SHAPE SHIFTER the cus­tom shape ex­pe­ri­ence with Roger Hall

Your next Board and how to make sure it’s your best yet - A story about work­ing with your shaper and the path to un­der­stand­ing your equip­ment.

New Zealand Surfing - - Behind The Cover -

Ring Ring went the phone, on the other end was Jon ask­ing me if I could order him a Pink Den­sity blank as he wanted to get a new board un­der­way for sum­mer. Jon al­ways asked for Pink as it is the colour cod­ing that de­picts the light­est of the light in polyurethane surf­board blanks and he likes his boards light. Af­ter I told Jon that I had al­ready or­dered him a Pink blank (I had a hunch) the con­ver­sa­tion swung to ap­point­ment times, which day would suit to come out and talk about the de­sign of his new board. The next day! Jon ar­rived bright and early, I had al­ready pulled out all his pre­vi­ous board or­ders from his file and I was keen to see what di­rec­tion we would be tak­ing his cus­tom shapes this time. Jon asked if he could bring his last two boards in for us to re­fer to, this I en­cour­aged as what Jon would have to say about these too boards would be all im­por­tant to the de­sign de­ci­sions we would soon be mak­ing. At this stage I still had no real idea what Jon had on his mind. We dis­cussed the boards at length, Jon ar­tic­u­lat­ing the feel­ing of rid­ing the boards while I trans­lated via my shapers brain into ev­ery­day lan­guage which I would then voice openly to see if my trans­la­tion was cor­rect. We had a mu­tual un­der­stand­ing through this process as I would ex­plain the rea­sons be­hind Jon’s feed­back as it re­lated to the phys­i­cal form of the boards that lay be­fore us. I used the boards them­selves as well as my shap­ing notes so that we had two ways of un­der­stand­ing his boards. The first be­ing the visual con­nec­tion to the 3 di­men­sional shape which we could look at with our eyes and also feel and ex­plore with our hands, a straight edge and var­i­ous mea­sur­ing tools. On the other hand the shap­ing notes clar­i­fied, con­firmed and com­pared both boards us­ing an ex­ten­sive vo­cab­u­lary of writ­ten words and mea­sured num­bers. These de­tailed record sheets gave us in­for­ma­tion that we could not see from look­ing at the boards yet gave us fur­ther vi­su­al­i­sa­tion through our minds eye. With all this in­for­ma­tion I could en­able Jon to un­der­stand more about what he al­ready had and em­power him to open the di­a­logue of what he might be af­ter. By the time he did this we were both pretty much im­mersed in the hy­dro­dy­nam­ics of the par­tic­u­lar style of boards that Jon rides. It’s im­por­tant to note at this stage that 1) Jon is a very good surfer and 2) the types of boards that Jon rides are ex­clu­sive to him and I don’t make his style of board for any­body else. Jon’s an in­di­vid­ual and he had come for a cus­tomised and per­son­alised board shaped just for him. I asked Jon what he had in mind for the im­pend­ing new order, his re­ply was he had a cou­ple of ideas but wanted to know what I thought about them rather than say­ing that he wanted me to just go ahead and do it. His first idea was un­ex­pected and seem­ingly a de­par­ture from the safety of the last five shapes. John had al­ways had small rounded tails and while there were vari­a­tions from board to board they were in the end still small and rounded tails. Jon’s words hung in the air along with the faint smell of resin and a per­cent­age of surf­board dust. “What about a chopped square?” he had asked. I paused while I gath­ered my thoughts and partly also to pon­der on what may be the rea­son be­hind the change. While Jon stood await­ing my re­sponse, my thoughts swirled back in time over decades of shap­ing dif­fer­ent tail shapes. I