


To me shaping is all about a creative release, a way to keep my hands busy. To me there is no point in shaping if you do so with a cnc. I work on a computer enough for my day job, last thing i want to do is to be plugging points into CAD software to create a board. I always joke around with my buddies about this, now of days a person with a good CNC machine can pump out boards all day long. The only part they have to get right is glassing, so now it seems that glassers are more in demand that shapers. Behind every great brand is a great glasser & this is so true now of days with the “new internet” shapers out there.  For me doing everything start to finish is the only way i could ever see building boards. 


I guess I can tell the truth now!

My first real blank, the hard skin was just too much.

Robbed Mom’s cheesegrader!

Later, being a real “Valley Cowboy” the 

“Farriers file” shaped many prior to having funds for the real McCoy.

Being surgical with a planer takes awhile.

Being old has advantages (my collection)…

Death before CNC!

Long live “Hand Shaping”!

I agree with all of you, although however a board is made if it works good ,it works good you can’t take that away from it. But as far as I can see innovation is not going to come from the software crowd alone. At the moment most surfboard companies are rooted in hand shaping even if they now mostly use machines, but the old school brought up production shaping are going to die out. We are going to be left with people churning out boards who in a lot of ways don’t really know what they are doing, apart from copying and tweeking what the old school have bequeathed them. The unnamed “shapers” I flagged up on Surfline run pretty big concerns and it’s a travesty that can’t be bothered to learn the hands on basics, because if they did surfboard production would be heading to a much better place. 

not neccessarily.   The first machine shaped board I ever saw was an 8’0 RP from Brewer in the Bob Wise surf shop in SF 1996.  Brewer stated he spent 14 hours shaping the master blank to be as perfect as possible.  A few months later while on an extended trip to West Oz,  ran into a fellow OB surfer who had bought the board, claimed it as the best semi he ever rode.

Eric Arakawa, Steve Colletta, lot of really fine custom shapers with decades of hand shaping experience behind them turned to computer shaping for similar reasons: keep up with demand, ensure precise model replication, and most importantly for many of those who have been at it for decades, to reduce the wear and tear on hands and arms that now have carpal and tendonitis issues.

Way different then the current crop of ‘potato peelers’ who wouldn’t exist without the machines, and who probably spend more time worrying about their trendy logo’s than honing their skills.

So it’s really not about the machine, it’s about the experience and knowledge behind the design input.  For folks like Eric and Steve, decades of knowledge translated into precise and highly functional surf craft.  Steve calls his machine the most precise planer he has ever used.

For the potato peelers, more of a case of GIGO - garbage in, garbage out…


I 've got a different take on this whole computer vs hand-shape thing. The way I see it is it’s the final product - the board  - that counts. I couldn’t care less what tools were used to shape it as long as it works well - very well.  the computer is just another ‘new’ tool, just as the power plane was at one time. In the end it’s a human brain that uses these  tools to make the board. I realize that there can be real pleasure in crafting a board by hand - real personal satisfaction - and if that’s your direction - go for it - no problem, but to be knocking others for learning and using the latest tools is really narrow minded. Imagine if the ‘standard’ was shape it by sureform only, otherwise you’re not a ‘real’ craftsman, how many would pass the test - and would the board be ‘state of the art’ ? If you’re doing this for a living and not using the computer - you’re gonna get passed by and wear yourself out in the process. All the above is my opinion and I reserve the right to change it at any time ! Have a good day !





I’m surprised there isn’t computer controlled sanding, to maintain a designated shape. Lots of variables still left in the process between the shaper and the finished board. 

The question is does it matter ?

The success of so many today tells you no .




A while back speaking with Greg Loehr on production sanding machines…pretty tall order.

To expect a hand-finished cnc blank to be hand-laminated accurately enough for a cnc sander to hit exactly the right spots without removing essential fibre lamination…yep, tall order.


“To expect a hand-finished cnc blank to be hand-laminated accurately enough for a cnc sander to hit exactly the right spots without removing essential fibre lamination…yep, tall order.”

It’s a pretty tall order to expect a guy with a power sander to hit exactly the right spots without removing essential fibre lamination!  A look in any factory often shows sanded boards with lots of exposed weave awaiting some sort of finish coat.  Heck - plenty of new boards get ‘touch-ups’ (ding repairs) on glass jobs that have been sanded clear through.

A real factory tour would be a wake-up call for a lot of people.

Our Fathers

Shaped with lava rocks.

It is the spirt within the tree or blank

machines have no Soul.

Ah, a few exceptions for great shaper/operators.

Oh and the screw ups are always, “the blank was warped”

i think you could make an automated sanding machine using passive methods - control the head with desired pressure and/or use conformable heads (inflatible sanding drum, multiple heads spaced to fit the curve, etc). would probably only be able to do subtle concaves and would probably still need some hand finishing (same as current cnc ‘shaping’).

a cnc sander could work to do any contour if the cnc ‘shaping’ was done at a tolerance so that hand finishing is not required (this can be done but would take a long time). again a pressure sensitive head would be helpful.

while we are at it, we can make an automated glassing line…

or KISS and have fun with it garage style!!!