Give the boy a plank of wood and a few tools and he will whip out a surfboard. In preparation for the day when resin, fiberglass and foam are no longer available, Aquaman hand crafted a beautiful Alaia (are-lie-a) from a blank of plantation grown paulownia timber.
I snatched a moment with Aquaman to ask him about his project and the history behind the Alaia.
What exactly is an Alaia surfboard?
Surfboard design has gone full circle and there has been a revival of the original Hawaiian boards, with a slight variation in timber. The plan shape is almost identical to the originals, the main difference between the modern Alaia and the ancient Hawaiian boards is a deep concave running most of the length along the bottom.
How does an Alaia perform in the water?
The thin, flat rockered board moves across the wave very quickly. The sharp edge of the rail bites into the wave like a long fin and the gentle curves on the bottom hold the board on the face of the wave. The board is light so it accelerates quickly and the wood is sealed with oil which creates very little friction on the water. They are very fast and very loose.
Take me through the process of shaping?
I drew a plan outline on the blank then cut it out with a jigsaw. Then drew guidelines along the top and bottom edge of the rails, the deck and the bottom, to show me the shape of the rails and the curvature. I used an electric planer to give basic curve to the rails; rails are kept very sharp because these act as a fin.
You are meant to scoop out the concave with a spoke shave, but I used an angle grinder with a wood cutting disc, resulting in a lot of "wabi-sabi" features on the bottom. To finish the board I hand sanded using increasingly fine grade sand paper to get a super smooth finish. (80-200 on deck, 80-800 on bottom). Two coats of linseed oil and your ready to slide. No wax, no legrope, no fins, no resin, no glass.
Why did you want to make an Alaia?
I was inspired by meeting Tom Wegener at the Yallingup Surf Film Festival last summer and seeing his movie Creation Plantation. It is such a novel direction in design and yet looked achievable; something I knew I could make myself without the use of gnarly chemicals and creation of toxic dust. It is sustainable and recyclable; it uses a minimal amount of fossil fuel energy and the only petrochemical by-products are found in the small amount of glue used to laminate the blank. The board is sealed with linseed oil and when the board has come to the end of its life it can return to the earth. In this way the board steps lightly.
Are you actually going to use it?
I will definitely give it a go. Essentially, it's a novelty board that I'll enjoy purely as an object, and if I don't enjoy surfing it, it will look good on the wall. If the shit hits the fan, we will all have to resort to a wooden plank.
See the Alaia's first ocean dunking on this here blog soon...