What is a surfboard blank? blank is perhaps the most important part of a surfboard and yet it is the least talked about component in surfing.
If a blank were a human it would be the heart, as it is the core of a surfboard. If you were an artist, the blank would be your canvas. It is the very thing that inspires shapers to create—a shaper’s muse. A blank is a magical sculpture, it is an art piece that can be ridden in the green-blue playground we so cherish.
Some surfers have never seen a blank, and yet it is the very essence of why and how surfboards exist. A surfboard blank is the unforgotten element underneath the wax, paint, and glass.
Most blanks are made from either polystyrene (eps) or its cheaper and more popular cousin polyurethane (PU). PU is the industry standard because it is less expensive, easy to work with and board builders can glass it with either polyester or epoxy resin. Clark Foam ran the market on surfboard blanks up to 2005 with their popular molds and mysterious formula for its non-environmental polyurethane blanks—which was part of the reason it was closed. Many blank manufacturers have moved over the border where environmental standards are more, well, lenient. What’s good for your wallet may not be good for the environment—that’s an important lesson to remember.
Unfortunately, to make these blanks the manufacturer has to use a amalgam of nasty toxic chemicals. In the case of PU, two chemicals are used, polyols and toluene diisocyanate (TDI). TDI is the real monster in this chemical cocktail. It is extremely toxic to humans and short-term exposure affects the respiratory, gastrointestinal, and central nervous systems. Long-term exposure can lead to lung ailments, asthma-like reactions characterized by wheezing, dyspnea, and bronchial constriction. TDI is even a probable carcinogen.
By the time the blank arrives to the shaper, the polyurethane is mostly an inert material and luckily most of the chemicals used to manufacture the blank are nonexistent in the shaper’s workshop. However, the ecological trail left behind from each foam blank is devastating ugly.
It seems that if you want a surfboard you’ll have to be an accomplice to the foam’s gnarliness.
Actually, you don’t.
We live in interesting times when people are challenging the way surfers think, ride and shape.
Enter Crooked Blanks.
Crooked Blanks is using a hammer, sustainable wood, a saw, and some technical knowledge to make sure that you have an alternative to foam blanks. We caught up with Crooked Blanks owner Mark Cruickshank while in NYC. It was the classic non-surf interview meet-up. He drove down from his enclave in the great Northeast to meet me in NYC. My first vision of Cruickshank was him dragging a wheeled board bag through Central Park so he could show me his sick wooden sleds.
Crooked Blanks are hollow wood surfboard blanks ready to be shaped. The core of the wood blank is 100 percent paulownia (this is the wood most Alaia shapers use, it is light and easy to work with). They are specifically designed to be shaped using the same tools as shaping a foam surfboard blank. They are lightweight and made from environmentally friendly and sustainable materials.
The blanks come with the rocker already shaped in, and the decks are domed slightly, just like a foam blank. Along with the desired rocker, the shaper must send Crooked Blanks a profile of the rails using a free program called AKU Shaper. The rail outline is shaped into the blank by Cruickshank as well. Once you get your blank, the top and bottom deck are applied inside a vacuum bag. Throw on a light glass coat and you are ready to rock.
If you’re a shaper I hope you’ll consider using one of these blanks in your next creation, and if you’re a rider then please consider asking your shaper about the various eco blank possibilities in the market. Lots of small changes by all of us will lead to shifts that will positively influence how we surf and live. The two, surfing and life, are so intimately intertwined for most of us, and each deserves great care.
For more information on Crooked Blanks check out www.crookedblanks.com.