was re­mem­ber­ing times of hav­ing been fairly set in my opinion of cer­tain shapes and also times of ex­po­sure to the thoughts and voic­ings of oth­ers as well as ran­dom lessons learnt from serendip­ity and rev­e­la­tions gifted up through the soles of my feet whilst rid­ing waves. I was think­ing about the the­o­ries and the re­al­i­ties of ex­pe­ri­enc­ing how tail shapes ac­tu­ally work, in real terms. I thought about the con­tra­dic­tions that ex­ist in de­sign and the rules that don’t al­ways ap­ply when un­fore­seen ex­cep­tions pop up. Jon re­mained silent, the ex­pres­sion on his face un­changed as I be­gan to speak. My ex­pla­na­tion of how a chop square per­forms came in the form of a lengthy his­tory les­son as I re­called a time when most of the boards we shaped were in fact chopped squares and how there had been a shift in power from Aussie dom­i­nance in com­pe­ti­tion to the Amer­i­can push with Tom Cur­ran lead­ing the charge. Pre­vi­ously de­sign had been well and truly based around the suc­cess of Aus­tralian surfers rid­ing boards shaped by Aus­tralian shapers. Once the Amer­i­cans got a foot hold in the win­ners cir­cle things started to change as did the shapes of the boards as the Aus­tralians and in­deed the world took no­tice of the evolv­ing Amer­i­can de­signs. I re­layed a con­ver­sa­tion that I once had with Aus­tralian de­signer Bob Mctav­ish 20 years or so ago about the very sub­ject of tail shape. Bob had done an in depth study it seemed on the boards the Amer­i­cans like Tom and Kelly where rid­ing. Bob had been work­ing on a bold busi­ness ven­ture to repli­cate the boards that World Ti­tles were won on. The boards were called “Pro Cir­cuit Boards”. At this point I felt I needed to let Jon know that I was still on track to an­swer his ques­tion hint­ing that my story would pro­vide a rich ta­pes­try of in­for­ma­tion from which a con­clu­sion would be drawn. Bob’s fo­cus was on the en­gine room of the surf­board, that part be­tween the surfer’s feet where down­ward pres­sure is both added and sub­tracted. The rest of the board is po­ten­tially a hin­drance, the main point be­ing about any­thing be­hind the surfers back foot need­ing to be non dom­i­nant, neu­tral, i.e. no cor­ners con­tain­ing vol­ume or area that the surfer would first have to over­power be­fore the surf­board obeyed a com­mand and hence frac­tion­ally af­fect­ing the speed, an­gle of at­tack and tim­ing of an ex­e­cuted ma­noeu­vre. Bob’s ra­tio­nale was in­valu­able to me when I started to de­sign and shape tow boards back in 2000. The surfer’s feet are strapped into the en­gine room sec­tion of the board which is why tow boards quickly dropped in length and width from the first ver­sions. Tow surfers would find it dif­fi­cult to ex­ert in­flu­ence over a surf­board that ex­tended for­ward, be­hind and side­ways from their foot po­si­tion. Long and wide would dom­i­nate and in­hibit the surfer’s abil­ity to con­trol the board espe­cially at speed. I felt it im­por­tant to con­tinue with my back­ground story be­fore we re­ally got stuck into the de­ci­sion mak­ing process around Jon’s tail as my gut was telling me that we both would need the “big” pic­ture to rea­son and “feel” our way through to the con­clu­sion. We needed two votes in favour or two votes against. I forged ahead with my tale of how the thruster/mod­ern surf­board was an Aussie in­ven­tion which changed the course of de­sign but how the Amer­i­cans had re­fined and mas­tered the con­cept to the point that they now surfed bet­ter on it and where the Aussies had at first lead were now well and truly fol­low­ing. I went on to say how the chop square dis­ap­peared from de­sign for many years and only re­ally be­gan to reap­pear with the re­cent

