Friday, September 16, 2011

A Brief and Honest Plea

It seems trivial to a lot of people, and to others it's a pretty hot topic; but either way, the term hand shaped is being bastardized pretty hard at the moment. The following isn't a rant, just a humble observation on some wordage and some pretty blatant lies being told.

The term hand shaped, for years, has referred to a board that was whittled down by a planer, sandpaper and whatever other hand-held tools the shaper liked; chunks of foam flying, tight lines and experienced eyes laying down the cuts that make up our favorite boards. Not a CNC shaped board, that was then 'hand finished'. Finished and shaped are two very, very different words.

There seems to be a rash of shapers marketing "Hand Shapes" that when you do a little looking into, are most definitely not hand shaped. I'm not sure what the thought process is behind calling a machine shaped board anything else, but taking some router bumps down with a sanding block doesn't warrant the use of the term hand shaped. I'm sorry, but customers are being lied to daily and thousands of people are walking around with CNC shaped boards sporting the term hand shaped.

Let me digress for a second.
Machine shaped boards are fine, they surf, and they look nice like any other surfboard, they get glassed and have pretty colors.
What it comes down to though, for me, is creating a belief around your product through marketing and the terms that are used, and then selling something else. Thats telling a lie, just like our mommy's told us not to. I don't frown upon machine shaped boards too heavily, just the lack of distinction and honesty behind them.

Heck. If I was making machine shaped boards, I'd market THAT; they are flawless, perfect copies of each other and you have a very very narrow margin for mistake, that's got some value. My feathers start to get ruffled though, when every few weeks I learn exactly whose boards are machine shaped and marketed as hand shaped. When you're being dishonest and toting a term thats not applicable, in order to make a product more 'classic' and warrant a higher price tag, the truth usually comes out.

I'm guessing that most people reading this at the moment are thinking shortboards, hp longboards, etc. as the products I'm speaking of. When what I'm talking about are full on 'retro' 'classic' or 'alternative' boards. The ones all over the blogs and websites that you're cruising through today, by big, popular shapers, by the most 'soulful' shapers. I know people who have sold their entire quivers once they figured out the truth about their "hand shaped" boards. Making one or two honest hand shapes per week (I'm giving you guys the benefit of the doubt on that one), and 20 machine shapes, doesn't deserve the term 'hand shaped' for all of your boards...It's a blatant lie and to me just shows lack of respect for your customers.

Machine shaped boards have a place in the industry and honestly are likely the only way to keep board prices under $1,000 in the coming future. The demand for boards is just too large and honestly not everyone wants to spend more money on a hand shaped board. There are people out there though, doing justice to the term and being supported by people who care. I'd just like the lines to stop being blurred, and for everyone to be proud of what their product honestly is, even if it's machined...Just own it.

There's a laundry list of guys who fall under the pointed comments above, and your heart would likely break if I named them and you cared much for the debate.
I'm not trying to out anyone in particular. I haven't written this directly at one person or another, these are thoughts and bits of conversations I've been having for the past couple of years.

I'm pleading for some honesty from my fellow shapers that are, in their quest for their place in an honorable craft, dishonoring one of the last real traditions within it.

Pass this on if you feel like it, I hope the message is clear and not misread.


Almond Surfboards & Designs said...

very well said. this topic has kind of been the elephant in the room in the shaping world. i had someone ask me this same question last night and i explained it this way: it's not the machine-shaped boards are an inferior product, it's like the difference between an original painting and a print... they both look beautiful on the wall, however some are willing to pay extra for the original painting because of the time that went into that piece. They are not only buying the finished product but the story behind that finished product and the knowledge that the craftsman spent hours running his hands and eyes back and forth across it. it is super discouraging seeing how many people are trying to pass stuff off as hand-shapes (or original paintings, in this metaphor) when they are in every sense reproductions. And you nailed it, it's not a matter of hand-shapes vs machine shapes, both have their place, but guys need to start calling it straight. thanks for this ryan. (for the record, we're still 110% hand-shapers like yourself... )


ReisP said...

well said. thanks for diving into this wholeheartedly ryan. i commend you for actually tackling this topic that no one else seems to address. keep it honest and be your word. if you hand shape boards, great. if you use a cnc machine, great. both have their place but call it how it is. keep up the good work!

paulo jacinto said...

You´re simple right Ryan.
I make your words mine.

Keep it real

Stephen said...

magic boards are made by hand.all my boards have been hand shaped for over 40 years.still bring the blank to the shaper to get it shaped.

three rolled said...

Very well written post. I've had a hunch that there were some shapers out there who have been mis-stating the truth. You're 100% correct that "hand finished" is niwhere close to being the same as "hand shaped.". This is an indisputable point.

Of course i'm dying to know the identities of the shapers you're referring to. But your dignity and restraint in not outing them is understood and to be admired.


