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Location: Los Angeles, California, United States

Old enough to know better. Young enough to do it anyways.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Man vs. Machine

While driving to pick up a half-pipe, a group of my surf cronies got into a debate. The crux of the argument being the relative merits of a handcrafted board versus a machined one. I mostly sat on the sidelines and listened as Chum and Nash argued it out.

They both raised pertinent points. Chum championed the artistry and soul that goes into a custom board. He spoke about his recent purchase of a Mandala, and how he developed a relationship with Manny that would translate into a more personal connection to the final product.

Nash on the other hand countered that the best shapers in the world were entering their templates into machines and creating great, if not perfect, boards. And, these boards were offered at a substantially lower price. Meaning you can replace your go-to thruster much more easily, if need be.

The question hit closer to home last night when I stumbled upon an Anacapa board. Anacapa is Al Merrick’s side project that allows him to offer well-designed boards at cut rates, because the boards are shaped by a machine instead of a hand.

Obviously, Merrick isn’t putting these boards under the Channel Islands umbrella, but he is putting the considerable weight of his name behind the project. So as far as my next board is concerned, the jury is still out.

Is the soul of a surfboard worth 200 extra dollars?


Blogger pushingtide said...

What is worth more than any amount of money is shaping your own stick.

I was trying to be talked into getting a "pre-shaped" blank where pretty much all you had to do was sand the grooves down. Where is the fun and "soul" in that? I opted out for a big chunk of foam.

Don't skimp. Don't buy pop out. Build yer own. Surf yer own. Be yer own.

Cool sitey site by the way.

5:33 PM  
Blogger G said...

Truer words were never spoken. Coincidently, I ate Chinese food last night and my fortune said: "Write your own story. Don't let others write it for you." All of which confirms my true feelings of supporting the geniuses who build rideable art pieces. Amen.

9:47 AM  
Blogger Foul Pete said...

My last stick was machine shaped. I can appreciate both. Generally speaking, I'm sceptical of technology and think we need to slow down a bit. However, knowing that I can keep tweaking board specs to get exactely what I want is pretty exciting.

I do agree with Pushingtide though. One day I want to shape my own wooden board...

11:18 AM  
Blogger Chum said...

I told this story during our discussion/argument about the merits of hand shaped boards on Saturday, and I'll give my abridged version here:

Manuel Caro of Mandala Surfboards started shaping 3-4 years ago when he borrowed a board from Thomas Campbell (the same yellow Pavel-shaped quad ridden in the beginning of Sprout by Dan Malloy). As soon as Manny got out of the water at Trestles, he called Pavel and ordered one for himself. The waiting list was 5 months long, even back then. After a short time, Manny just couldn't take it anymore and set up a rudimentary shaping room in his basement. He bought a chunk of foam and tore into it, eventually coming up with a 5'5" quad of his own. The best part was that, "It worked unreal." Manny took his board to Pavel and when he showed it to the master, Pavel took him back to his hallowed shaping room. Then, Pavel showed him his templates for the Quan and basically invited him into the lineage of great shapers that included himself, Skip Frye, Hoffman (?), and backward into history.

This not only makes a case for shaping your own boards, but also illustrates how "soul" is passed from shaper to shaper. I also feel, as Gee mentions, that this "soul" is passed from the shaper to the surfer, even if it is only in the relationship a surfer feels to his board - and not the technical aspects of the shape itself. Hippy dippy? Maybe. But if a surfer loves his hand-shaped board and knows everything about artistry it's incarnation, I'll bet he'll surf it better.

I think I will, at least.

12:09 PM  
Blogger G said...

I must say I agree with Chum's heartfelt and thought-provoking message. Unfortunately, I can't take anything he says seriously with that pedophile mustache he's rocking...oh, wait I've got a stash in my photo too...can't beat'em, join'em.

A board of one's own: I agree shaping your own board would probably be the most rewarding enterprise possible. Maybe a group of us novices could get together and hack our way to new sticks.

12:27 PM  
Blogger G said...

I must say I agree with Chum's heartfelt and thought-provoking message. Unfortunately, I can't take anything he says seriously with that pedophile mustache he's rocking...oh, wait I've got a stash in my photo too...can't beat'em, join'em.

