June 29, 2013
Wanted to warn that I'm not a particularly skilled surfer, but I think you would just assume that. Basically, I excel at nothing in particular, though I did win the father-son fantasy football league last season and am poised to repeat.
I'm also a pretty good public speaker. Imagine a snarkier Winston Churchill. Remember that for your next company event. My fee is a mere $1 million, but for that I also clean up afterward and unburden you of all your leftover Leinenkugel.
I also line a pretty good batter's box, though the umpire at last week's Pony League tournament kept smothering the back line with his shoe, believing it was a little too deep. Over the years, I've only lined a thousand batter's boxes. Excellence will come with experience.
So surfing is another of the many things I do only moderately well, or poorly, take your pick. I stand on a surfboard like Donald Trump ordering one last brandy, windmilling wildly, one foot in the air before falling backward into a passing dessert cart.
Love the Pacific, though. It's the only thing I drink straight up.
Which brings me to Shaper Supply, the little shop near Venice where you can build your own surfboard — shape it long and stable, or sleek and squirrelly. It might be the ultimate DIY project. When I was there, one dude — too good-looking in the way we surfers have — was building a board that looked like a 4-foot Batmobile.
To suit my skill level, I choose a 9-foot long board, corpulent as an old Chrysler, Southern California's answer to the toboggan. You could put an outboard on it and cruise it to Catalina. You could attack North Korea.
Before we get to the specifics, a nod to shop owner Florian Saylor for the concept. Came about when he was shaping boards in his garage, and always having to go to Ventura or Orange County for supplies. Decided that L.A. should have its own joint, and while he was at it, decided to add a couple of workrooms where customers could shape their new boards on the premises. He'd even offer lessons.
That brings me here on a sunny Tuesday. For making your own surfboard has to be a lot like restoring an old woody wagon. There's bound to be something satisfying about bobbing out in the surf, knowing your board was milled to thicknesses of your own choosing. No umpires to wipe out the back lines.
And before we get to the step by step: Is there any L.A. symbol more iconic than a surfboard? Don't say a G-string or a marijuana dispensary; that's a little snide. The way a martini glass is the feel-good symbol of Manhattan, that's the way a surfboard represents L.A. It is the ultimate token of our love for the nation's left coast. To the way sunshine and surf combine to put the carbonation back in your tired eyes.
To build your own board is quite simple. You start by picking out a "blank," a piece of raw and ugly foam, glops of epoxy everywhere.
Think of this raw board as a pair of wings, with a little strip of wood down the spine, aka the "stringer." That 3/16 -inch piece of wood is the I-beam that holds the two foam wings together. Without it, all you'd have is a pool toy.
With Saylor as instructor, I mark the dimensions of the board using shop templates, then saw it along these lines. Gradually, using simple tools and 100-grit paper, we give the nose and rails their proper edges.
Most of the work is done with hand tools, except for the power planing, which removes the board's outer crust, leaving it cheeky smooth.
The shaping process takes about six hours. When you're done, Saylor outsources the fiberglassing to Aqua Tech.
Why this and not a factory-made board? Well, think of this as a custom-made suit, or a den you designed yourself. There's only one in the world, made with you in mind.
Like anything done well, it's not cheap. Lessons start at $699, but that includes the finished board and glassing.
Look at it this way: A self-built board is way more affordable than a yacht.
And far easier to strap atop your woody wagon.
Shaper Supply Co. has board-building lessons, work bays and supplies.
Where: 3523 S. Centinela Ave., Los Angeles
Info: (310) 862-4407; shapersupply.com
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