Surfing Into The Future

As any sport grows, it must adapt to the demands of the times. Nowhere is this truer than in surfing. In the last few decades the technology behind surfing has increased at a phenomenal rate and there are now more options for board shapes, designs, and compositions than ever. With the advent of CNC (Computer Numerical Control) machines, crafting a board that previously would have taken days to weeks, can be completed in a fraction of a day. The CNC machines do not operate independently however…

In The Future






an operator must input the correct numerical values to properly shape a board and to do that they must first learn the history of surfing and designing the surfboard.

Surfing originated in Polynesia, but was popularized after the American annexation of Hawaii. The Hawaiians called surfing he’enalu, meaning wave sliding, and was practiced among all classes as a form of recreation and for religious purposes. Surfing was class segregated, with the nobility allowed to ride longboards and use better beaches, while the poor were segregated to poorer quality surf, and were relegated to smaller boards. The upper class rode three main types of surfboards: the ‘olo, kiko’o, and the alaia. Each was carved of wood and often weighed 100 pounds. The alaiastyle; a more conservative cousin to the kiko’o at 9 feet to the kiko’o16 feet, is the precursor to the first truly modern surfboards.

Surfboard shaping CNC machines (2)

The authorities governing Hawaii during the period of great decline during which Hawaii’s native population collapsed to just under 15% of its former grandeur tried to suppress surfing because of the religious connotations, and because it was a place to gather and breed resentment. Luckily for us, they did not succeed, and surfing was exported to the American West. Henry Huntington in an effort to increase tourism to the beach he had recently acquired, used surfing to convince beach-goers that they’re time was well spent. Seeing the sport as a novelty; Southern Californians flocked to see the shows and the American affair with surfing began.



Heavy wood surfboards


Surfing was limited to those who had the physical strength to maneuver their 80 – 100 pound boards. All that changed with the introduction of balsa wood sealed by fiberglass. Though it was simplistic and prone to cracking, this technique is the precursor to all modern surfboard manufacturing. No longer was the financial cost exorbitant, nor was the weight barrier much of a problem anymore. The core building technique was here to stay.




Surfing’s shift to mainstream popularity brought along many new advances in technology, but also alienated some of the first wave surfers. To preserve what they thought of as surf culture these old guard American surfers migrated to places like Hawaii, Alaska, Australia, and Indonesia. Ever in search of greater swells; these surfers traveled the globe leaving little pockets of surf culture wherever they went.


CNC machines shaping surfing (2)







At the same time the old guard was spreading surfing worldwide, surfing technology was increasing to a point that might seem familiar today. Finless longboards were the way of the past; remembered by only a few, and mostly too old to enjoy the new lighter boards. In their place came literally hundreds of different combinations available when building a board. New board types like shortboards and tow-in boards became popular among surfers looking for a greater challenge and the ability to swap out fins or to get a different core composition. This kick started a renaissance that hadn’t been seen since the Hawaiians created the first three types of surfboards.


Surfboard shaping CNC machines (1)







Today we are luckier than ever when it comes to options in surfing. Surfers are riding anything that floats; one fin, five fins, or no fins! The advent of CNC machining allows shapers to easily create hundreds of different customization options for every style and every type of wave. There is some unpopularity for the technique among some older surfers and “purists”, but there is always anger when more people can join something that one considers a special thing. CNC is making it far cheaper to acquire a high quality board that is virtually indistinguishable from traditional hand carved boards. There will always be a place for hand carving even as progress surfs on. Look for CNC to become even more prevalent in the near future, as a new wave of surfers are dropping in.

CNC machines shaping surfing (1)












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