Board advice for the bog standard surfer!
Have you heard about the Peter Principle? It's the idea that, in the workplace, every worker gets promoted one rung above their level of competence.
In surfing, there's a similar sort of dynamic at play: every surfer thinks they're one level (or sometimes two or three) better than they actually are. We're all guilty of it, though there's no need to be ashamed as it belies a sense of ambition, of wanting to be a better surfer.
The fact is, the greater percentage of us are bog standard surfers. In our moments of self-awareness we know this, yet we want to improve. So what can be done?
The most obvious thing is to work on equipment, but that comes with its own pitfalls. How do you find out what you need? The internet is a minefield of misinformation, it can't be trusted, but fortunately surfing is blessed with oracles. There's a few in every surf town.
Covered in foam dust, with peculiar quirks, a good shaper can answer the questions you didn't even know to ask. They can reach deeper into the mystery of surfing, make sense of the magic and send you on your way.
A good relationship with a shaper will enrich your surfing life in ways you can't comprehend, but even a casual chat with a shaper is to be valued.
The following article is aimed at the intermediate surfer, the average surfer, the bog standard surfer - but one who wants to get better.
Click the links to connect with the shapers or hunt down your own hometown oracle.
A bog standard surfer walks through your door wanting to order a custom board. How does your conversation begin?
Parrish Byrne: I'll tell them to bring in the board they're riding now, that way I've got a benchmark or a gauge where I can see what they've been riding and assess what they need. I'll also have a talk about weight and ability too.
Corey Graham: I ask them their height, weight, the length of time they've been surfing for, and I also ask them to bring their current board in. We don't actually talk about surfing at that point.
Chris Garrett: I can guess weight and height if they're in front of me, so I just want to know the dimensions of their current board, or even better if they bring it in.
Jye Byrnes: The main thing is always to find out what they're currently riding. Then we'll talk about experience, and also what they want from a new board.
Stuart Paterson: If they're standing in front of me I've got an idea about weight and body size, so I ask them about what kind of surfing they want to do. Is it WSL or old school surfing, or maybe it's longboarding? What do they aspire to do?
Pato puts the finishing touches on a custom mid-length (Photo Rielly the Sander)
Surfing is hard to describe. How much do you take what a customer says literally and how much do you read between the lines?
Jye Byrnes: It is hard. I don't want to disregard what a customer says. My job is to make custom boards so if I'm not listening to the customer, I'm not doing my job. But at the same time they want to hear my expertise, so I just get a good two-way conversation happening.
Corey Graham: I don't expect the customer to really know anything. It's my job to ask the right questions.
Stuart Paterson: I take what any customer says at face value, though occasionally a red flag might be waved, but I'll take that on a person-to-person basis. Fact is, even when people are talking it up they're giving me an idea about what they want.
Chris Garrett: I can generally gauge if a person is a little bit over-enthusiastic of their ability. With kids, I find when they're having problems and they're at that inquiry stage then they're quite honest and open. It's good advice for older surfers too.
Parrish Byrne: If it's a local surfer, I probably know how they surf, but if not I can usually pick up on their ability. I'd ask any board buyer to be as truthful as possible. It's the quickest way to getting a good board.
Son of Phil, named after a Hawaiian great, Parrish Byrne is rich in pedigree and choc full o' knowledge
Bog standard surfers are generally pointed towards boards with higher volume and lower rocker. Are there any other considerations?
Chris Garrett: Volume isn't just volume - it's where you put it. Width is a really underrated thing, because you don't fall off the nose or the tail, you generally fall off the side so lateral width is very important. And the thickness under the back foot is quite important for an intermediate surfer too because they need that support through turns.
Stuart Paterson: There's always an option for going longer.
Jye Byrnes: Volume is a marketing term. A label. It distorts what surfers really need. I'd rather discuss length and width and where the curves are placed.
Parrish Byrne: Foam is your friend, 'cos if you're not catching waves you're not surfing, so I point them towards higher volume boards. The trick is where that volume gets placed.
Corey Graham: Yeah, there are. For instance, I think it's a matter of matching the board to the person's shape, even down to the size of their feet, because that gives them leverage over the board. So if they go too short, flat, and wide, they've got a really huge foot, it's still too responsive.
"Every block of stone has a statue inside it" Corey contemplates the next block of foam and what's inside it (Photo Mark de Koning)
Do materials matter?
Parrish Byrne: They do if it's a bigger guy. I feel like for bigger guys, that epoxy/EPS really helps them. A guy that's going to ride say 6'6" x 21" wide x 3" thick is going to get a board that's bit weighty and a bit heavy to surf. Therefore, you can always go a bit thinner and a bit smaller in dimensions with the EPS because you're going to get the flotation there.
Corey Graham: I think epoxy/EPS boards can be a little too light for intermediate surfers. They're user friendly, like getting them in and out of a car and down to the water, but once you're in the water they can be a little hard to manage. The inertia of a slightly heavier board can help smooth out their lines.
Chris Garrett: If the client wants it, then it matters. [But will materials such as epoxy/EPS help a less-skilled surfer?] Realistically, no, I don't think so.
Stuart Paterson: For performance, I don't think materials matter. But durability is important because people who are progressing fall more often and they're not experienced with the handling, so there's lots of different ways that the board could be damaged.
Jye Byrnes: On the performance side, epoxy/EPS can lack a bit of drive under an intermediate surfer's feet, because they're corky, they sit on top of the water and the rails won't dig. There's just less fuss with polyurethane, and it's a better performing board.
Jye hiding behind his handiwork - hates the camera, loves his customers
What is the best fin configuration for the bog standard surfer?
Stuart Paterson: Thruster. Thrusters allow you to turn from anywhere on the wave, and you can easily alter how your board goes by changing the fins.
Parrish Byrne: The Thruster is the best fin configuration. It gives drive and pivot which are the keys to improving.
Corey Graham: Single fin or Thruster. No need for the intricacies of twin fins or the turbo speed of quads.
Jye Byrnes: I make a lot of 2 + 1 boards, where people can surf more forward. They use the front foot to steer, and they tend to push a bit more on their front foot, so changing into a 2+1 setup gives you that easy sort of flow. That or Thruster set up.
Chris Garrett: Quad fins are good because you can just stand on them and they just go. No need to check turn them and do all that sort of stuff.
Making customs till the cows come home - Chris and the view from his shed (Photo Yuki)
Anything else the bog standard board buyer needs to know?
Chris Garrett: I ask lots of 'what and why' type questions, so customers need to get ready to answer!
Jye Byrnes: Be open to new ideas. You don't have to choose them, we'll go through the process together. At the least you'll learn something.
Corey Graham: I'd like to reiterate how important it is to see what they're currently riding. If they're having a hard time, then I need to see the board that's causing it.
Parrish Byrne: Being honest. I think that's the biggest part of getting a good board.
Stuart Paterson: Consider it like a business appraisal: Where do you see your surfing in one, two, or three years time?