Nick Carroll: Adventures in 3D Shaping

3 Dec 2020 3 Share

Nick Carroll

Senior Writer

Photo: Dale Wilson

Photo: Dale Wilson

COASTALWATCH | NICK CARROLL

Every now and then it’ll spring up on social media and maybe other places: the question of machine cutting surfboards.

It’s kind of a litmus test of how core you want to seem. Do you mock the machine cut as a modern curse? Do you claim pure hand shaping as the only “real” way to inject magic into a design? Do you defend your choice of model, and dismiss the hand shape as a relic of bygone days? Do you sit on the sidelines, wondering what the hell these people are on about?

Well, here’s another test.

The image you see below is a screenshot from a Shape3D file. Shape3D is probably the world’s most popular CAD surfboard design program. It’s used by hundreds, if not thousands of shapers to design, scale, and reformulate the boards that’ll eventually be cut to order by an APS3000 or some other cutting machine.

The board, in theory.

The board, in theory.

And guess what, there’s a free version of Shape3D.

And you can download it.

The board in the screenshot is kind of an experiment. I spent a couple of weeks surfing Sunset last December, mostly on 7’7” and 8’0” six channels made by the great guru, Al Byrne. (Yeah, hand shapes.)

It was crazy fun, but something — maybe the weird lack of crowds — made me think back to the kinds of boards we used to ride at Sunset in the 1980s. They were narrow and fast, but a lot shorter, and held a lot more foam forward and under the chest. They paddled quick and turned easy. Well, easy-ish.

(You can see a Surfline Sessions clip of one of Nick's Sunset waves from this trip at the 24 second mark here.)

A couple of months after coming home, I saw a movie featuring those 1980s days at Sunset. A pretty raw cut flick, but it had enough to show me I hadn’t been fantasising about the value of those shorter thicker boards. People RIPPED Sunset back then.

Nick's Sunset quiver, Dec 2019. All Al Byrne hand shapes, from top: 7’1”, 8’0”, 7’7”.

Nick's Sunset quiver, Dec 2019. All Al Byrne hand shapes, from top: 7’1”, 8’0”, 7’7”.

I talked a bit with Dale Wilson, AB’s great offsider and now the Man at Byrning Spears. Dale was into trying to build a modern version of the '80s Sunset killer. We emailed back and forth, and he was like, "Dimensions?"

7’4” popped straight into my head. That was the length of all my best Sunset boards of the time, first from Terry Fitzgerald, then from AB.

But then — as you do with surfboards — I thought about it too much. Surely everyone goes shorter again these days? Who even HAS a 7’4”? Dale was patient. I got the sense that he, like a lot of good shapers, has plenty of practice in being patient with surfers.

OK 7’2”, I eventually muttered, and Dale said cool, I’ll build a file.

He did so and sent me a screenshot, and I thought, I want to look at this thing for real.

So I downloaded Shape 3D’s free version and Dale sent me down the actual file.


And being able to view it — being able to change it — was a revelation.

I instantly knew 7’2” was wrong. It compressed the outline — too much curve through the middle. This was puffed up a bit by the very modern width, 19.5”. Within 10 minutes I’d stretched it to my original thought of 7’4” and pulled the width down by over half an inch, to 187/8”.

Playing with the design is great, but you’ll never replace the designer. The super skilled hands of a shaper like Dale Wilson is going to be necessary. Photo: Russell Ord

Playing with the design is great, but you’ll never replace the designer. The super skilled hands of a shaper like Dale Wilson is going to be necessary. Photo: Russell Ord

There it was, the board I’d been thinking of. Drawn through the middle for long power lines, curved enough in the back 18” to turn hard out of the pocket, thick enough to paddle like an 8’0”-plus.

The tail rocker was a bit low, but I knew six channels would change that. Deep channels add to rocker curve, and break up the outline. Thus, contrary to popular myth, channels free up the board. Specially in a big board, and specially at speed. They don’t tighten — they loosen. But yeah, I digress.

Dale tweaked his version of the file to match, and was stoked. “Yeah I like this better!” he emailed back.

The board is there. Now its just waiting for the glass.

The whole thing, written out like that, seems super specific — like, who else wants a 7’4” Sunset gun? It’s not a Monsta Box, or a Puddle Jumper. But that might just be the point. Talking with various friends and colleagues over the next few weeks, I found several of them had done a similar thing — worked with skilled shapers through the Shape3D interface to fine tune a custom cut. One or two had even begun to design their own files pretty much from scratch.

The 80s Sunset Killer is reborn, just waiting to be glassed. Photo: Dale Wilson

The 80s Sunset Killer is reborn, just waiting to be glassed. Photo: Dale Wilson

And I wonder if this may be something the Covid Boom will unlock: a new level of customer service, at the bespoke level of surfboard design. A deeper inclusion in the process, for keen surfers who want to know their equipment better, and even to play a part in that first step. For a price, of course.

You’ll never replace the designer. It took Dale’s super skilled hands to shave in those channels, for instance.

But feeling like you’re the designer? That’s cool. That’s hard to beat. That might just have grown a lot closer.

(This feature is part two in a series by Nick Carroll delving into the interesting developments coming out of the board production boom during Covid. Last week, Australia's great surfboard blank shortage.  Next: Stuey Campbell and the Exo-Flex!)

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