Glassing a surfboard with Stu Kenson
With Additional Heckling by Joel Tudor
It’s an oft-overlooked aspect of surfboard building. You order a board with all the right dimensions, you agonize over a fin system and discuss obscure fractions of an inch with your shaper, but you seldom, if ever, talk about the glassing. At the most, you’ll choose either a 4oz or a 6oz cloth, but even then it’s an afterthought. Indeed, many people only consider the glasser when they’re the ones holding up the completion of their boards (1). The truth is, glassers get very little recognition for their role in a good board, which is, at once, significant and difficult.
Guest Editor, Joel Tudor is familiar with this Surf Tip column. In fact, way back in the beginning of 2008, Joel and Jui-Jitsu were my sophomore topic of torment. Joel choked me out in 13 seconds back then, emasculating me for ever more. This time he thought it would be fun to watch me sweat towards finishing a glass job. “A board really comes to life during the glassing process,” he hypothesized, “Sure, you might lose a couple hundred brain cells in the process, but it’s nothing a cup of coffee won’t wash away (2).” This information came from the same guy once told me he wouldn’t hurt me in a jui-jitsu match mere seconds before trying to rip my arm off. Regardless, without further delay we headed down to Stu Kenson’s facility in San Diego to put me on the clock.
Going in to the experiment, I was under the impression that I would be glassing an unshaped, reject blank that was of no value to anyone. Instead, the board in question, a crisp looking 6’1” would someday belong to one of Stu’s friends. Truth be told, I can barely make a lowly sandwich, let alone make a surfboard. With the added pressure to perform came the inevitable sense of dread that I had not the capacity nor the knowledge to pull it off. Not only would I be destroying a perfectly good blank, but some poor soul would be struggling to compensate for my inadequate efforts on the reef breaks in and around San Diego county for the entire lifespan of the board.
Cutting the Cloth
I failed to inform both Stu and Joel that my kindergarten teacher had threatened to hold me back a year for my inability to operate scissors (3). So when I placed the cloth on the bottom deck and held the oversized scissors to the board, a certifiable sense of panic rose in the room. But Stu diffused the situation by showing me some old-dog tricks that made cutting the cloth as easy as the kindergarten midterms.
Straight and Narrow
Stu reiterated time and again, that a shaper’s pet peeve is when the glasser puts the brand’s decal on incorrectly or off-center. As my golf handicap will attest, I have no idea when it comes to lining things up. In fact, I struggle to place the cheese evenly on my poorly-made sandwiches. Congruency simply is not my forte. So it was with extra caution that I carefully folded back the cloth, dropped some resin on the board and placed the decal down a full 45 degrees off vertical. What followed was an increasingly futile attempt to line the decal up with the stringer. Eventually, Stu stepped forward with a deep sigh and slid it into place. I took no offence, and moved my attention to my next task.
Against the clock
Stu mixed the solution lightly so as to delay the reaction and slow the resin hardening, which gave me about 20 minutes to apply an even coat to the board. I started gingerly, smoothing the liquid over the cloth without much care for conserving the mixture. The polyester resin spilled hopelessly over the rails until I noticed my supplies getting low. Just then, Stu’s mildly panicked voice interjected: “It’s hardening.” That was all it took for a sweat to break on my brow. Thick pools of resin gathered in the concave as I tried to spread the mixture to little effect. The pressure of finishing the job coupled with a mild intoxication from the chemical fumes only made my panicked strokes that much more ineffectual.
High as a kite, I stumbled back into the daylight and reflected on my experience through a fog of resin fumes and sweat. It didn’t take me long to realize that glassing a board and my Joel-Jitsu experience were not without their similarities. Last time I wore funny clothing and struggled for air as Joel strangled me. This time I wore a bib and gloves, and nearly suffocated on a concoction of noxious chemicals. Like jiu-jitsu, glassing a board requires a lot of practice and patience–both virtues I do not possess. Overall, Stu gave me a seven out of 10 for my efforts, which I was happy with, but knew he was being kind in his assessment, like you would encourage a child with inflated praise. But this will come as little consolation for the boards eventual owner, who’ll be riding a board that’s 30% less than perfect. Sorry about that.
1. One way to avoid a delayed glass job is to bribe with beer. Glassers love beer, it extends their workplace high.
2. Easily refutable logic is sometimes not easily refuted.
3. It’s hereditary, I think.