“It’s just not in here.” He grabbed the blank from the tail, scanned it thoroughly, unfastened the tape measure off his belt for one last rocker ruling, shook his head, and repeated, “It’s just not in here.”
“I wish I hadn’t plowed through that one there.” Bill eyed the blank resting on the adjacent room’s shaping rack. He had previously sized it up and recognized “it wasn’t in there” either. The real issue was the rocker, likely the most important link to equalizing the equation and fulfilling the attempt to clone my “magic” board, which was finding needed rest on the wall rack overhead.
“It used to be so easy,” Bill lamented, as he had times before, referring to the injustice done by Clark foams sudden death few years before. “The blanks were dialed. I finished these things in 12 minutes back in the day. If only we had it . . .” Replicating a surfboard is undeniably impossible. Granted, the introduction of the higher-than-tech, computer generated, surfboard shaping machine in the last decade has handed support to the effort, it’s still understood that a magic board is a magic board and will be one of its kind.
The rocker issue would have been easily prevented had the 9-5S ultra light blank not assumed extinction after the Clark foam meltdown. There was necessary grievance, a few more disappointed words, and then, with problem solving cap strapped loosely around his dome I received this great news, “Well, I guess we will just have to go down and buy a blank. Not sure how many years it’s been since I’ve done that, but it’s the solution.”
A dominant park job in the Basham’s undersized car park began a short, half-organized yet successful mission to find the blank that contained “it.” Walking down the stairs of the shaping room I had asked Bill if we ought to bring the order card with us for reassurance that we buy the correct dimensions of foam. He said, “No, when I lay the thing down, I’ll know,” so I just continued to follow with trust. Sure enough that’s exactly what happened. He laid the thing down, and we paid for it.
Roughly 20 minutes after the dilemma, we were again welcomed by the beautiful scent of resin and symphony of spinning sanders. From this point on I did absolutely nothing but add a few, “Yah, maybe a little wider. Sure, why not? Yep, sounds good. Hey man, you know better than I do,” comments, sat back, and enjoyed.
After all the years – man, probably about 10 years – I had never watched Bill craft a board from start to finish. I had sat it on the grooming of ruffled lines on a machined board, but never pencil mark to pencil mark, to skill saw, to planer to planer to planer, to bazooka sander, to master planer, to bazooka sander, to master planer, to hand sanding, to master planer, and so on and so forth. (Bazooka sander is just my name for it; pretty sure it’s called a Milwaukee Sander). And that’s actually a terrible description of what happened.
Skilled, mastered, perfected, and such descriptive words are often used for those who have clearly reached a level of approach that exceeds beyond the average. Watching Bill Stewart mark off, size up, and carve away at two pieces of foam, attached by glue to a wooden stringer, sends your brain’s mailbox titled “Descriptions” such words. The planer swallowed foam leaving a well groomed trail like that of a snowboard in fresh powder. It moved up and back, up and then back, while the cross stepping of feet followed a similar dance to finding the tip for some lunch time. Glasses rested resourcefully on the bridge of the nares, and ear-muffs protected the tympanum from misuse as they followed the direction of un-contested concentration. The instrumental noise of machinery used to forge “it” out, undoubtedly limited the opportunity for oral communication, but even with perfect silence I would have withheld from yammer. Power tools aside, Bill mentioned the notes of the song on the radio were playing in D, probably spurred from a re-ignited passion to play the harmonica, to which I nodded my head in agreement, actually having no understanding of his comment. Bill continued to rock through the same process he had repeated time and time before, fine tuning each portion of the surfboard. Here and there he would grab the rails of the original and make an adjustment or two. I got to throw in a few comments about tail-V and nose concave, but the truth was he had already dialed them in.
My excitement meter was quivering. It had been a while since I had asked for a new board, and even if it hadn’t, this one was special. Special because I watched its birth and it was conceived in the same form as its predecessor – my wish, hand crafted, multi-templated, one of a kind. Pretty is a nice word to describe the finished product. And this brings us back to the idea of craftsmanship.
I can only here stories, but there was once a time when surfboards were only hand crafted with polyester foam, cloth, and resin. It was an art form. An expression built through a surfers understanding of the waves he rode and style he created. How lost this has become, and something I myself was blindly raised and caught up in. This is a call to understanding the core brilliance of shaping a surfboard by hand. Don’t tell me it goes deeper than here, I know: you could even chop down a tree, use the wood for a stringer, glue together a square block blank, press it into the desired rocker, whittle away by hand sin electricity, and tint and gloss. I tip my hat to that and bow, for that is the near ultimate depth of craftsmanship. But for time’s sake, the honor of innovation, efficiency, and definitely cost, a molded blank, electricity, and even passing on the board to a glasser, for he has a craft as well, will still be contributing to the awesome art form of surfboard making.