It looks so easy from the beach, all those surfers dancing on their surfboards and riding the waves like it’s nothing. But did you ever wonder how that simple-looking piece of foam can float on the water? It’s an exciting process to make the board perfect, and after reading this blog, you know how this works. But first, let’s dive into the history of surfing and take a look at how it all started.
As long as humans can swim, the riding of waves exist. The people had back in the days, not a surfboard like we have nowadays, so they caught the waves with their body, also known as ‘bodysurfing’. In Hawaii, the first surfboards made. The people surfed for fun, and only the kings and headmen were allowed to surf on the biggest boards. Those boards were 6 to 8 meters long, and they tried to gain status in front of the community. They made of wood from local trees, such as koa, and some could weight over 90 kilos. The Hawaiians made the boards entirely by hand: carving and shaping, then staining, and they finished it by using natural juices of oils of plants. Throughout the years, the culture changed, and surfers moved to California, where it also became a very popular sport. Other ‘board’-sports were also brought to attention. Think about wakeboarding, snowboarding, skateboarding, and skimboarding. You can imagine that the boards they used back in the days were way too heavy, and during the years, there were a lot of changes on the boards.
In 1946 the first fiberglass surfboard was made. Fiberglass refers to a group of products made from individual glass fibers, and they combined into a variety of forms. A much more modern model was built in 1949 by Bob Simmons. He made a board with a buoyant, styrofoam core. It sandwiched between two thin, plywood veneers. In 1958 the surfboard how we know it nowadays was born. Hobie Alter produced boards with polyurethane foam cores. Later, he went on to develop fiberglassing techniques using polyester, which makes the boards even lighter.
Almost every surfboard nowadays uses this construction, which makes the boards much lighter, which causes a better balance. But how exactly is a surfboard made? Let’s have a closer look at this.
You might think that surfboards are made just like cars: in a big fabric with hundreds of them at the same time. Nothing could be further from the truth. At a small surfboard shop, they are built one at a time with the fullest of concentration. Despite the techniques and materials that vary from one surfboard builder to another, there is a 7-step process that followed.
- Forming the foam core
- The foam core is formed in a large, cement mold, roughly the shape of the surfboard. The mold constructed in two halves, and they clamped together when the mold is heated. A dense, white foam begins to form when the heat triggered a chemical reaction when the liquid chemicals poured into the mold.
- Adding the stringer
- The core first needs to get hard. Once this is done it needs to have a stringer. This stringer provides stiffness, and it makes sure that the board is not able to break in half. To put the core inside the surfboard, it has to be cut in half from the nose to the tail vertically. The stringer glued between the two halves, and after that, the core clamped together to dry.
- Shaping the blank
- For your imagination: the only thing we have now is two halves glued together, and it doesn’t look like a surfboard at all. So in this step, you outline the finished board onto the rough core. It cut out with a saber, and the surface is smoothed and contoured with a power planer (?). Rough sandpaper (?) is used to bring the board in perfect shape, and last but not least: the position for the fin is marked.
- Laminating the outer shell
- It is the moment for the shaped blank to covered with fiberglass. The hard, outer shell of the surfboard has to be formed. If the board gets a design, the acrylic paint is applied directly with a spray gun. After that, the board poured over with resin that needs to dry.
- Applying the filler coat and adding the fin
- There might be some imperfections left by laminating resin, and with a second coat of resin, this problem solved. After that, the fin is secured on the board with fiberglass tape and laminating resin. If everything is dry, the bottom of the board is given a filler coat. The leg leash (that keeps the board from floating away when the surfer falls off) also needs to be attached on the board. This is done by drilling a hole through the tail and attach the leg leash.
- Sanding the board
- There might be some excess resin that needs to be removed from the board. A power sander does this.
- Final finishing
- To clean the whole board, compressed air is blown over the board to remove any sanding dust. To give the gloss coat enough time to harden completely, the board needs to be set aside for at least 12 hours.
The surfboard can differ in shape and length, depending on whether the surfer is a beginner or a more experienced surfer. Odysseys Surf School has a large selection of foam or fiberglass boards for all different levels (?), and all the equipment they use is from high quality. Been surfing before? check out our surfboard collection in the office. See our price list here.