How to Build Your First Surfboard
by Stephen Pirsch

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TIPS & PROBLEMS

SOME DO'S AND DON'T'S (the result of reading thousands of emails)

Do think outside the box of conventional surfboard building.  Designing a board is a wonderful thing.  It can be sculpted to any shape desired.  Maybe professional designers have some disadvantages compared to a home builder.  If about 80% of the surfboard industry is evenly divided into two severely different camps, yet is almost totally comprised of clones within each camp, it seems there must be room for some other design.

Do design a board for the average rideable conditions of the home break.  Use this one board for all waves.  When traveling to surf a dramatically faster wave, which would optimally require a different board, most surfers do not adjust well to a different board, for a short period.  When vacationing, the trip is often over before a surfer can fully adjust to a new board, then he must adjust again to his home board.

Do make board changes in small increments.  Surfers, in general, do not adjust well to changes of over 6" in length, 1&1/2" in width, or 1/4" in thickness.  The most likely result of a large change is a return to the familiar.

Do resist the now widely accepted belief that a surfboard must stay down in the wave to function properly (slightly sunken even at full plane).  This is not the optimum design for the average surfer.

Do not read every thing possible about surfboard building on Swaylocks (a great site for a second board), or a surfing magazine etc., then try to sort out what to believe.  The media is packed with conflicting information.  How can a first time builder know what to believe? 

Do not choose board building as a career.  It is low paying, seasonal, and monotonous.  Choose another career, and build boards as a hobby or side business.

Do try to disregard the controversies over which materials to build with.  It would be better to use the most inferior products and have a design compatible with your weight and waves, than the opposite.  Any of the materials mentioned in this book can make a good functional board.

Do keep it simple on your first board by doing the following:
1. Use mostly hand tools.
2. Make the rails round and the bottom and top flat - side to
side.
3. No wood stringer (if possible).
4. No artwork.
5. No gloss coat.

Do build to last.  Do use more cloth than what is on standard production boards.  As oil prices, and surfboard prices, continue to rise, so will the desire for a more durable surfboard. Consider 6oz. "E" top and bottom with a 6oz. deck patch as minimum. 4oz. "S" top and bottom with a 4 oz deck patch is an equal minimum.

Do get your hands on the materials (foam, cloth, and resin) as soon as possible, and practice.  Surfboard building can not be learned by only reading and listening.  Many of the details that are hard to understand will become clear only when you practice.  For instance;  there is no way to explain how to shape a rail or wrap cloth around a rail – you must get the feel of it.  Practice.

Do consider buying a premade board, especially if you want a popular shape.  The best reasons to make your own board are:  saving money, making a non conventional shape, or enjoyment of the process.  It is questionable to buy a popular shape from a custom board building shop.  Custom shops are best used for custom designs.  The popular models by Surftech, Southpoint, and Bic are usually more durable, and often cheaper than custom shop boards.

Do find someone you trust to point you in the right direction (maybe to this site, maybe some other), then stick with it.

Do read, and re-read the book (if this is the site you trust), copy it and re-read the applicable section (GLASSING etc.) just before doing it, (this is what the people who have the best results say they have done).  Note: about 3/4 of my email questions are already answered in the book.

I love my emails, but please do not email me if you choose to use another source to build by.  Please email the source you used.

TIPS

When trying to figure out the best position to catch a wave, try the following.  Observe where the larger set waves are breaking, and paddle just beyond the next large set wave.  Find two objects that line up with your position in one direction, (a rock, and a tree etc.) and two objects that line up in another direction.  Keeping these four items lined up will fix a position within a few feet of the same place (every time you paddle back).  Note that as the tide, wave size, and conditions change, different items will have to be lined up.  If only two objects are lined up, you will still likely have better positioning than anybody else in the water.  This gives you a huge advantage.