A board of one's own: I agree shaping your own board would probably be the most rewarding enterprise possible. Maybe a group of us novices could get together and hack our way to new sticks.

12:27 PM  
Blogger Patch said...

The humanistic and artistic touch adds something to a board that a machine can't, surfing has always had a soulful element something that a machine will never have.

8:26 AM  
Blogger OS said...

Having ridden in the same car and thus having heard the same conversation, I recall one of Nash’s other points being about the minutia and detail that a shaper provides going “unnoticed” unless your at a pro level. “Unappreciated” is, however, a totally different story.

I think surfers are generally of the ilk where they crave things that are personal and authentic. A wave is perhaps the ultimate expression of such a thing, there will be others but none like the previous. Riding a board that has been crafted for you on a wave that only you will ride, is probably one of the ultimate personal experiences.

As someone who has trouble distinguishing between a 7’ 4” fun board and a 7’ thruster, surfing to me has always been much more about the experience than the performance. That experience includes everything from the people in the line-up, the conversation in the car to the beach, the weather, the swell, the location, the video I watched the night before.

I say, if it enhances the experience, than it’s a good thing but that will always be a pesonal thing.

4:03 PM  
Blogger Slim said...

Very few CI boards are completely hand shaped these days either. machined, ghost finish sanded, Al signs it. Anacapa boards are cheaper 'cuz they're made in Asia, CI's in California.

1:46 PM  
Blogger G said...

Chummers just sent me a link to a Campbell Brothers Octafish Bonzer. Just like him to tempt the devil when the devil is dead broke. The board looked amazing with a five fin bonzer set up. After peeping it I got lost for a few hours just checking out the Campbell Brothers' blog, which I highly recommend as a caveat to our discussion of man vs. machine. They've definitely got the soul surfing thing down pat.

10:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

G, I think OS did the most justice to what my argument was. I never said that the hand shaping wasn't cooler, etc. I was simply pointing out that working with a shaper on one board, never having surfed with the shaper prior to getting your baord wouldn't relsult in some calculated magic. I think to get that point you need to be able to ride multiple boards with slight changes in singel characteristics to understand what best compliments your style. Shapers are artists but one sesh where he sees you catch 10 waves isn't going to give him any indication of your leg strength, weight distribution, or true skill level.

2:09 PM  
Blogger Chum said...

I think the point is that there is no such thing as "calculated magic," (unless you are dealing with a machine)but there is such thing as soul.

6:53 PM  
Blogger G said...

And the debate rages on...which is mostly indicative of the fact that there are no waves to ride and we're reduced to arguing the finer points of board design. Or, like I did last night, watch surf movies. Watched TSJ's pic about Wayne Lynch and Tom Carrol. Now Wayne Lynch is definitely an enigmatic proponent of soul surfing. Interesting bio-pic.

4:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A lot of the machine made boards you're talking about like Surftech are made in sweatshops in Asia. Is it worth buying a board made by an underpaid person who has never seen the ocean so you can save a couple of bills? Do consumers have souls?


3:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sounds as if the argument was an either/or type deal. Another option to discuss amongst yourselves on your next petrol powered sojourn:

Luckily, I've been working with the same shaper for many years and I have alot of boards dialed in with him. A number of the original finely tuned hand shapes were scanned and are now 1s and 0s residing in the KKL machine. When I want to make changes to these boards now, a damn near perfect duplicate is roughed out at the KKL shop (down the street, not in Asia) and my shaper gets a pre-shape that is as close a starting point to the original as you could ask for. Except this time it's gonna be a quad instead of a thruster, or a bonzer instead of a quad, or maybe a concave to vee out the tail instead of a flat bottom.

My mind has definately been opened to the merits of a shaping machine to provide a solid starting point for experimentation and apples to apples comparisons of design tweaks. Some of these boards end up getting re-scanned and an even better master shape is born to move forward from.

Granted the context of this is still working with a local shaper on a custom hand finished board. Every board is better than the last and my surfing has improved in leaps and bounds because of it.

But if the point it to crank out 100 identical boards in some overseas factory to be glassed with some ghetto resin and dubious glass job only to be shipped half way around the world just to make another $100 on a board sale, then I say they should stick to selling t-shirts to make their money.

7:39 PM  

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