Innovation Session: Recycling A Broken Surfboard – Part 4 – Review

This is part 4 of a 4 part series – you can read the rest here:

After I finished painting the board I dropped it off at Sunset Shapers in San Francisco to get glassed. It was winter, the busy season in those parts, when big winter waves broke boards and drove demand for new ones, so I figured it would be a while until I eventually got it back. I wasn’t in much of a hurry anyhow.

A few weeks later while browsing Surfline I noticed my surfboard had made the weekly social media roundup. It was sitting next to a Tomo creation, nonetheless, which made it even cooler. Daniel Thomson, founder of Tomo surfboards, is a (much, much, much better than me) shaper that I really respect and who I had met a few times while working on He really pushes the boundaries of what is possible and backs it up with amazing surfing – to have my experiment share a page with his as ‘look at these weird things’ felt like an honor.

That picture let me know the board was in progress, the fin boxes were in and it looked like he was getting ready to glass the bottom. You can see that I decided to go with a twin fin design with the fins really close to the edge and just a slight angle.

A bit after that I saw another post on Sunset Shapers’ instagram feed and new my board was ready.

I brought the board home, put on a nice coat of wax and took some pictures to marvel at the finished work.

Here is the finished board sitting next to its other half. This pictures makes it pretty obvious how much I shaved off of the back of the rails in order to get a decent outline.

Finally, a nod to the movie that inspired the board – Back to the Future.

As a project I am really happy with how it turned out, the board looks cool, generated a good amount of attention while being built and always draws comments at the beach. If all I do is have it on the wall as an art piece, it was a worthwhile project.

But, it is a surfboard, so I’ve got to try and ride it.

Part of the reason this review took four years to write is because it took me a long time to find the right conditions for the board and get a few solid surf sessions in so I could actually figure it out. Here are my thoughts.

How It Surfs

All said and done the board measures in at 4’3″. That is over a foot shorter than my next shortest board which measure in at 5’6″. I pride myself in being able to ride all sorts of surfboards, from that 5’6″ slop chaser to my 10’6″ Mavericks Gun. I ride shortboards, longboards, retro boards and anything else I can find – so I figured I could make this board work.

I eventually did, but faced three big issues:

The Bad

1. It paddles horribly

There is very little foam to begin with, so it sits completely under water. There is almost no rocker (the curve from the front to the back of the board) so it has a tendency to dive. It is short so it doesn’t carry momentum like a longboard does. It is so small that it is really hard to position your body on and it isn’t convenient to grab a rail with your hands between strokes to help stabilize it.

I’ve surfed on a piece of wood before and paddling this was a comparable level of difficulty.

I tried various methods, starting with attempting to paddle it like a normal board, then trying to use it like a kick board. At one point I gave up and just walked out most of the way while carrying it under an arm. I eventually settled something that is more like swimming with the board under my chest and readjusting it every 4th or 5th stroke. It isn’t exactly easy, but it sort of works.

I tried a lot of different waves and found that I needed really glassy and kind of steep waves, but it was ok if they were small. Chop would kill attempts to catch waves because there wasn’t enough board to cut through it. Mushy and slow waves just weren’t catchable, there wasn’t enough power in them and I couldn’t generate the power to compensate through paddling. My favorite day on this board ended up being a low tide beach break on a glassy winter day in Southern California when the waves were 2-3 ft. They were pitching enough they’d give some kick to help me get up and breaking down the line to give me a nice place to sit while I rode.

I ended up having my best luck getting right to where the wave broke and using that force to get me up to speed. I actually had really good luck using a move where I applied my weight to the board to get it to sink and then used the rebound to get some speed before doing two quick paddles as the wave broke.

2. The fulcrum is really far forward

Once I caught the wave I had to try and stand up. I didn’t have much luck with this at first and ended up riding a lot of waves on my belly or front knee. It seemed like maybe this board was better as a hard bodyboard or kneeboard.

On a surfboard you achieve balance by identifying the fulcrum point and having your weight distributed evenly in front and behind it. If you aren’t balanced you’ll either nose dive or stall back. This takes some time to get good at while paddling but the real trick is keeping balanced as you transition from lying to standing. Having surfed for 20+ years, I can pop up quickly while staying balanced practically in my sleep. I push up and my feet end up in position with the fulcrum located about where my hips were previously.

The trouble was the back of the board was so far forward that my normal pop up was leaving my back foot off of the board entirely, causing me to fall back into the water. Even when I managed to get it on the surfboard, my weight was usually so far back, relative to the surfboard’s length that it pushed the nose up and caused the surfboard to act like a giant brake. Then I’d lose momentum and the wave.