When a surf spot is crowded and aggressive, the best choice is to surf somewhere else.      Aggressive crowds are very likely to ruin your state of mind, and you may become what you despise.  Yes -  there are good surf spots (even point breaks)  that are not crowded.  If you read about a named spot online, or in a surf magazine etc., or saw it in a movie,  it will very likely be crowded.  Get  "The Surf Report" (949-661-5108), P.O. Box 1028 Dana Point, Ca 92629 U.S.A. These reports are now available online at www.surfermag.com under travel.  Realize that even though these reports cover virtually the entire surfing world, there are still many breaks that are not listed.  Look through these reports and find a spot you have never heard of.  Go exploring!  Amazingly... great, un-crowded surf can be found within walking distance of a cheap hotel.

Think about stretching, and doing pop-ups (rising quickly from lying to standing) before going out to surf.  This will lessen soreness and improve your surfing.

Paddling is the most important, and most overlooked part of surfing.  It makes sense to keep in good paddling condition when not surfing.  If paddling is not possible, swimming is probably your best bet.  Strong paddlers will find learning to surf much easier.  It will not matter how determined, coordinated or agile a person is if he is a poor paddler.  It is simple:  strong paddlers are almost always good surfers.

WETSUIT WOES

When putting on a wetsuit, try this: Place your foot inside a plastic grocery bag and wrap one handle around your ankle and hook it to your big toe. Your leg will slide in very easily this way. You can do the same with your hands. Corn starch works well also, although some will find it too messy.
A wetsuit and rash guard is worn out mostly by putting it on and taking it off. It is the extreme stretching that slowly damages it. If you hang up a wetsuit use the widest hanger possible (change the wetsuit position every month or so) and do not hang it by the shoulders - fold it over the hanger as with a pair of pants.
Although all wetsuits and rashguards come with instructions to always rinse in fresh water, the author has not found this extends the life of the material. In fact, one thing that will quickly ruin neoprene is chlorine, which is in tap water and bleach.
Wearing a hood, gloves and booties and a 3mm suit is better than wearing a 4mm suit alone, although most surfers will not do this. Navy hypothermia tests have shown that it is your extremities, especially your head, which cause you to become hypothermic most rapidly.
Economizing on a wetsuit is a sure way to cause you to surf less. Buy a sealed seam, 100% ultra stretch suit. Avoid flat lock stitch. Avoid neoprene described as regular stretch, or standard stretch. It is easy to recognize a serious surfer - if the surf is good he will not allow the cost of a wetsuit to keep him ashore no matter how cold it is.
If you mostly surf in chest high or less surf, do not duck dive, and are especially annoyed by the restrictive feeling of a wetsuit, consider the following alternative. Buy a suit a half to full size larger than your normal size - a size large person can select a large/tall size. The tall size will still be tight at the neck, wrist, and ankle, but have extra length. Most suits now have such good seals around the neck, wrists, ankles, and seams as to allow very little water inside, even on a suit a full size larger than normal. The extra room in the oversized suit will make a 4mm suit easier to move in than a normal sized 3mm suit. It will also be much easier to put on and take off. Yes, the oversized suit will tend to flush more when hit hard by white water, but for someone on a big board in small waves this is minor. Although some will claim flushing will cause water to balloon in an oversize suit, the author has not found this to be true. Although most will reject the loose fit notion, this is the way dry suits (the suits made for the coldest water temperatures) are made - they depend on the seals at the neck, wrist, and ankle to keep out water while the remainder of the suit is very loose.
Most surfers claim they hate wearing booties because the booties lack the sensitivity and ease of adjustment bare feet give - booties do not slide. . Gluing lycra from an old rash guard to the bottom of booties give them grip similar to bare feet.
Place lycra under boot and mark boot outline on lycra with pen (mark it slightly oversize). Cut lycra with scissors. Coat lycra (on top of wax paper) and boot with a thick coat of contact cement and let dry. Apply second thick coat. Apply cement thickly, and carefully to area where lycra will end. Dry contact cement only sticks to other dry contact cement, so any lycra beyond the cement on the boot can be easily trimmed. Carefully align lycra (leave wax paper attached to lycra until lycra and boot are pressed together) and boot bottom before touching them together - once contact is made, you will not be able to adjust them. Press together forcefully. Cut excess with scissors, and touch up loose edges with contact cement. Dust with baby powder, corn starch, or dry dirt, and rub into the lycra (especially the edges) - if you neglect this, and you touch the two boots together, they may get stuck. If you want more grip (not likely), put a light coat of contact cement over the lycra that is already glued to the boot, or pull the lycra off.
 Fix any hole or abrasion in your wetsuit by cutting a lycra patch (from old black rash guard).  Coat the wetsuit, and the lycra patch, with two coats of contact cement. Let them dry completely, then press together. Small holes and beginning cracks can be filled with multiple coats of contact cement alone. Contact cement is better than using Blob etc., because it will stretch. If the hole is large, sew it with dental floss. then coat the floss with contact cement. Black cement that is sold as wetsuit cement is actually a diluted contact cement with black pigment - DAP Weldwood contact cement is stronger and cheaper. Cover any contact cement, after the finished coat is dried, with baby powder, corn starch, or dust; so it will not stick to itself.

