...The Making of a True Custom From Start to Finish.
Here at Boardseeker we always love to here about new and exciting windsurfing designs, and there have been a few around of late. F2 have designed the 'two in one' windsurfing board, which Boardseeker have also had the pleasure of testing (more on that soon!). Now we have heard of a new 'winged' windsurfing board, a custom board designed by Spencer Thompson who is an experienced windsurfer based in Southern California.
We hand over to Spencer for a full run down on how this exciting new board design went from a hair brain idea, to a fully fledged custom board:
I was a kneeboarder from about 1971 to 2011, and had learned the basics of board design and construction from a neighbor, Bud Cravens, in Granada Hills in the fifth grade, call it 1965 or so.
Shown below is one of my better efforts from back then. The winger concept is nothing new, and not originally mine either, so why weren’t windsurfing board designers making serious wingers? Mine always worked great!
[part title="Why not indeed..."]
Why not indeed...
One thing I’ve noticed in my 23 years of windsurfing, the design community isn’t super creative, although they really should be. It’s very rare that anything truly new comes out, mostly just everybody is copying everybody else, like television shows. Right now (2013) it’s quads, all the board manufacturers are coming out with tri-fins and quads.
So, if wingers date back to 1970 or so, why hasn’t anybody made one? I’m not talking about one of these boards with a ¼" blip in the outline, a real winger. I guess I’m the one to step up, and here’s why:
The wings will act as side fins, but only when the board is on it’s rail, when you’d need them – any time I’m planing they’ll be up out of the water, not causing any drag. The other thing they do in a turn is provide a kind of pivot point to turn around, adding a little width but without the clunky feel of a wide board, since they stop 40 cm short of the tail and have a much more pronounced “rocker line".
They should also help get me up on a plane sooner. I’m a big guy, 6’4" and currently 210 lbs, so a wide board works to get me up on a plane, but then you’ve got to sail a clunky wide board. With my winger the board will be 3" wider when slogging, then automatically “get narrower" once I’m planing and the wings are up out of the water.
[part title="The Concept Drawing..."]
The Concept Drawing...
This drawing was never intended as a plan, just a way to explain what I wanted to my shaper.
There are 3 major points to make here:
One is the dual outline, an inner board and an outer wing, flowing together smoothly towards the middle of the board. Another is the wing rocker, which is much greater than the main, or inner board. The third is the concave wing, as seen from the rear, at the end of the wing. Notice that it’s raised above the main board’s bottom, so it’s not engaged except when turning or slogging.
[part title="Mark Nelson, Master Shaper"]
Mark Nelson, Master Shaper
For the record, he doesn’t call himself that, that’s MY title for him.
I had originally approached another boardmaker, but he didn’t seem receptive to doing something completely new. While on Maui last summer (2013), my friend Dave Freeman sent me up to talk to Mark in his workshop. Dave and his wife Shawn have several Nelson boards and swear by them, and Dave’s been passing me for fifteen years or more.
When Mark and I met we had an instant rapport, and he understood immediately what I was trying to do, and seemed very interested in trying something new. I knew right away that he was the right choice to shape my very first custom board.
[part title="The first of many CAD drawings..."]
The first of many CAD drawings...
Mark sent me my first CAD drawing THAT NIGHT, and I was immediately impressed by his grasp of the concept. Thus began a series of e-mails, first on Maui, then back home on the mainland, as we worked together to get what I wanted. I was relying on Mark’s vast experience to create the perfect shape, since I had never shaped a windsurf board, and wouldn’t know a perfect rocker line from a hole in the ground. Lucky for me, he does, and he started with his 90 litre Blaster shape as the basis for my board, since I had sailed one and loved it while I was there.
[part title="Oh yeah, just one more thing..."]
Oh yeah, just one more thing...
“Can you make the wings a little wider?" “Instead of 30 cm up from the tail, let's make it 40." “Can you add some thickness to make it 105 litres?"
Yes, yes, and yes. This is the great thing about a custom from someone like Mark Nelson, he wants you to be happy, and will bend over backwards to get it just the way you want it. Below are just a few of the many many drawings Mark sent me. He put up with my shenanigans until I was 100% sure that the shape was just exactly the way I wanted it.
