The weather is right for hitting the waves. We’re celebrating summer this year with a Blackfern collaboration; two boards that are part of our Surf Pendleton collection. So here, in their own words, are all the steps that go into making these fine boards–one at a time, all by hand.
Making the Pendleton Limited Edition Surfboard
Each Pendleton Limited Edition Surfboard is shaped, painted, glassed, sanded, and glossed by hand in Blackfern’s fabrication studio in Portland, Oregon.
For the Pendleton Limited Edition Surfboard, a 1960’s era single fin model was chosen. This timeless retro board embodies the lifestyle of the era; clean, simple, and stylish. Many of these retro shapes are having a resurgence in popularity because of their versatility in a range of surf conditions. The board style pays homage to an era in which Pendleton was a vibrant force in Californian surf culture.
The Process Starts
The first step in the fabrication process is to trace out the outline of the board onto a blank, which is a rough-cut piece of foam that resembles a surfboard, albeit not a very functional one. The outline is cut out of the blank, not unlike making Christmas cookies, and the excess foam is removed. The outline is then tuned by a rasp-like tool called a surform, in order to hone the perfect curve that will define the finished board.
The next step is to craft the bottom of the board. This process begins by power planing or “skinning” the protective outer shell of the blank that protects the softer foam within. After the skin is removed, the bottom contours are shaped in by removing material with additional passes with the power planer, surform, and finally, sanding blocks. The single fin model features shallow concavity through the middle of the bottom, blending into a V contoured tail. These contours give the board a loose and nimble feel with higher performance than would be achievable with a flat bottomed board.
At this point it is time to flip the blank over and begin working on the top of the board. Similar to the bottom, the first step is to remove the protective skin of the blank. During this process, I start to flesh out the top contours and the “foil” of the board. Foil refers to the changing thickness, both from the center towards the rails as well as from the tip to the tail of the board. It is during this process that a shaper’s ability to visualize in three dimensions becomes crucial. Knowing where to remove material and in what quantity can be tricky. The goal is to produce a smoothly foiled board; maintaining volume in helpful areas and removing it where unneeded.
Forming the Rails
After the top has been shaped and foiled, its time to move onto the rails of the surfboard. At this point the board has a functional top and bottom but with its boxy, vertical rails, it would be miserable to surf. To form a smooth curving rail, I begin removing rail material in the form of rail “bands.” Bands are sloped ridges that run the length of the board; thickest at the middle and thinner towards the tip and tail. By removing rail material incrementally in these stepped ridges, it is possible to produce a rail that changes shape and thickness in a controlled and consistent fashion. Once the bands are crafted to satisfaction, the board is turned onto its rail and I begin passing a sanding screen over the ridges of the “bands.” After screening repeatedly, the ridges disappears and a smoothly curving rail emerges.
Finishing Foam Touches
The final steps of the shaping process are to install the slider single fin box and to finish sand the entire shaped surfboard to a buttery smooth finish. The board is signed off to the customer who ordered it. I write the customer’s name, the dimensions of the board, and finally “Pendleton Surf Limited Edition.”
Getting that distinctive Pendleton look
The specialized Pendleton artwork is applied before glassing the board. The two color versions vary on their preparation. To produce the characteristic plaid pattern, I start off by creating a series of vertical stripes that represent the four primary colors of the pattern. I then lay out horizontal bands that cross directly over the vertical bands. I use the same four primary colors and spray through a sanding screen, producing the blended color tones featured in the plaid print. Finally, I add a band of dark color around the rails of the surfboard to form a frame of sorts.
For the striped version, I tape off three zones of the board; center, nose, and tail. Within these zones, alternating colored bands of varying thicknesses are laid down to form the distinctive, classic pattern.
Onward to Glassing
Glassing is only achievable in incremental steps, similar to the process of shaping the foam of the board. Glassing consists of four separate treatments of resin that constitute the glassing process; two laminations and two hotcoats. A lamination is the process through which fiberglass cloth, saturated with resin, is bonded to the fragile foam core. A hot coat is an additional layer of resin that helps protect the fiberglass cloth and completely seal the inner foam core.
The first lamination occurs on the bottom of the surfboard. To prepare for the lamination, the top of the board is taped and masked to avoid being exposed to resin prematurely. A piece of fiberglass cloth is rolled out over the length of the board and is cut so that the fabric drapes over the rails, usually extending approximately 2-4 inches below the beginning of the rail. Surf Pendleton and Blackfern decals and fin boxes are dry fitted to ensure that no mishaps occur. The entire surface of the board is then “wetted out” with polyester laminating resin. A squeegee is used to work the resin into the porous foam of the board and to fully saturate the fiberglass cloth. The cloth is carefully wrapped over the rails and the board is left to harden or “cure”.
Once the bottom is cured, the board is flipped over and the same process is done to the top, this time with two layers of fiberglass cloth to add additional strength to the deck. After wrapping the top layers of fiberglass onto the bottom of the board, the resin and fiberglass are left to cure once again.
To hotcoat the board and finish glassing the board, another coat of polyester resin called sanding resin is applied to each side of the board. This process is among the most simple of all the steps of surfboard fabrication – resin is poured out of a small pail and then spread evenly over the surface of the board with a large paint brush. Each side is left to cure before flipping the board a final time to hotcoat the other side.
Hot coating produces a slick, imperfect surface. In order to make it ready for use, every square inch of the board must be sanded. Sanding makes the surfboard finally feel like a surfboard; smooth, strong, and perfect. Many boards are considered finished and ready for use at this stage but the Pendleton boards receive one additional treatment – a gloss coat.
The gloss coat is nearly identical to the hotcoat. The only major difference in the processes is that the gloss coat resin is slightly thinner and is applied to a perfectly smooth, even surface. As a result, less resin is required and a perfectly smooth surface is formed. Even so, the entire board is sanded again to make it ready for use. Successive sand paper treatments, each one higher grit than the last, are used to form completely smooth and scratch free surface.
To bring a shine to the finished product, buffing compound is applied using a woolen compounding bonnet. Finally, a treatment of polishing compound is applied to all surfaces of the board using a polishing pad to give it a candy-like luster.
Tools and hands have passed over every square inch of this board dozens of times and, at last, this Pendleton Limited Edition Surfboard is ready to ride! Get ready to catch some great waves!