The latest in the ever-decreasing trickle of Jurassic Clarks came to me from my friend Doug Lock in Honolulu. He had somehow gained possession of my old nemesis the 113D, in yesteryear a workhorse of a blank with a terrific pedigree that nonetheless was a briar patch of kinks and demilitarized zones if it wasn’t glued up with exactly the right rocker.
But this was no ordinary, stock 113D. It was an older, ultra-high density pour now only used for tow board blanks, and it had a triple-stringer glue-up with so much lumber I didn’t know if it called for a power planer or a chainsaw. The result was a blank that weighed more than two fully glassed composite SUP boards of the same length. My Skil 100 took one look at the massive 5/8” redwood-basswood-redwood T-band offsets and scurried off whimpering under the bed.
Now, I don’t know about you, but when the floorboards creak when you clean-jerk a surfboard-like object that weighs over 50-lbs, my mind always flits towards the realization that such a heft would be less than half of what surfboards weighed in the pre-balsa era — and surfers used to shoulder carry those leviathans down the trails to Paddleboard Cove in Palos Verdes and places like that. Clearly those men were made of sterner stuff back in the day. …Of course back then they didn’t get towed by a personal watercraft out to the priority buoy after every wave.
My friend Doug wanted a period Brewer “Pipeliner” type surfboard liberated from this blank, and as luck would have it I have a vintage un-restored 11’6” Bing “Dick Brewer Model” with exactly the same stringer configuration. The “Pipeliner” models were guns designed by Brewer for big Hawaiian surf back in the mid-1960s. In my estimation, after riding a number of them in substantial surf and building quite a few modernized versions for big Makaha surf in the 1990s, they represent a quantum leap in big wave design and were inarguably the forerunner of the modern gun looming on the horizon of the 1970s.
Templating the planshape on this surfboard was simple – I’ve had a number of period “Pipeliner” templates for decades and used the long, even lines on everything from full replicas to race paddleboards. I have noted elsewhere that certain of these stem cell ‘mother curves’ stretch back to antiquity and would match up quite evenly with many of the ancient Hawaiian surfboards housed in the warehouses of the Bishop Museum.
However, cutting the planshape out was another thing entirely. Using a Japanese-style pull-saw, it took me about 15 minutes to slog through that ultra-dense foam and thick wood offsets. To mill the blank I brought out from retirement an old planer with blades, necessary to slice through all that stringer wood. In no time the shaping bay was redolent with the sweet musty smell of pulverized redwood, one of the true joys of surfboard shaping and a lovely scent that remains for days after. As I believe Proust contended, a half-remembered odor can conjure nostalgia for another time and place like nothing else. In a sudden romantic spell wrought by the fragrant redwood I envisioned how satisfying a life would be lovingly crafting a 3-stringer Pipeliner replica each day, for aficionados who always kindled a dream of owning one. …Well, for 3 grand each, perhaps.
Shaping this type of board, with nearly wood-like foam and all those stringers, in the Hawaiian summer inside a modified shipping container showing 90F on the thermometer, was tantamount to playing a few sets of tennis against a good and mobile opponent who really keeps you moving around the court. It’s a workout. And the block planes have to be hair-splitting sharp.
What keeps you going is the ever-developing beauty of a timeless surfboard design, a sense of nostalgia so profound it is like a séance conjuring the 1960s, and for this shaper, perhaps, a yearning to understand one of the most important but least appreciated quantum-leap big-wave guns crafted in the unrestricted elephant hunting days by surfing’s most important shaper-designer.
And in the end, maybe it is the that nostalgia, that reaching back to another time and place, which is what compels me to whittle away at foam slabs like Richard Dreyfuss obsessively forming mashed potato replicas of Devil’s Tower in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” I have been to China and watched 105-lb striplings shoed in shower slippers mowing out 10 stand-up surfboards a day—-but his exertions are were labor – he does not envision Buzzy Trent carrying the board with rippling abs or smell the sweet pineapple aroma driving down to Haleiwa for Wahiawa when a huge swell is foaming over the outside reefs, nor does he place his daily drudgery in a continuum that allows him to set his stone amongst the heroes of his youth.
Then again, maybe it was just the smell of Skil-roasted redwood…..