When you are not sure of the exact size of your first board design, tend to err on the large side.  If you do not like it, you can strip it, and reshape it.


Leashes advertised as comp., lite, 7mm, or 1/4" are disposable - they will break much sooner than is proportional to their relatively small reduction in diameter, compared with 8mm, 5/16 leashes.  The smaller diameter leashes also are more likely to become tangled.  Buy 8mm ,5/16" (minimum) diameter leashes from companies with a 1 -2 year warranty such as, Destination, and Da Kine - in 2010, these two seem to be the least prone to problems. Destination is the best.  Balin is the worst.   Resist wrapping your leash tightly around your board and sliding the ankle cuff over the fin nearest the last rail wrap - this will cause the cord to develop a bend just beyond the ankle and cause it to tangle around your feet, as gravity will cause the swivel to always turn the bend downward.  To remove the bend, stretch the leash (a few feet of stretch) between two immovable objects (trees etc,), and leave for 24 hours.

Coppertone sport sun block, continuous spray, 30spf (and it's clones) are clearly the best sun blocks.  Walgreens and Target have cheaper generics.  Avoid 50spf and above if applying around eyes, as 50 spf and above will tend flush into the eye when hit by white water, and cause irritation. The 30 spf group of aerosol sun blocks dry almost instantly, are not slippery, do not run in your eyes, apply very fast, and block uva and uvb. Do not use zinc oxide.

Consider wearing a hat when surfing small waves.  www.oneill.com  has a hat with an attached rash guard. www.essentialsurf.com has a Da Kine Indo Surf Hat (very tough) with neck strap and neck flap.

Consider lycra running pants, and lycra biking/running shirts in place of the very expensive surf shorts and rash guards. These can be worn with a brief swim suit underneath (dolfin at swimoutlet.com - 100% polyester best) or with regular surf shorts over them. The lycra pants and shirts are available at:  www.zyflex.com, and www.academy.com  for less than surf shops.  Try local athletic stores which carry running supplies.  The pants, are much more comfortable and flexible than surf shorts, protect the inner leg from rash, and can be rolled up above the knee or left long for protection from rash, sunburn, and skin cancer.

If you have problems with skin abrasion (rash) apply New Skin before surfing.  This is available as a liquid or spray, at pharmacies, and groceries.  If the abrasion persists try Super Glue (brush type). This will stop it.  Shaving the affected area can also help.  Note that Super Glue makes an excellent bandage for cuts exposed to surfing turbulence that would tear off tape bandages.  Super Glue is being used as a substitute for sutures in hospitals.  It falls off as skin cells grow.


