Have you been wondering what it’s like to shape your own surfboard?
Depending who you talk to to, it could be a piece of cake, or a daunting task that no man should do by himself.
I wanted to find out for myself.
When my buddies John and Frank offered to walk me through the process of how to make a surfboard, I couldn’t refuse.
So before we get into all the juicy details about how I made my own surfboard, I just want to let you know…
This is less of a “How To Make a Surfboard” with all the technical knowledge, and more of a “How I (Poorly) Made a Surfboard That Some Thought Wouldn’t Surf, But It Does”.
You can learn from my mistakes, and hopefully avoid making the same ones if you decide to shape and glass your own surfboard.
SHAPING THE SURFBOARD
The three of us decided we all wanted to shape fish surfboards.
I had been riding my Lunchtray a lot, which is super fun, but not very maneuverable. But every time I took out my shortboard, it felt like I was surfing a noodle.
So I wanted to shape something in between.
A fish surfboard has more volume and less rocker than a shortboard, so it’s easy to catch and ride mushy waves (San Diego summers hello), but still very maneuverable.
Making the Surfboard Template
First task was making a template for the outline of the fish.
Got some “hardboard” (aka masonite?) from Home Depot for this, along with some PVC pipe to bend for smooth curves.
$22.88 split 3 ways, $7.63.
We made a similar outline to John’s old fish, because I rode that board and really liked it.
Cutting and Shaping the Foam Blank
The foam blank is the inner core of your surfboard, and there are a bunch of different sizes you can choose from, depending what board you want to shape.
I bought my foam blank from Mitch’s Surf Shop, and if you’re in San Diego that’s probably where you will want to get yours.
Cost me $71.12.
I didn’t rent a shaping bay or anything, we just did all of the shaping in John’s garage.
You adjust your template towards the nose or tail of the blank, depending where you want your rocker (the blank has rocker built in, so you don’t need to do as much sanding).
Then just trace the outline of the template onto the foam blank.
Using a handsaw, cut the along the outline on the foam blank, keeping the saw straight up and down.
Oh, and remember to wear a face mask or respirator… there’s gonna be lots of foam dust flying around.
Next we brought out the planer and started shaving some thickness off the blank.
Then it was time for some rail work.
After making some outlines for the rails, we took off some foam with the planer and then the screen.
(Add $8.50 to the running total, for sanding supplies.
From there, it was just a lot of slow sanding with various tools, making minor changes to the foam blank, until we had the perfect fish shape I wanted.
Shaping the foam blank took wayyyy longer than I expected… about 6 hours total! And there were 3 of us ?
The boys decided we should just take our shaped blanks to a local glasser, instead of glassing them ourselves.
GLASSING THE SURFBOARD
So this where the plot twists…
John and Frank changed their minds and said they would help me glass the board. But after waiting weeks for them to help, I decided to take matters into my own hands ?
Frank did let me borrow some much needed tools for installing the fin boxes (template, router, and jig).
I made quick and dirty work of that.
A quick run to Mitch’s, and I had all the supplies I needed:
- Fiberglass cloth (6 yards of 6oz cloth)
- Epoxy resin and hardener (stronger and lighter than polyester resin, and no fumes. Slightly more expensive)
- 2 Futures fin boxes
- Latex gloves
- Black pigment
- Leash plug
- 5 Paint brushes
- 5 Measuring buckets
- 5 Stir sticks
$113.83 for all those supplies.
Time to lay down the glass!
I brushed off the foam blank, and laid down the fiberglass cloth. I cut the cloth so it hung a couple inches over the outline of the blank.
Now for the tricky part… the resin.
The guys at the surf shop told me to use the whole jar of tint for this project… I think this was a big mistake. I’ll tell you why in a minute.
They also didn’t know how long the epoxy resin takes to cure, and the label didn’t have any timeframe either.
So I went ahead and mixed the resin with the hardener and the black pigment. I didn’t know how long it would take for the resin to harden, but I knew I had to hurry!
Unfortunately I forgot to tape off my fin boxes, so after I poured resin in the fin box area of the foam blank, I had to fumble and tape the fin boxes with my messy gloves.
Inserted the fix boxes into the foam blank, and spread the resin over them.
I was running out of time…
Now I had to spread the resin across the whole bottom of the surfboard, but I didn’t quite spread it liberally enough.
The resin started getting thick as I was spreading it across the board, and that made it pull on the fiberglass cloth, so I had to stop.
I quickly mixed up a small batch of clear resin, and worked that around the rails, tucking the cloth under the rails as best I could. This somewhat salvaged it.
A few hours later after the resin cured, I flipped the board over and cut off the excess cloth (laps they are called) from the rails.
It wasn’t pretty, but it wasn’t totally ruined.
Time to repeat those steps, but for the deck of the surfboard. Only this time I knew I had to work faster.
I spread the resin liberally and quickly, and it went a lot better!
Waited about 6 hours and went to town with the disc sander. Actually I should have sanded even more than I did, but I thought it was good enough.
At this point I wasn’t even sure if the surfboard was going to work… the rails were all lumpy, and the first coat wasn’t very hard. Like I could dent it in with my thumb.
Remember when I said I shouldn’t have used all that black pigment? Yeah I think that’s why the resin wasn’t fully curing. Thanks Mitch’s ?
But I couldn’t quit now… on to the hot coat!
The hot coat was much easier. All I had to do was brush a thick coat of resin onto the surfboard. (I didn’t use pigment in this coat, so it cured fully hard).
Of course it wasn’t perfect… there were tons of little air bubbles. Like when I used to make cakes with my mom, and she would gently drop the pan a bunch of times to pop the air bubble. Except I couldn’t do that with my surfboard.
So after letting the hot coat cure, sanding the whole surfboard again, applying front and rear traction pads (goodbye wax), I had a fish surfboard that didn’t really look like the glass job would hold up to my surfing.
Only one way to find out…
SURFING THE SURFBOARD
I popped in my new twin keel fins, and took the fish for a paddle ?♂️
Surprise surprise… it worked!
It was just what I wanted… in between my Lunchtray and shortboard. Fun and playful, but still easy to catch waves with all its volume.
I was surfing on surfboard that I made myself. Let me tell you, that’s a good feeling.
That being said, making this surfboard was a LOT of work!
I don’t know which part was worse, the shaping or the glassing… well John and Frank did most of the shaping for me, so clearly the glassing was worse for me. The glassing had to be spread out over a few days, because each coast of resin had to cure for several hours.
Slide into John’s (@toob_king) and Frank’s (@fderubes) DM’s if you want to talk details about shaping and glassing… they love that stuff.
This was the first surfboard I ever shaped, and very well might be the last.
Total cost: $201.08
So what do you think… do you still want to make your own surfboard?