You mighta seen an ou wandering down the beach with what looks like a plank under his arm, and wondered “what the hang’s that!?”
History has a way of repeating itself and surfing’s no different. It all started with a shaved down wooden plank and recently the trend was revived. They’re called alaia’s – try spelling that quickly…..
The alaia’s roots span back a thousand years. “Lala” is the Hawaiian word describing the action of riding an alaia surfboard, with its literal translation meaning ‘the controlled slide in the curl when surfing on a board. And that’s what it’s all about – the glide and the slide.
Local logger Stefan Swanepoel decided to have a go at shaping his own.
What made you decide you wanted to try make your own board?
I saw a video of some guy surfing an alaia a few years ago. It looked pretty fun to ride, something totally different to what I’m used to. I enjoy working with wood, and thought I should try build one as a small project.
Did you have any plans you worked from?
I researched a lot on "surfboard", "alaia", and "planing hull" design before starting. I wanted to know exactly what the board would do in the water before I shaped it. I then drew out the design of what I wanted. I couldn’t find much helpful content on the internet about alaia design, it’s all pretty vague.
What sort of wood did you use? Am assuming you need to choose one with specific properties?
I used obeche wood. The most important part about choosing a wood is that it has to be very light, strong and shouldn’t absorb water. There’s a lot of wood everywhere, but I found that getting the exact properties that are needed is very hard to find. Paulownia wood is ideal, but is very expensive to buy and has to be specially imported.
Take us through the process of shaping it – a quick from “tree to toes-on-the-nose” progression!
The board starts as a few pieces of rough cut wood glued together. Cut out your template. Then you have to choose what sort of design aspects you are looking for. Once you’ve decided, use a hand plane to shave off the wood. When you’re done it’s ready for an oil. Then it’s just a waiting game for the drying period.
Am guessing there must have been a few “#@$%@” moments en route? Anything go badly wrong or a case of beginners luck?
Beginners luck definitely!
What are the dimensions? Some rocker or rail or tail tweaks in there?
The board is 5.7 foot. The rocker is flat, rails are sharp, and it has a square tail.
Did you have to give it a few coats of varnish to finish off, in terms of waterproofing it?
I added a few coats of linseed oil to finish it off.
And the million-dollar question – how does she surf?
Pretty stoked with the way the alaia surfs. Functions exactly how I wanted it to. Fast, smooth and paddles easier than I thought.
If you're are interested in shaping one, or to have one shaped for you, then email Stefan at email@example.com