It turns out what I needed to do was to get my feet spread out and up closer to where my chest had been. If this doesn’t seem tough, practice at home, lay down and up a piece paper under your chest. Now push up and in one move bring your feet onto that piece of paper while remaining balanced.

After a lot of practice I was able to get up consistently.

3. Steering and maneuvering is very different

I’ve surfed an alaia before, which is basically a big flat piece of wood that is rounded at the front. Steering this wasn’t quite that difficult, but maybe half way between the difficulty of that and a normal board.

I chose to go with two fin boxes and got a few sets of fins to test out including two nubs, like the ones pictured below, two small fins from a quad setup and two of the larger fins from a quad setup.

My first tests I used the smaller fins from the quad setup. You can see from the picture that even those stuck out beyond the back of the board due to where I placed the boxes. That meant that my knees or feet would periodically hit them when paddling, going to sit on the board or even popping up. Though these fins offered more control, the puncture risk seemed too high to continue to use them.

The nubs were actually what I had in mind when I designed the board. The originally Simmons boards had much longer and sweeping fins dropped from the top straight to the base as opposed to cutting back like a shark’s fin. They don’t give as much hold, but seem more true to the spirit of the board.

Once up on a wave, leaning over and applying pressure to make turns isn’t really doable. The rails aren’t very curved, so you can’t get a nice arc off of them. The board is likely to spin out if you push very hard at all because the fins don’t have much hold and the board is so short. You also don’t have much surface area to rely on to cary you over the water because the bottom is so small. You also don’t have much foam to re-catch the wave if you make a quick pivot like you would on a log. So basically all of the normal turning options don’t work well.

I found that I had the best luck crouching and taking very slow & wide turns, much like those on a displacement hull. A better surfer might have better luck. I’m reminded of Ryan Burch surfing an unglassed piece of foam in head high waves – though even that was 4’10”, which gave a bit more float and carry.

The Good

All of that said, this isn’t a very good surfboard. At best it is a novelty.

Not all boards need to be good though. Sometimes what I’m looking for is the best board for the day, but other times I’m just looking to have fun.

I’ve got a few novelty boards – retro, slop-chasers, soft tops and black ball beaters. None of them are the boards you take out on a perfect day, but all of them help add some stoke to your year by letting you get out the water and have fun on a day you might otherwise not.

What I liked about this board is that it felt like it could be the center of a fun day at a beach break. It could sort of be surfed, enough that it felt like surfing, and it was so skatey that if I practice enough I might even be able to pull off some cool spins. But it could also be ridden prone. It was a great board for hunting 2′ close out barrel because there wasn’t much board to worry about breaking. It could even work as a knee board. It put me close to the waves in a different way and changed things up. Sometimes changing up the conditions is a great way to get out of a rut or to open up a new door. This board seemed perfect for that.

Shoot, give me a few friends with a soft top, a hand plane and some fins and we might even have a really great group session, trading back and forth and just enjoying the water. What more can you ask for?

Innovation Session: Recycling A Broken Surfboard – Part 3

This is part 3 of a 4 part series – you can read the rest here:

Continuing where I left off. Previously I stripped down the old broken board, shaped the foam into something new & now I’m ready to put the finishing touches on my recycled surfboard.

Surfboard artwork has always been a place for expression an individuality. From back when islanders would carve artwork into their giant wooden plans, to the pre-war era surfboards with paint to contemporary sticks graffitid with spray paint and Sharpie.

How a board looks shouldn’t affect how it rides – but I defend that it does. So much of how a session goes is built on momentum that the good vibes from the parking lot compliment to a paddle out conversation can all contribute to which waves a surfer paddles for and how they ride them.

I love having surfboards the get me stoked. Sometimes that is classic gems from another era I’ve refurbished. Sometimes it is bold colors. For this board I’m feeling excitable.


When I think about the surfboard I have in front of me I realize that it transcends decades.

Originally shaped in the 2000’s by Bill Stewart, a shaper & artist who’s work brought him fame in the 1980’s and who created the gift surfboard that was presented to Mikhail Gorbachev to celebrate the end of the Cold War in 1990.

The new shape is a Mini Simmons, a contemporary design modeled after the shaping principles of Bob Simmons who innovated in late 1940’s and 1950’s.

This foam tells a story 70+ years in the making.

Nothing is more appropriate to inspire the artwork on this new board than another board who’s story spanned 70+ years.

