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Final Thought: The Shaping Machine

Jan 11, 2007

Author: John Amundson

At first I was a harsh critic of computer-aided shaping or “the shaping machine.” Coming from a surfing background, I take pride in tradition. The tradition I’m talking about is the hand-crafted piece of foam and fibreglass on which we carve through water and ultimately find our piece of nirvana. To design in your head and shape a surfboard by hand commands the utmost respect; it’s a skill that elevated the shaper to guru status. As a 16-year-old, this craftsmanship attracted me to shaping. As time went on, I fully realized the history and tradition behind hand-shaping.

I started hand-shaping 23 years ago and kept chicken-scratched records of my designs until eight years ago, when I started working on a CAD program. Computers have been the best thing for my surf, kite, tow and other related designs. With both my twin-tips and my surf design, I can keep accurate records and develop off of proven designs. I am able to accurately change a design in a certain area of a board that has already been tested while leaving the rest of the design untouched. I then can test that design and feel the changes I made. This gives me an absolute result. If I choose to change a proven design in a certain direction and it fails, I can return to that proven design and try another direction. This assures that my designs only get better and better.

I work with two different design programs, SurfCAD and another vector-based program. SurfCAD allows me to design and CNC-cut complete surf designs, rocker tables for twin-tips, and cut outlines for twin-tips. My other vector-based program allows me to design full-scaled outline and rocker templates, which I can print on my plotter/cutter machine.
With all the benefits to this design technology, what could possibly go wrong? I have seen a new breed of shaper. This freedom and ease of design has created a small portion of “shapers” that have not even touched a power planer to completely shape a board. This technology allows the lazy, unethical shaper to hijack designs by directly copying existing shapes that may be the blood, sweat and tears of another shaper. It’s like the painter who has the gift to craft a masterpiece of his own but decides to paint an exact copy of Mona Lisa.

Throughout surfboard-shaping history, veteran shapers have been saying, “Back in the old days, we had to....” Now it is my turn, I suppose. It’s important for the shaper to possess the ability to shape a board from start to finish, and this requires years of anguish and hard work.

John Amundson personally puts his shapes to the test at the Mauritius wave contest at One Eye. And with more than half the competitors riding Amundson’s custom creations, it looks like he’s onto a winning formula. Fournet photo

Check out this riding video of John Amundson from the North Shore of Oahu. The trash talk from Reo at the beginning in pretty funny.

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