Well said enough!!

yo said...

well. very well written but, the analogies like all analogies breakdown. if the print was printed on the same exact canvas using the same weight printing material as the media on the painting and the same exact frame i'm not sure you could tell the difference in how they surfed. the somethings that bother me in the surfboard industry are 1. shapers that havent shaped enough boards to charge the same as the big guy but because hees got a website, a cool logo, a bunch of friends to get pics of and on his board then sells a good story but rips off the designs of the big guy. 2. not sure i believe that a machiné shaped board rides any different or cant be magic let alone be a magic copy of a magic board. i know you're not saying that but i'm pretty sure its not true anyway. 3. they shouldnt be selling these boards as handshapes unless of course they use them properly and thats as super refined blanks. and thats what i call a "shape" that starts with a handshape, then is scanned, cut, and then brought into the shaping room and the rails changed, maybe a concave or spiral vee or....added or removed? couldnt it be called a handshape? isnt it a really a blank with super tight o.g. spec's?

now, a big time board seller like say t..y p...l who used to shape handshaped boards or will if youre "special" but never even touches a board until its time to sign the blank and then you're lucky if he does. then you point is well taken. i can name 5 top shapers in the NetherCali regions that are doing exactly as you're article says and it makes me vomit, plus the idea of a 2 year wait so you can have one of these pretend boards is retarded! i say to him/her, quit lying to the public and quit traveling around the world selling your bullsh!t t.b.y

rant over!

bill p said...

right on ryan, it's just about honest representation.
simple and true.

Anonymous said...

You got it exactly right. Keep speaking out on this! Some folks still care.

Anonymous said...

i love you boards mr.lovelace. you dont even know who i am, just some kid that enjoys riding hulls... but its guys like you and greg liddle that keep the fire burning inside of me. keep on mowing

rotate90 said...

You seem like such a nice guy. How is it that you always manage to draw a jealous barb? Take it as a complement.

o4trix said...

talk da talk, walk da walk

Ryan said...

I'm not jealous that people are getting away with it, lets be clear about that. It just hurts a bit that some are blatantly disrespecting something very respectable. I'm sure if your job was outsourced to a computer and your company was saying to all of their customers that it was being done by hard working individuals one by one, you'd be a bit put off, too.

I appreciate all the comments and the discussion on this; I was hesitant to post it but it's been on my mind for a while. Maybe it'll all be for nought but it seems like some pretty important people are wise to it and paying attention.
This isn't something people are going to see the effects of now so much as it's going to change the landscape of what surfboard building will be in 20 years.

We make legendary shapers these demi-gods and give them our full respect daily, I'd like to be able to continue doing that. I'm always a spectator at heart and will forever be in awe just like everyone. I just don't want to look up to a guy who can program the shit out of some CAD software one day over a guy who's ran miles with a planer.

rotate90 said...

I was referring to the undercurrent of jealousy in another comment (seen this before on your message boards), not suggesting that you were jealous--just to be clear.

Gobleteen said...

Hey, I know this thread is being talked to death, but I came across it and thought I'd chime in.

As someone who both makes a lot of objects by hand and also uses 3d digital modeling software professionally, often for the express purpose of CNCing out parts, I definitely see the merits of both types of work. It seems, Ryan, that you do to, but I think you might be overlooking some things.

Digitally modelling requires an intellectual understanding of what form you are trying to achieve. It is best exploited and used to strong effect by those who can take (engineering, physics) principles and translate those into geometric form.

Analog making requires "tacit" knowledge. It favors kinesthetic learners. The strong hand-maker has learned thousands upon thousands of tiny lessons through all of his/her senses by making thousands of passes over the medium. Sensory feedback during the making phase as well as the testing phase gives this type of maker a truly powerful type of knowledge, but one that is less translatable than the sort of knowledge possessed by engineers. The fucking steam engine, which is responsible for the entire fucking industrial revolution, was invented by a dude who had tacit knowledge from working on mining equipment and therefore got the scoop on the engineers.

Because Tacit knowledge doesn't lend itself to clear, communicable principles, it often gets called "soul" or some other such twaddle. And because using a mouse instead of a pencil doesn't offer tactile feedback, computer designed objects get called "soul-less."

But computerized design and CNC have strengths that you haven't given them credit for. They aren't JUST faster. They can be used to produce multiple variations of a single board that can then be tested to gain Tacit knowledge of which type surfs "best." They can be used to turn abstract principles into powerfully performing geometric principles.

Its just that, to their eternal shame, most "CNC shapers" aren't using them to advance the craft, but rather to make facsimiles of hand shaped boards faster and cheaper. And that means that they aren't advancing in intellectual or tacit knowledge. Which is to say, unless they pull their shit together, hand shapers will have the richer understanding of the craft and carry the day.

And the false claim of "hand-shaped" is a claim of a certain type of knowledge and expertise that really, truly, isn't there.