PORTUGUESE MAN OF WAR

What is done in the first minute after being stung will determine the difference between minutes of moderate pain or hours of horrible pain.  Please try to forget what you have read, been told, or have used to treat Man Of War stings - I should know, I worked in the county emergency room as an RN, and am a veteran of about one hundred stings.  Remember this:  get that damn gelatinous stringy goo off immediately!  Resist paddling in to wipe it off on the beach.  Quickly, try to splash it off first. Often, simply thrashing an arm or leg etc., through the water violently will dislodge it.  If it is wrapped, quickly pull it off, piece by piece (it will not burn the inside of fingers).  If it can be completely removed in less than one minute, you will probably be in moderate pain for only about 10 minutes - then the pain will subside.  If you paddle in to remove the attached tentacles on the beach, you will be suffering miserably for hours, with local burning and radiating muscle, and lymph node pain. The longer the time between the attachment and the removal, the longer and more intense the pain.  Try to have some hard liquor available.  Pour some over the burn (a few times), and consider drinking much of the rest.  The hard liquor treatment will stop the injection of poison and give pain relief.  Generally, due to the elapsed time, the only benefit of going to the emergency room will be for pain medication.
If you are going to surf in a man of war infested area, be aware you can protect yourself. Simply cover as completely as possible with lycra pants, lycra shirt, (or 1mm wet suit) booties, latex gloves,ozone hat etc.  You can be stung through the lycra, but it will be relatively mild (not bad enough to make you want to go in).  This is the hard way to get great uncrowded point break surf.
What is done in the fist minute after being stung will determine the difference between minutes of moderate pain or hours of horrible pain.


PROBLEMS

The following will attempt to help you solve a few of the biggest problems of surfboard building and repair, (not previously mentioned) including:  premature resin hardening, failure to add wax/styrene surface agent, and delaminations

PREMATURE RESIN HARDENING

Probably the worst thing that could happen, when building a surfboard, is resin gelling in the cloth before the rails are wrapped.  Do not despair.  Even this can be fixed.  If you are using polyester resin, and the resin starts to gel on the cloth when you are still saturating the flat part of the board, it is too late to continue.  Very quickly pull all gelled cloth off the blank.  Very quickly scrape all the excess resin off the blank with the edge of a plastic squeegee, or anything with a straight sharp edge.  If the resin becomes too rubbery to easily scrape off, stop.  Let the resin harden, and slowly sand it down, close to the foam (it is not necessary to completely remove it).  Use #50 or #100 grit sand paper on a block, or a #150 - #220 grit disk on a drill.  If the hard resin is only in small spots, surround the resin with a layer of duct tape to protect the bare foam.

If only a small section of cloth remains un-wrapped and it is too gummy to use a squeegee, try this: cover the un-wrapped cloth with wax paper, and continue wrapping the cloth around the rails using your hands sliding on the wax paper.

If your resin gels too soon on a hot coat,  do the following.  Stop.  Mix enough extra  resin to finish the hot coat.  Apply this mix to the uncoated areas to be hot coated.  It is unlikely anyone will be able to notice anything unusual about your board due to this, although it may look very uneven at the time.  Remember, almost all the hot coat resin gets sanded off anyway.

If your resin gels too soon on a gloss coat, do the following.  Stop.  Let it harden completely.  Sand it off, as if you were sanding a hot coat.  Re-gloss coat.

FAILURE TO ADD STYRENE/WAX SURFACE AGENT

The main problem caused by forgetting the surface agent is gumming of sandpaper.  Since you are using far more surface agent in the method below, it will initially gum your sandpaper until all the surface agent (which has wax in it) is removed.  The resin underneath will be hard, (polyester resin does not fully harden without surface agent) but slightly less hard than it would have been if the surface agent had been used originally.  This will gum your sandpaper a little, but nothing like sanding with no surface agent.  Fix this problem using one of the two methods below.

Method 1
Let the resin semi -  harden.  Tape the rails, as in HOTCOAT.  Brush on about 5 oz. (varies with board size) of pure surface agent (styrene wax) over the newly semi -  hardened resin.  Let it sit for 24 hours.  Continue as in HOTCOAT and SANDING. 

Method 2
If your hot coat is relatively smooth, it is possible to simply apply the gloss coat (without sanding the hot coat).  When the gloss coat hardens, it will harden the hot coat under it.  You may then sand as in SANDING and GLOSSCOAT.  If you intend not to apply another gloss coat  you must be careful not to sand into the cloth.  You may have to re-gloss areas, or the entire board.  If you sand into the cloth even slightly it will "wick" water into the foam (brown spots will slowly appear in polyurethane foam).

