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Thursday, October 13, 2011
Old hands, new tricks

Mowing foam last weekend at the Sacred Craft surfboard show in Del Mar, Calif.

Sacred Craft Surfboard Expo founder Scott Bass stumbled upon a simple yet profound idea when he boiled down the surfer's true interests -- waves and things to ride them with. "Less fashion more passion," is the mantra. But the timing of Sacred Craft's creation may be the bigger coup. In this post-Clark Foam era of invention and inspiration, a meeting of the tribes is bound to reveal the ingenuity and vision fueling so many passionate people. What follows is just a couple of ideas everyday surfers can glean from this celebration of the surfboard:

"Being this excited with a power tool in your hand isn't the best thing," said shaper/surfer Ryan Burch after creating a channel-bottomed asymmetrical at the Tribute to the Masters shape-off. For this event especially, imagination loomed large as head judge and honoree Carl Ekstrom provided no guidelines. "It's saying the only boundary is to have no boundary," said Burch.

Walking around the expo, it was easy to see that we're living in an unparalleled time of experimentation and openness in surfboard design. From Daniel Tompson's five-sided fins -- which won him "Best of Show"to the futuristic surf-inspired furniture designed by Ekstrom, Tim Bessell and Ned McMahon, ideas trumped convention on every corner.

The shapers chosen for the shape-off displayed this in real time. After honing their materials into any kind of asymmetrical craft they could imagine, the competitors underwent a five-minute "proof-of-concept" Q and A with the judges. The discussions were eloquent and even academic, said expo founder Scott Bass. The take-away? "When I'm ordering a new board," said Bass, "I try not to micro-managed the process. I give the shaper my height and weight and then let their creativity do the rest. If you let a shaper manage the discussion, you give them the power to take your board where it needs to go."

Cross Pollination
The California aerospace and naval industries have had profound impacts on the modern surfboard. From foam to resins to carbon fabric, the technological advances of other industrial sectors cross-pollinate with the humble surfboard. So it shouldn't come as too surprising that inspiration struck for Gary Fisher as he sat in a dentist's chair getting his grill worked on. The dentist had been curing the resin applied to his teeth with a UV wand"UV" as in sunlight. That's when Fisher spawned the idea for Solarez, the sun-activated ding repair material.

The lamination process in action.

Displaying their graciousness to a long string of grommets, the Solarez team fixed dings free of charge all weekend long. But as one of the shapers mentioned, dings are just the beginning. Glassing a whole board with the material is more efficient and creates less waste as there is no liquid catalyst to ruin a whole batch of resin.

There are a ton of new and over-looked materials out there, said Fisher. In fact, on display at Sacred Craft was a stringerless board that utilized carbon fabric for flex. But then again, another board utilized empty beer cans for floatation. The options are everywhere. And if your teeth are anything like mine, you might be using some novel compounds already.

Hard Work
Surrounded by an impeccable sample of his craft -- including a 16-foot "super glider" -- shaper Chris Christenson put pencil to paper and worked out the man-hours that go into a single board. He figured that from the conversation with a customer to a finished product takes about six hours of labor.

In the shaping bay with Santa Cruz' Stretch, Sean Butler added that those are not always comfortable hours. "It's dusty, sweaty work," said Butler. "A lot of people don't realize the kind of focus and dedication goes into a single hand-made surfboard."

One of the great aspects of this expo, was the proximity of all this sweat-equity with the general public. Shaper Gene Cooper said he was impressed with the quality of the craftsmen -- young and old. He said the telltale sign of a good shaper is that they follow a refined process. "It's like music," said Cooper, "once you understand all of the steps, you can start to blend and move things around. You gotta sculpt it, but there's an order, and there's no fixing things if you screw it up."

Wayne Rich, who became a two-time winner of the shape-off with an asymmetrical beauty chosen by judges Stanley Pleskunas, Rusty Preisendorfer, and Ekstrom dedicated his win to "all of us."

"You're in a room all by yourself most of the time," he said. "It's a funny place to live."