Tom Wegener Discusses Alaias Shift from Wood to EPS

| posted on October 01, 2010

Rob Machado, is to blame for making Alias seem easy. Photo: Childs

Rob Machado, has made the craft of riding an Alaia seem easy. Photo: Childs

Tom Wegener may be one of a handful of successful surfboard shapers who actually worked as a lawyer before committing his life to the craft of board building. “Nobody is happy [in the judicial system],” says Wegener. “The judge isn’t happy. Your client’s never happy. Nobody’s happy. And then you come into making surfboards at a substantial pay loss, but you’re dealing with happy people.” And Wegener is a happy person. He’s also a powerful driving force behind the alaia revival. We recently caught up with Wegener at Cardiff Reef in San Diego to learn more about his newest endeavor, which puts an ironically modern twist on the ancient Hawaiian design: an EPS alaia called “The Tuna,” part of Wegener’s Seaglass Project.

Describe this board we’re looking at here.

This is the Tuna, which is the foam version of the alaia, the ancient wood surfboard. This board surfs like an alaia except it’s just a lot easier to paddle and catch waves on. We rode the alaias for five years and loved them, but the shine started to wear off because we were paddling out in conditions just like today—a lot of guys out on longboards—and on an alaia it wouldn’t be that much fun. It was fun in the beginning. But we want to keep that feeling of ancient Hawaiian surfing alive and make it much more accessible to the average surfer, so we spent a long time figuring out how to do it. We made them out of plywood, regular wood, solid surfboard foam, and I knew that to get it right, we had to go to EPS foam. I was talking to Mark Kelley [of Global Surf Industries], and he sent down 12 big EPS longboard blanks, and we started carving them up and put stringers in them, and made about 14 of those and got it right.

You’ve been a huge proponent of reviving the alaia-style of surfing. How did you get so inspired to spearhead its revival?

When I saw the alaias in the Surfing Heritage Museum…they were beautiful. The shape was so perfect. As a woodworker, I just fell over backward. Like Greg Noll said, he saw the boards and the hair stood up on the back of his neck. You’re meeting aliens; they’re so beautifully made. It became a passion to say, “I’m going to figure out how those boards work, because there’s something to those boards and I don’t understand it at all.” It’s actually been a highlight of my professional life to recreate and discover the whole separate universe of principles that surfboards work off of.

Alaias can be difficult to surf, do you have any tips that might make that experience a little bit more welcoming?

The first thing I say with alaia riders is don’t even try to stand up. Just get out there and just feel the wave and the whitewash and feel the flex of the board. Get to know the board first. To the ancient Hawaiians, there wasn’t a big distinction between standing on a board and belly riding—just like George Greenough doesn’t have that distinction. Great surfers don’t mind belly boarding. I think it’s safe to say that Mike Stewart has spent more time in the tube than anybody. So take your alaia out and just belly board it for a while. And then once you get to know the board, then you paddle out the back and when you catch that wave then you’ll be ready to stand on the board. Even David Rastovich couldn’t do it the first time, if that’s any encouragement.

  • Singlefinglide

    Good article, but all “soft” questions. I’de love to ask Tom why he went to GSI in Thailand vesus shaping them himself…kind of takes the soul out of it. It seems to me that that’s what Tom is all about and that’s why he started the whole “Alaia project” in the first place.

  • tyler durden

    sell out!

  • jeff

    WTF??? When Wegener starts dealing with Thailand we’ve got a problem. Keep Alaia’s wood, they aren’t meant to compete with longboards. Find an empty peak, paddle out by yourself, and enjoy the ride….

  • mick

    why make it the same shape as an alaia?
    sales man 1st.
    there will be a new breed of surfing it may borrow from an alaia but it wont be the same shape!!! wait and see…. crew been finless for years now the main stream sheep- inside-the -box- thinkers dont care for change so we beat our heads against the wall while the world catches up. this is true across the board of human exitance!!! for all of histiory and events.

    dont knock what you dont understand

  • mick

    sorry dont mean to knock the bloke too much he did revive the shit!!! props to tom!!!! but please change the sales man in you! quoting bill hicks; ´if your in marketing go kill yourself, really you provide zero function to sociey´ true words. rip bill

  • NSU

    Revive? Are you high? Alaia….its Hawaiian, braddahs never stopped shapin em in Hawai’i. Wegner wagner or however you spell em just wanted to get famous. Get real brah. An EPS Alaia is a slap in the face to the Hawaiian culture and the roots of surfing! Show some respect.

  • Xavier

    The work of Tom Wegener introduced Alaia surfing to me and for this I’ll forever be grateful.
    I do think that making Alaias out of “plastic” completely defeats the purpose.
    They are not only an ancient form of surfing, they are extremely advanced in term of design and regarding what’s ahead of us environmentally wise.That’s one perfectly efficient tool providing the best fun with the minimum impact on nature.
    I started riding them at age 40, I’m certainly not Rasta nor Rob, it took me 4 or 5 sessions before I could really feel confident, but I was alone with no tips whatsoever. Since then I’ve never ever put a foot on fiberglass again.
    Now I take guys out with me, and with the right pieces of advice, most of them stand during the first session.
    It’s like riding a bicycle, it seems impossible the first time, but once you get it, it’s really easy. You just need to let go…
    It’s so fun, I can’t believe there aren’t more people out there trying them…
    And the bonus is, no more air charge for surfboards, I declare my Alaias as wood planks…

  • rich

    If these function better then I will certainly be trying one. It is all about functionality & where I live there is not a very alaia friendly wave as a softer beach break. If these float & paddle more than I’m in…. Don’t care where it is made. I just want to surf and have a good time.

    All of you who say Tom is a ‘sellout’ or this or that you’re welcome to your opinion but the bottom line is he is trying to deliver a product for people’s enjoyment. I am grateful to him & whoever is doing the ‘marketing’ to get this to me.

  • jeff

    So he’s basically just creating a really long boogey board and then people are standing on them? I wonder if drop-knee alaia riding will be cool in a few months

  • duc

    Wow. Surfers sure are a self-righteous reactionary bunch. Most here seem every bit as unhappy and surly as the judges, lawyers and clients Wegener was talking about. Congratulations.

  • Kel

    Tom came to GSI because he couldn’t make the boards he really wanted to make to help the finless movement evolve. You can find more details out about the whole project here – – Tom is going to jump on this thread later today.


    Mark Kelly
    Global Surf Industries
    Cell: 619 203 8519

  • Dave

    Just think how fun these boards will be when they continue to evolve and put fins on them! Wait…I’m having deja vu.

  • Sheep in wolvesclothing

    I love it when MASS PRODUCTION is hidden behind the the VALE of SOUL SURFING>….. Why not hire OZZIES to make them??? What, dont want to pay for health insurance or a decent wage, better go find a THAI boy that will work for peanuts while fulfilling everyone of your pedophile dreams,,,, RIGHT TOM>

  • SLi Dawg

    If you’re going to be making Alaias out of something besides wood just go to talk to one of the original skim board makers like Victoria Skimboards. They’ve been in the thin board game for years!

  • masterb8, stoptheh8

    Don’t forget, hippies, a tree dies to make your precious alaia!

    Save a tree! Ride EPS!

    M. B8

  • Mason88

    Surfing is done. Stick a fork in it.

  • J.S.

    Everybody has to eat I suppose….and own a house near the beach….well I guess only a few people get to own a house near the beach…..

    All bashing and jokes aside.

    He was a lawyer before and I think alot of people would do the same thing prior.

    Just don’t buy the stupid boards.

  • Tom Wegener

    Hi Zach, Thanks for putting this story up. There are a lot of terrific comments!!!! The alaia and the tuna will be having a profound effect on surfboard shapes – mostly on the rail shapes. Most boards now have neutral rails which are desinged to have little grab into the wave. The fins do the grabbing and the rail is mostly there for floatation. The alaia and tuna have a aggresive rails that holds into the wave. The hold comes from a dynamic play between flex through the board and the rail shape. The trim speed is terrific – as Reno said about Mr. Valentine, “He had all the speed in his pocket”. The speed from the modern thruster largely comes from pumping the board in small waves. I am working with the the vacum rail on my longer boards now and finding a new sense of trim and a much higher line.

    About being a “sell out,” I knew that was coming. First and formost, I strive to make the best surfboard I can. Working with GSI gets me there with this project. There is a very green surfboard – the alaia. Make your own and put the dust in your composting toilet. I do. I love my organic gardens around my house and I am forever proud of making a surfboard factory that leaves almost no waste. I have given all my alaia shapes and techniques away (Tom’s Creation Plantation DVD). Everyone is invited to be a purist.

    As far as making the boards locally and not sending them off to be made elsewhere, That is a long story for me – starting with me being the excetutive directory of the surfboard industry in San Diego in 1993 or so. I tried to work withing the industry to keep surfboard making in the US and got so many death threats that I was actually wrecked for months. Surfers are so passionate about their surfboards, but they will not pay what it realy costs to make it. For all you people complaining about the overseas boards coming in, you probably haven’t ever paid the proper cost of a surfboard. In the factory where the board comes from, are the workers paid a wage or piece work? Do they have a future. Probably not. I think it is sad. I have bucked the system and my employee, Matt, is on salary with sick leave, holidays and Super. This is the way the rest business should be run. I am lucky I can get higher dollars for my boards so I have stayed in business. But, seriously, the surfing world has really let itself down by continually knocking the price of surfboards. F@$# – why does everyone want a deal? It has almost destroyed the custom surffboard shaper and has definitely hurt surfboard progression.

    GSI is delivering what the vast majority of surfers want, a really quality surfboard at a low price. Also, working with GSI I can progress surfboard shapes in a way that I only dreamed a few years ago.

    But, for those that don’t like boards made overseas, “Hug your shaper.” He probably needs one. Also, Don’t squack at paying $1200 plus for a shortboard and $2200 for a quality longboard. That is what they would cost in Australia if they were any other product requiring skilled labor.

    All the best, Thanks for the opprotunity to post this,

    Tom Wegener

  • gremmie41

    Just another board to ride in your quiver. If you no like what he makes, no ride’um.
    Surfboard shapers shape because they love creating stuff that they can ride or others can ride and appreciate. NOT for the so called “SOUL”. There ain’t no “SOUL” in foam, bruddah.
    No go hating on the shaper…try making a board yourself, even a Paipo or skim board. You’ll appreciate your shaper that much more.
    In response to the “Sellout” label, try eliminating all items in your household that isn’t made in America, and see where you stand. I think we’ll see alot of empty homes.
    Just surf what you like, no worry what the other guy(girl) is riding. That’s how it is in the 808!

  • Josh in Encinitas

    Just go surfing.

    I really dont care what your board looks like or where it’s made. Personally, I get all my boards shaped by a guy that lives down the street and surfs, but to each his own. It does’nt matter what the f*&# your riding as long as your having fun. I’m pretty sure we all surf for the same reasons and if you dont support a particular board or shaper then dont buy it.

  • Bill Burke

    Sell Out? Hardly. Look at the list of legendary shapers who have a line of po-outs.
    Would the Duke try a Tuna? I bet he would.
    Its easy for some to say “sell out” if one can afford it. Tom is a hard working family man who has contributed a whole new world of knowldge inspired by the ancient Hawaiian’s. (not everyone back then was even allowed to surf….sport of Kings…alaias were for commoners) If Tom were selling out why then would he freely give away the technology and knowledge to make your own alaia? Trump would have you “fired” if that’s marketing. We (all surfers) are soooo lucky to be able to do what we do, surf. Give thanks. I plan on assisting burn victim’s ride their first wave this Saturday in Morro Bay.(Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation Surf Event)
    We will be using pop-outs, alaias, soft-tops, boogie boards, and good ol’ toxic fiberglass boards.
    “Walk a mile in my shoes” – a tune by Elvis…listen to it.
    Bill Burke

  • Joey Brooks

    I agree with Bill Burke. Tom’s not a sell out, he doing what every major shaper has done already. Tom has awakened a new kind of stoke in alot of us that have followed the alaia revival. Last year I saw his videos from his presentation at Patagonia and totally freaked. I made two alaias myself and had a blast, they’re not the best riding boards, but it was an awesome experience and a real hoot to actually stand up and surf on a 1/2 inch plank of cedar. It has made me more excited about the future possibilities of our sport. I truly thank Tom for his inspiration, and look forward to riding one of his “new” boards. Any excuse to get into the water, I will take. Riding a “popout” alaia in crappy surf is better than any day in the office.

  • Xavier

    It’s not about riding boards, it’s all about riding waves.
    Some get the stoke riding them on long boards, some without a board.
    I’ve tried them all, and in smaller waves I have more fun on alaias than on any other craft.
    What are some of you people scared about ?
    No one is going to force you ride an alaia…
    This reminds me the first time I went snowboarding about 25 years ago with a self made board.
    “What the … No sticks !?…”

    However, really thank you Tom for the insoiration, EPS, wood, lots of ways, lots of possibilities,
    I’m looking forward to seing what you’ll come up with.

    Xavier Moulin

  • flipper

    Pretty interesting interview. I understand those crying blasphemy, but that seems short sighted in my opinion…apparently I’m not the only one. Came across an interesting review of the tuna today: