Talking Design With Rusty: Grading the High-Tech Backyard Shaping Project


Photo: Aaron Chang. Text: Mark Anders

For Surfline's last review, they took a look at a very cool (and free!) surfboard shaping software called BoardCAD. You can even download your virtual board design to a computerized shaping machine which will cut it for you, allowing the average guy with zero shaping experience to design his own boards.

While the software is intuitive and relatively easy to use, designing a surfboard that'll surf worth a crap is still a challenge.  I've spent some time monkeying around with BoardCAD until I ended up with a 6'4" small-wave board that he thought looked pretty dang fun.

But I've been warned that what you see on the computer screen and what pops out the other end of a shaping machine are often not the same thing. So before we waste a perfectly good blank cutting my board, we asked shaping legend Rusty Preisendorfer to proofread my design and grade my shape.

Now I realize just how lucky I am to be given this opportunity -- I mean, having Rusty grade your surfboard design is akin to having Tiger Woods rate your swing, or Kelly judge your frontside hack. But it's also very stressful. As soon as I hit send, and my design was hurtling toward Rusty's inbox in SoCal, I was nerve-wracked.

A couple days later, my report card arrived, and here's what Professor Preisendorfer had to say:

Outline: B-
"Overall looks good. The little Toad/Rocket wing on the tail is cool. But usually I will do the subtle features like that by hand until I really settle into a design. Don't get too caught up in detail, especially in the tail."

Deck: B
"The deck is a pretty benign thing, really. But I think you might want to take some of the dome out of the deck, and go with a little less volume."

Cross Sections: B
"Cross sections are like taking AP classes, so you did a pretty good job. Overall the deck looks a little crowned to me but that's a personal preference thing."

Bottom: C-
"You missed the mark here pretty hard. You didn't do enough homework there. Rocker is a pretty subjective thing, but you'll want to flatten it out a little bit--2.86 inches is quite a bit of tail rocker. For a 6'8" Pipeline board I might use 2.7 inches or a little more. For a 6'4" hotdog board I would drop it to 2.15 to 2.35 inches max."

Overall: B-
"Pretty impressed with your first design."

Teacher's Comments:
"Remember, you can always subtract foam but you can't add it back. Leave yourself a little extra foam, especially on the ends of the board. For the middle 60 to 70 percent of the board, let the machine do a lot of the magic, but err on the thick side especially on the last 30 percent on the nose and tail. Keep in mind that you can shape in detail: fine-tune tail outline, rail thickness, tip thickness, concave. So leave yourself a little wiggle room on early designs until you get a feel for how the design on the screen translates into a cut."

So my homework assignment is to try to fix the problems that Rusty pointed out on my 6'4". Then, I'll send it over to a computer cutting service and get my blank mowed. While you obviously won't have the luxury of Rusty proofing your own designs, he says most guys who operate computer cutting services are experienced folks who would be happy to help look over your design before it's cut. Some will charge you for their time, others may do it gratis because they just want you to have a good experience and come back to cut more boards at their shop. Either way, "be respectful of his time, and be humble," recommends Rusty.

Humble, that's the easy part. I've found that designing a surfboard -- either virtually or by hand -- is an inherently humbling experience that's bound to make any surfer better appreciate the time and skill that goes into creating a truly great surfboard.

For the full archive of Surfline's Surf Gear Reviews, click here.

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