"I asked Jon what he had in mind for the im­pend­ing new order, his re­ply was he had a cou­ple of ideas but wanted to know what I thought about them rather than say­ing that he wanted me to just go ahead and do it."

wave of open minded de­sign that’s oc­cur­ring on a global ba­sis. I also wanted Jon to un­der­stand that while Bob’s rea­son­ing made per­fect sense the fact that some of my favourite boards back in the 1980’s had been chopped squares had re­mained a lit­tle con­fus­ing and a per­sonal rev­e­la­tion that came from rid­ing an ex­per­i­men­tal pro­to­type of a short Mini Sim­mons with a very wide chop square around 10 years ago was pretty much an “in ya face” ex­pe­ri­ence of speed and sharp cor­ner­ing that not just bent Bob’s book of rules but smashed them to smithereens. My Mini Sim­mons pro­to­type wasn’t re­ally on the radar back when Bob and I had that con­ver­sa­tion and so in de­sign terms is out­side of the box with re­gards to the con­text of Bob’s wis­dom. The Mini Sim­mons be­ing very short meant the en­gine room was ex­actly un­der my feet with my back foot di­rectly over the quad fin clus­ter and my front foot di­rectly over the ac­cel­er­a­tor ped­dle. Hence the hard cor­ners and ex­ag­ger­ated area of the tail was eas­ily over­pow­ered by my back foot pres­sure. Once that wide tail was sub­merged it would quickly push back once the foot pres­sure came off serv­ing to ac­cel­er­ate the board and rider through the turn. Ex­cit­ing stuff that chopped square! Back to the present ap­pli­ca­tion as it re­lated to Jon’s new board and Bob’s rule book would ap­ply espe­cially given that a chopped square in this case would be fur­ther back from the in­flu­ence of pres­sure that Jon could ex­ert. I sug­gested to Jon that in keep­ing with the well proven out­line and over­all tail area we could add a small chopped square as an en­hancer, a pos­i­tive en­gage­ment de­vice with a sub­tlety that would be unlikely to cause any neg­a­tives. We had two votes! The chopped square would stay. Our con­ver­sa­tion moved to de­tails of con­cave depths, the amount and shape of Vee as well as edge place­ment. No his­tory les­son re­quired. Once we had the de­tails of Jon’s new shape nailed down and clearly de­tailed on his order form we moved to our third means of vi­su­al­i­sa­tion: a com­puter screen. I brought up the de­sign file of Jon’s cur­rent board and copied it as the start point to his new board with its all im­por­tant D.N.A in­tact. I then made all the rel­e­vant changes as dis­cussed and agreed upon back in the show­room and Jon could see his new board come to life be­fore his eyes. “It’s like shap­ing through a mi­cro­scope!” he ex­claimed. At the con­clu­sion of the process Jon thanked me for my time and in­put and I could tell he ap­pre­ci­ated the process that had oc­curred since his ar­rival ear­lier that morn­ing and he went away know­ing ex­actly what to ex­pect in his freshly or­dered cus­tom. Some­time ear­lier, a few weeks in fact, I was down on the ground along­side my van wax­ing my board in readi­ness for some wave time. A van pulled up and Manuel jumped out in an­tic­i­pa­tion of a surf check and we struck up a con­ver­sa­tion. At first we talked about the surf then the con­ver­sa­tion swung to one of my de­sign ar­ti­cles in this very mag­a­zine. It’s al­ways good to get feed­back and in re­turn I asked Manuel what he would like to read about in my next ar­ti­cle. There was a lengthy pause and then the re­ply came: “How about whether to buy cus­tom or off the rack?” Well if you have read this far you will prob­a­bly have al­ready gained a sense of the value of cus­tom or­der­ing! But is it for you? I would have to be bi­ased af­ter spend­ing most of my life de­sign­ing and shap­ing cus­tom surf­boards and I be­lieve in what I do. My ad­vice would al­most al­ways be to form a long term re­la­tion­ship with your shaper, they are ex­perts in what they do and can guide you to the right board whether it’s a cus­tom or one from their racks that’s a good fit for you. Re­mem­ber that cus­tom en­com­passes all as­pects of a surf­board from shape through its con­struc­tion to colours and fin­ish. The thing about shapers is that you can bet they’re driven by pas­sion to the craft and com­mit­ment to their be­liefs rather than the money they will make from clos­ing the deal. Sup­port your Kiwi Board Builders Cheers, Roger.

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