Words by Matt Arney
Get up and catch the bus to school…Period one math, period two geography, kick a football around the playground at break time, period three….. surfboard shaping???
That’s right, surfboard shaping. At school.
For the past seven years, Richard Scott of Richard Lander School in Cornwall, UK, has been guiding his students through how to shape and glass surfboards at school as part of their Design and Technology coursework and as an activity during the school’s annual activity week before the summer holidays.
Loads of the kids at the school surf, and plenty of teachers do too; the school’s catchment area includes a long stretch of the North Cornish coastline and a couple of surf-centred small coastal towns. Richard lives a bit further away, overlooking one of the UK’s premier reefbreaks and he spends his evenings and weekends shaping surfboards under the ‘Thirdshade’ label in his workshop for the local crew there. When the kids found out about his after school activities they wanted in, and didn’t let up until they had surforms in their hands and a cloud of foam dust around them.
“I first relented and ran a surfboard shaping workshop for twelve students as part of the school’s activity week six years ago. It worked out really well and that developed when some of those kids reached their final year and wanted to shape surfboards for their final year Design and Technology project”
The school is a specialist Technology College, so alongside all of their core subjects every student takes a Design and Technology subject too, but only about twelve of them are able to shape boards for their final projects each year – it takes a lot of commitment in time and energy as all of the shaping is done afterschool, and the glassing and sanding at a local surfboard factory over the weekends. This leaves class time to complete their theory work and because each practical outcome is almost guaranteed an A grade Richard expects them all to back this up with research and design work of a similar quality, so all of them have a thorough understanding of the design theory and hydrodynamic principles behind their shapes.
“I saw somebody riding a mini-simmons in France last year and really wanted to try one out. The extra width and thickness makes catching waves really easily compared to other boards this short, it’s just really hard to turn!”
The students have control over their boards at every stage, so each year there is a pretty diverse collection of surfboards stacked up by the start of the summer – a couple of longboards, some more forgiving mid-size boards for those who are just starting out surfing and want their first board to be one that they shaped themselves (off to a good start no?), some standard shortboards, fishes and this year a couple of more left-of-field little numbers such as a mini-simmons, a Steve Lis style fish and a concave deck summer slop-buster.
“I designed a 5’8″ fish with a concave deck so that you feel like you’re stuck into the board more”
The blanks arrive having been rough cut on a local machine, leaving the students in control of re-templating any alterations and the tail shapes before shaping the rails and bottom contours with surforms, screen gauzes and glasspaper. A couple of nights a week there’ll be a crowd of groms in a darkened classroom with their music playing loud through the teacher’s projector system, wearing masks and their school shirts covered in foam dust moving up and down the trestles. Richard moves between them quickly, adjusting, demonstrating and double checking their work; his eye for lines and attention to detail more finely tuned than the gang of over energetic groms who are just excited to be shaping their own board. There’re inevitably on-the-go repairs and alterations to do as the students come to grasp just how fragile an unglassed blank really is when moving them between workshops and storing them in school cupboards. But after a few weeks they’re all done, pure white beautifully foiled disks of polyurethane foam. They then glass the boards over the course of a couple of weekends in small groups at a local surfboard factory in the beachside town where many of the kids live. Aside from mixing and pouring the resin, they are in there at every stage, learning to cut and notch fiberglass cloth, lay in their decals, wet out the cloth and lap the rails. They sand and then very nervously drill their fin plugs before setting their fins.
Somehow they then manage to get the majority of their spray paint on their boards rather than all over the school, and after a quick speed coat, they’re done. Ready to be marked, tested and then written about.
The sense of achievement is pretty obvious across all of their faces, especially when you see them running down the beach to the water’s edge with their own board under their arm at sixteen years of age. And the boards aren’t pigs either; under Richard’s guidance these students shape fully functional, often beautiful surfboards, the sort that absolutely wouldn’t look out of place on the rack in a shop… if you could prize them from the grasp of their proud owners.
For more information about this project, feel free to contact Richard through his blog at www.thirdshade.com
Mat Arney is based on the North Cornish coast and, in order of preference, likes to spend his spare time surfing, taking photographs, making things and writing about all of it. For more of writer Mat’s work, check out www.matarney.com and www.matarney.blogspot.com
Shaping photos by the staff and students of Richard Lander School. Other photos by Mat Arney.