I am of course talking about the bright pink Hover Board of Back to the Future: Part II fame.


Looking at my rails, the shape isn’t too far off either. Lets get to work.

Taping & Painting

I’m using acrylic paint to do the artwork. I’ve used it before to color match ding repairs but I’ve never done a whole board. I’ve been warned that if there is too much paint, the glass won’t stick to the foam and the board will be ruined.

Traditionally, most boards are either airbrushed with color or pigment is added to the glass. I am hand painting this though so I’m going to dilute the paint with water to get a pretty light stain.



The first step is taping everything. Where the tape is, paint will not go, so I can create nice borders.



I’ve decided to take a few artistic liberties. The first one is the background color of the board. The ‘read’ one has a texture, which I don’t feel like doing, so I’m going to go for an average color of that section. It is notably darker as less bold than the pink in the stripes so I’ve mixed in a bit of grey.




You can see the pinks are slightly different. A second coat should help even more.



Here I peeled some of the initial tape and created new borders to paint the Green.



Unfortunately, I painted the green before the pink had fully dried so it bled a bit. Notice how clean the lines are where pink is bordered by white – the tape really keeps the paint out.




I didn’t want the black to bleed everywhere so I painted using a sponge instead of a brush. It actually worked pretty darn well though the color isn’t as quite as flat across the space and the lines aren’t as clean.



Here is the finished bottom.



Another area of artistic liberty. The top of the movie prop had some additional items including a Mattel logo & foot hold. I don’t care too much about those and like the flat design of the colors a bit more. I think the magnetic plates on the bottom are essential to sell the story, but the top details aren’t.









The final steps from my part are writing Hover Board in the yellow space & deciding what to do with the rails. The prop board had pink rails, but there is already a lot of pink on this board. I’m debating using the green or even leaving it white.

I’ll take the board to get glassed by a professional – glassing isn’t my favorite – it’s messy, toxic and mistakes are disastrous – that is one part I’d rather delegate.

This is part 3 of a 4 part series – you can read the rest here:

Innovation Session: Recycling A Broken Surfboard – Part 2

This is part 2 of a 4 part series – you can read the rest here:

Picking up where I left off about a month ago – this weekend I continued to work on recycling my old broken longboard. The next step of the process was shaping the board. The foam was still pretty rough as you can see from the picture below. The top had a lot of soft spots and divots, both of which can ruin the long term resilience of the board.

The Shaping Room

Shaping a board is a messy job. As layers of foam are carved away using planers, files & sand paper, sticky foam dust escapes. The easiest way to have it all contained is to do it in a shaping room – a special room designed for shaping surfboards. Some of the key features about a shaping room that make them ideal are good lighting to highlight imperfections in the board, an air compressor to blow away the lose dust, a tape line on the back wall to check the level of the board and finally lots-and-lots of tools.

Some day I would love to have a shaping room shed in my back yard, but present day the easiest option was to rent one. A local surf shop has one for rent for $25 an hour. To give context, a board usually takes between 2-4 hours to shape so it isn’t super expensive.


The two things I had to do were change the foil and create the new rails. I didn’t get a good shot of the foil change so you’ll have to take my word for it.

Tweaking The Foil

Foil is basically the thickness pattern of the board if you look at it from the side. Since this came off of a broken longboard, the shape was thin up front and continued to get thicker the whole way to the back. That isn’t ideal for a surfboard, you want the tail to be thin to help with turning and water release. I took about an inch off of the bottom, gradually curving from the center.

While I did that I also smoothed the whole shape with sandpaper. You can see below that the foam looks much more pure after I took a few millimeters off.


New Rails

When it came to the rails I had two goals in mind; hard rails on the bottom and keeping as much foam as possible. Hard rails on the bottom help create a carving edge and maximize the surface area. I left them at 90*. For the top, I rounded everything off slightly.


Compare the image above to the previous rails. Quite different.


Fixing Dings

The final thing I had to do before painting was fixing the dings. There were a few spots that I had previously carved out for a ding repair when this was a longboard. I wasn’t able to shape around them, so I have to fix them. I planned on using Q-cell, the hardening substance I normally use to fix dings, but a shaper recommended I try spackle. Apparently Q-cell is so hard that sanding it down often ruins the shape of an unglassed board.

I’m still a bit unsure as to how this is going to work, but I spackled two major spots and a couple of little dings. I’ll have to sand everything smooth one final time before painting the blank.


This was part 2 of a 4 part series – you can read the rest here: