So Jon, when it comes to the alaia, why Paulownia wood, I mean, couldn’t you just go down to the corner hardware store and grab a redwood blank and do the same thing? What’s the main idea behind the alaia board made of Paulownia?
Well, the number one reason we use Paulownia wood is because of its unique ability to resist saltwater. There is no need to varnish or glass these boards, we just use linseed oil and beeswax. And it is a lot lighter than most wood that you can find at the hardware store. In addition, you can’t just go down to the hardware store and buy any kind of blank. It’s actually pretty hard to go to the store, pick up some 2×4′s and turn them into a blank. Paulownia also has a very nice flex. It allows for enough flex to fit into the contours of the wave, but it is not sooo flexi that it loses speed.
Where does Paulownia come from and is there any particular reason there’s no knots in the wood? Would knots effect the board in any way?
Paulownia is originally from Asia. It is now grown in Australia, and to a lesser degree in the United States. Paulownia is not easy to get and we take what we can get. Sometimes it does have knots, sometimes it doesn’t. I like the knots, I think they add character. We try not to have too many in one board. In some ways a knot can add strength to a board. It can stop a board from splitting, because the split won’t go through the knot. But if there were too many going left to right, it could make a board weaker. I hand select each board that goes into a blank to make sure there are not too many knots in a board.
And now, when it comes to shaping an alaia, can you break down the process? I’ve never done any shaping myself but know the basics, but staring at this alaia blank I’m a little apprehensive about where to start. It looks like I personally might just make a really cool looking door and sink to the bottom…
Actually, I think making your own Alaia is the best beginner shaping project around. You can get a blank that already has a template on it. It doesn’t take that many tools, if you really wanted to you could make an Alaia with only hand tools. You can shape your board, oil it up and take it for a test ride. If you are not satisfied with the board, you can take it home take another whack at it and try it again. You can actually keep cutting away at this thing until you have a paipo style board, and you will still have a blast catching little waves on the thing. As a surfboard shaper, I use many of the same tools and techniques for both surfboards and Alaias. Electric planers, rotary sanders, and hand planes are used both on my surfboards, and the Alaias. The one tool that I use exclusively on the Alaias is a vibrating sander.
Size is key to all surfboards. So with the Alaia, is there any magical size you’d recommend? After seeing Thomas Campbell’s new movie, well besides the fact those guys all rip, it seemed like they were riding all sizes and shapes. Do certain shapes call for certain sizes, or is it really just personal preference, like a longboard vs. shortboard dilemma?
It still comes down to personal preference. I ride both short and long surfboards, but my favorite Alaias are those in the 7′-8’4 range, because I love the maximum speed in trim. People who are into maneuvers, they love the shorter Alaias. The smaller Alaias have tighter turning radiuses for more maneuverability.
Could you describe some of the different shapes that are more popular and the difference between them, performance wise?
The Finley and the Anchovy models have a straighter template through the tail. These models are usually used in the longer Alaias. The boards are super fast and hold nice trim, but they still have the ability to do cutbacks. The Stuth and the Peanut models are usually 6’8 and smaller and have concave bottoms. They are a little more maneuverable and do the forward slide referred to as lala. The peanut model is the best for surfing backside.
Who would you recommend shaping an alaia to, and any advice you could give them?
In my opinion it would be best to buy an Alaia off the rack and learn how to catch waves and ride waves. Once you know how the boards should work, then I would say it’s time to make your own. Although this may sound like I’m just trying to sell my boards, it would be hard for someone who can’t surf to make their own surfboard, the same applies to the Alaias. It really helps to have either wood working, or shaping experience, but neither is required. We have had a lot of customers who have had great success making their own Alaias. Some have been woodworkers, some have been surfboard shapers, some have just been people excited about a project.
I’ve heard different things about this subject, so tell me, wax or no wax on it?
The Aussies tend to go waxless, in the U.S. we tend to put wax on the board. Again, it is personal preference. Slipping on your board, can lead to a pulled muscle, I won’t risk that. The boards don’t need that much wax, because they are not as slippery as a surfboard.
What’s your personal favorite alaia shape, your daily driver, if you will?
The board I use most often is a 7’6 Anchovy. I love it at Malibu for it’s speed, but I can also ride it at my local beach breaks. The swallowtail gives me a little extra flex when I bottom turn and cutback.
I feel like a kid in a candy store right now asking you all these questions! But can you color these too? Or do you just do the ol’ linseed oil finish and hit the waves?
We haven’t experimented with color yet but it is in the works. We have had a couple of local artists burn in some artwork onto the boards and they have made some incredible pieces of art.
Well, Jon, thanks again for spending some time and letting me pick your brain. Have a good rest of the week!
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