Project: Model Surfboard

Shaping your first surfboard can be a daunting task to take on. Purchasing tools and a blank, figuring out a template, and then finding a place to make a gigantic mess are just a few of the steps that one must take to even begin the process of building a board. And while there are opportunities around to make putting together the necessary ingredients to shaping your first board a bit easier, it all depends on where you live and the type of commitment you want to take. But, there is nothing quite like riding a surfboard that you made with your own two hands. And no matter how ugly it may be, a self-made surfboard just seem to work better under your own feet…

But there are options for getting your hands dirty, without having to get crazy. For artist, Kris Chatterson, he took it upon himself to go another route, without making a huge commitment. Kris built his own mini-fish. While he may not be able to ride this pint-sized surfboard, he was able to gain an appreciation for the craft that he would not have experience otherwise. In the end, it is all about thinking outside the box, using your hands to create something, and keeping the stoke alive, even if it is bite-sized! Check out some words and photos by Kris about his model surfboard project:

Being locked in my Brooklyn studio working on a painting show during a relatively flat summer inspired me to make my own mini-fish surfboard. I wanted to work with two ideas: 1) to see what the imagery of my paintings would look like on a surfboard, and 2) to figure out how to shape a board having never done so. Thinking back, I got the idea of making a model surfboard by looking at images of Carl Ekstrom’s model asymmetrical concepts. I often study a well-shaped board as if it’s a sculpture (because it is). I took on this project as a personal challenge and a learning experience. I wanted to get in the head of a shaper and see a surfboard through those eyes—the eyes of a maker.

I didn’t pre-plan this project, it really just came over me like a wave. One day I was playing around in the studio, as I often do, and I decided to go for it. I have these blocks of blue styrofoam that I use to keep paintings off of the ground and the idea clicked. After determining that I was going to take this full on, I took a quick trip to the hardware store to pick up the proper tools, like a saw, respirator, sand paper, and box knife. Other materials I used include acrylic paint, polymer medium instead of polyester resin, and a milk carton for the fins.

I have watched a fair amount of boards being shaped online so I started with finding an outline and rocker template, along with the fin template. I scaled everything down to 6 inches to keep it at a nice round number. The only easy part of this project was cutting the outline. Once I entered the 3-D realm of the rocker and rails my mind was blown. I was surprised though at just how much my hands would tell me rather than my eyes. I have felt up an fair number of boards in my day so I let that intuition guide me. After a lot of sanding, and even more sanding, I managed to get the rails. Glassing the board was the most fun. This is the part where my experience with painting really kicked in. For the bottom I used imagery from my paintings, and for the deck I played around with pouring stripes while everything was wet. I got really excited to see how the deck and bottom worked together once I peeled the tape away. It came out way better than I thought it would. For the final touch I gave it a two coats of polymer medium as a kind of hot coat and called it done!

I learned a lot by taking this on. Art has its place in gallery but it also has a place on the side of the wall or flying across the face of a wave. This project stirred something new in both my creative and surfing life. I have a deeper respect for shapers, who shape by hand and use their experience and intuition to lead the way. This was just the start for me. I plan to make more model boards with different materials and eventually shape my own board. What I learned the most was I have a lot to learn.

For more of Kris’s work, check out

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