DELAMINATIONS

Delaminations are often caused by repeated heel dents or other similar impact damage.  The result is the outer shell separating from the foam, causing a soft spot.  On extruded polystyrene a slightly raised bubble will probably be noticeable on close inspection.  Fix delaminations as soon as you notice them.  They will expand if you do nothing, and will eventually totally ruin your surfboard.
Fix delaminations by first pressing a screwdriver etc, all around the outside edge of the delaminated area, marking the circumference with a pencil.  Put a 5/32" drill bit in your drill, and penetrate the delaminated area with holes (drilling about 1/4" into the foam) every 1" in every direction (one hole for every square inch).  Erase the pencil marks. Mix up a few ounces of ss2000 epoxy resin and hardener (not 5 minute epoxy). Draw up about 12 cc of mixed resin with a 12cc plastic syringe body (no needle).  This will fit air tight in the 5/32" holes. Inject no more than 1cc of mixed resin in each hole.  When it starts squirting out the adjacent hole, stop, and repeat until all the holes are injected.  Press the delaminated area down lightly with your latex gloved hand, (until it touches the foam, and the resin starts squirting out of all the holes).  Wipe up the excess. Put wax paper over the area, and place bricks etc.(long end up) over the entire area.  Pull the paper when the resin hardens, and sand the excess.  You will probably have to touch up a few of the holes with more resin.
  If the delamination is more than 1/2 of one side of a board, it is probably too far gone to be worth fixing - it is probably better to remove all the glass and totally re-do it, or just give it up a buy a new board.  Most delaminations could be prevented by simply using slightly more cloth in the laminate.  If your board or boards have delaminated more than once in the same area, you should use more cloth in that area on your next board or next repair.
Many people do this repair by drilling only two holes, injecting one hole with a large amount of resin.  This method looks better, but does not stick as well, and will likely delaminate again under the same impact.  To be almost positive that it will not delaminate again, drill the holes deeper (all the way to the lamination on the opposite side).
Do the following to fix delaminations, or keep them from happening.
Drill 3/16" holes (through top laminate, to but not through, the bottom laminate) at 2" intervals in deck patch area (can be 4" at non critical areas and 1" where intense denting occurs). Do this after laminate coat on top and bottom is hardened (or anytime). Fill holes with 3/16' bamboo barbecue skewers (available at most chain grocery stores including Target) - or dowels at hardware store. Cut skewers about 1/2" oversize. Coat skewers in resin immediately prior to insertion (not before or they will expand slightly, making insertion difficult) - this can be done by simply having resin on a gloved hand and holding a group (about 10) of skewers prior to insertion. Push all skewers in holes just enough to hold them straight then come back with a wooden mixing paddle and with your thumb behind the flat part of the paddle push the skewers all the way to the bottom laminate. If a skewer is difficult to start in the hole, throw it away (don't force it, as maybe 5% are out of round, or frayed etc). After the resin hardens, cut the protruding skewers flush with a full sized wood hand saw after the resin hardens, and plane flat with surform plane. Hot coat and gloss coat will seal wood. If doing on a finished board, coat the wood lightly twice.
If you fill the holes with resin, instead of filling with skewers, it is very difficult to fill them all evenly, as air pressure and bubbles will cause resistance, and you will have to do numerous refills. Also; the skewers are lighter.
We have experimented with this on 9 boards now, for over 10 years. We use it in the deck patch area where impact damage is likely. It greatly increases the life of a surfboard, by bridging the top and bottom laminate together, creating a very rigid deck, which is practically impossible to dent and delaminate. .
Remember: the better your board looks after a delamination repair, the more likely it is to delaminate again.
Delaminations are impending death for surfboards.  Please consider using more cloth in your laminations.  One extra layer of 4oz cloth is the difference between a disposable board, and one which will last indefinitely.

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2003 by Stephen Pirsch, All Rights Reserved.

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