Surfboard Glassing the Under Appreciated Craft
Ryan Engle working some epoxy magic on a Nation Surfboards custom.
Where Would We Be Without The Surfboard Glasser?
As the surf industry continues to thrive off apparel and accessories, and the “surfer lifestyle” expands far from the ocean, the surfboard and it’s manufacturers continues to be overlooked.
Where would the Surf Industry be in the first place if it wasn’t for the surfboard?
In one of our early articles, Why Is Your Surfboard So Cheap we had touched on the matter that surfboards prices have barely budged, yet the overheads involved, materials, rent, taxes, etc that board builders have to deal with, constantly rise in price. For the amount of work that goes into a surfboard, the amount of joy they bring and how long they can last if you take simple measures to take care of them, surfboard pricing is lower then what they should be. There are not many other industries you can connect with a company to custom manufacture a product by hand that results in the level of stoke from surfing.
However, more importantly than the cost of these craft, the men and women behind the scenes need more recognition.
In many cases, there is a whole team of people involved in the glassing of your board. Now granted, most shapers can and do handle all aspects of the process but many of them get too busy with having to fulfill your orders that they need to either have their own team of glassers in house, or out-source the glass work to a production glass shop.
Image Courtesy of The Waterman’s Guild
Why is glassing a big deal?
Shaping the board is one thing and difficult enough on its own. Having an eye for design and knowledge of hydrodynamics and the ability to combine or create elements that make a board work is another. The magic happens in the glassing though and takes a totally separate range of skills that can really make the difference in the board of your dream and a dud!
There are so many elements involved in glassing a board that many of these people end up specializing in one or the other to maximize their time and ensure you are getting a perfect board. And they all need to work together.
You don’t want to create unnecessary work for the person who has the next step, so you will normally find that these guys will take an extra step themselves to make sure the job is done right before the next guy has his hands on it.
Fabric Inlays are another challenge for the laminator. Image left shows a 2015 inlay pattern for a SUPERbrand model pre glassing while right shows Australian SUPERbrand shaper Adam Sparrow Fletcher inspecting some of the new 2016 batch.
The way a board is glassed plays as much of a role in how the board will perform as shaping the board.
It will be the shaper, or the customer who dictates what type of cloth and resin, the colors, etc. but it is the application of these materials that is so tricky. Too much resin and the board is heavy and brittle, not enough and the board is weak or can simply take on water without even a ding.
And then there is the color work. Brands and customers wanting specific colors means the laminator has to mix and blend colors together to get just what they want. That may sound easy enough, but I assure you it is not.
Getting the right mixture and amount to get the right hue is very challenging, on top of the potential it leaves of contaminating everything else. Resin pigment and tints are so concentrated that the smallest drop will smear and spread out of control everywhere before you know it. Once that color is put down, there is no backing out either, so it better be right the first time!
A fresh hotcoat going down. Photo: Asilda Photography
Hotcoats and Glosses
For the guys handling Hotcoats and Glosses, there is time in the prep work needed…taping off rails, fin boxes, etc. A good number of steps before they can even start getting resin on the board. Then they have to consider all the concave, channels, glass on fins, etc making sure to get enough resin on, but not too much where it can pool up in low spots.
They also have to tape off what is called a “dam” for the parts of the bottom that have an edge in their shape like in the tail area. They have to try to mimic that shaped edge with the resin to some degree.
How the sander fits in.
If there is too much resin left on the board the sander has a lot more work to do. Not enough and the sander can easily sand right through the fiberglass before he knows it. As you can probably appreciate, the sanders job alone is a specialty job.
So many different styles and grits of abrasives to use.
Using a machine sander for the bigger flat areas, and hand sanding the critical areas and in-between fins. To top off their work, they really have to pay attention to the intended shape of the board. The resin left on the board from the hot coat needs to be sanded down and the intended shape has to be mimicked exactly. A sander could easily change the whole performance attributes of a board if he doesn’t follow the intended lines to a tee.
A sanders job is to take all the excess resin off the board and ensure the shape stays true to how the shaper
shaped the board. One of the more sensitive tasks to handle.
Fins and fin boxes
We haven’t even touched on the guys handling the fins and fin boxes. There are so many fin boxes that can be used, and unfortunately for these shops, each style of fin box requires a totally unique router.
Once you have all the routers needed, your routing job (cutting the hole in the foam for the box) has to be exact. Not deep enough and the fin box sticks up too high, too deep and the structural integrity of the box can be jeopardized. They also have to consider the angles that the boxes have to be set. And in considering those angles, they have to deal with odd bottom contours as well which can make the job a nightmare.
More time consuming tasks
There are so many other tasks involved on any given board. What makes this all more challenging is that every board is unique. Sometimes airbrush paint is needed for artwork, or resin panels added. Hell, taping a board for whatever purpose you need is challenging enough. There is a lot of skill involved when taping, especially if you are spraying color or doing resin panel color work.
You would be surprised at how much tape a glass shop can go through.
They are not just using any old masking tape either. Specialty tapes are needed that can withstand the extreme heat that is produced by canalized resin. Some of these tapes also bend and curve better than others. Tape is probably one of the biggest expenses glass shops have to deal with.
You’d be surprised how much prep work and tape goes into each surfboard.
How tools are used
Tools are coveted in a shop as well. To get the job done right, the tools have to be kept in excellent condition. This includes items like buckets and brushes too. If your bucket or brush is contaminated with anything, the resin you are using is jeopardized. It takes the smallest thing to throw off the whole production of a surfboard.
You can read more about the tools needed with articles like Surfboard Glassing Tools Of The Trade to get a better understanding of what you need if you were to tackle this job yourself.
So by now, you’re probably starting to get the picture. We could go on and on about this matter.
What it boils down to is that the team glassing your board are more than just workers. They are highly skilled craftsman/artists. Watching someone glass a board is almost therapeutic… it requires a sense of ease and flow.
Much like surfing a wave gracefully.
No matter the shape or design, a bad glass job equals a bad board. A good glass job equals a great board! And for how cheap a surfboard really is compared to the work that goes into it, every detail shows.
The smallest flaw sticks out like a soar thumb. No other industry which uses similar materials gets as much scrutiny as surfboards. We have even heard it straight from the companies that supply these materials. Surfboard glassing requires more skill and attention to detail than automotive or even aerospace due to the fact that every little detail is visible.
Nothing like fresh orange juice in the morning. Chemistry Surfboard laminator JimmyJammerJams getting his dose of vitamin C.
Glassers are the unsung hero’s of our industry and are often under appreciated for the amount of skill required by them.
Next time you get the chance, acknowledge the team glassing your board. Say thanks or even bring them a six pack… that will means more to them than the money they barely make! Appreciating the craft that so many devote their lives to, spreading stoke to surfers around the world.
Make sure you check out the Board Engine to find a range of boards all made in America by professional shapers at the top of their crafts. Email firstname.lastname@example.org with your details for a detailed report of board recommendations for you.