I’m surprised he didn’t fly to the Mainland and kill me!
[part title="Final 3-D plan"]
Final 3-D plan
He couldn’t figure out how to trick his CNC machine into stopping the wings at 40 cm off the tail, so he just cut them off by hand and had the machine hollow them out.
Mark’s reliance on the CNC machine is to ensure total accuracy though every step of the shaping process. It also allows him to make the exact same board twice, or 100 times, in case you’re reading this and getting ideas.
[part title="The Machine"]
Mark’s CNC milling machine is the biggest and most accurate in the world. Its operating capacity allows him to mill boards up to 16′ long, and 36' wide. Needless to say, it’s pretty impressive.
This shows an early milling, the blank goes back in after each step to ensure total accuracy. Note the blocks of high-density foam cut into the rails to ensure the wings would be strong.
[part title="Full Sandwich Construction"]
Full Sandwich Construction
Next, Corecell high-density PVC foam sheet is laminated to the board using a “rocker stick" to ensure the rocker remains accurate. Corecell is extremely strong and dent-resistant, and adds tremendously to the board’s overall stiffness and “lively" feel, while adding very little weight.
[part title="Another pass on the CNC machine"]
Another pass on the CNC machine
Now he needs to prepare the top of the board for its Corecell sandwich, so it goes back in the machine for some more shaping. The board actually went back on the machine about 5 or 6 times, but we don’t have all day here!
Also, at this point Mark asked me to send him specs for everything: where I wanted the fin, the mast step, the footstraps.
I went out and measured a few of my other boards and figured it out from there. Kinda scary, what if I miss? Mark would have told me if he thought something was way off... I hope.
[part title="Cutting the wings"]
Cutting the wings
Back on the machine again, cutting just the wing concaves this time. Look closely, you can see the Corecell laminated on the top of the board. You can also see what Mark and I started calling the “inner" board, which is basically his 90 litre “Blaster" shape, that we added wings onto.
Well, I don’t have any pictures of him glassing my board.
But, I did get him to send me this one photo of him glassing someone elses board. Notice all the carbon fibre strips on the table, pre-impregnated with epoxy.
If you’re really interested in how that goes, there’s a series of videos on the Nelson Factory website that shows the whole process from start to finish, in fast motion, set to classical music. Go to www.nelsonfactory.com, click on “Composite Construction", there’s a video player on the upper right. Once you see how many steps there are, and how much care goes into every Nelson board, you’ll understand why a custom is more expensive than a production board, and worth it.
Mark doesn’t work for $1.25 / day.
This is the really fun part, colour and graphics. I wanted it to be bright, screaming, you-can-see-it-from-space RED. Not a lot of red boards out there on the water, and I wanted bright yellow flames on the nose, too.
Because I’m nine years old.
The flames cost me an extra $100., because Mark had to hire an airbrush artist, Fernando Messera, to paint them on. Money well spent, I say! I guess you could say that this is my mid-life crisis – instead of buying a Porsche, I had a flaming windsurf board made!
With the help of a thesaurus, I named her “Blaze".
[part title="The Photoshoot"]
The head of the Photography Department at the college where I work agreed to do a professional photo shoot for free, so why not?
Many thanks to Steve Callis for these amazing images!
[part title="Meet Blaze"]
96"/ 244 cm long, about 103 litres of volume
25 ½"/ 65 cm at widest point, which is 40"/ 101 cm off the nose
14"/ 35 ½ cm wide @ 12"/ 30 cm off the tail
19 ¾"/ 50 cm wide at the wings, 16 ½"/ 42 cm off the tail
[part title="Side view"]
It’s easy to see here how the wings start about the word “Nelson" and begin to sweep upward as they go back. The idea is like a ski – when it’s on edge, there’s more curve, or rocker, to the wing part of the board.
I chose as her first fin a Maui Fin Company “Goya 211" fin in 27 cm. I’ve used this type on my other boards, and really like it a lot.
[part title="The Nose"]
One of the things that Mark Nelson does for his freeride boards is give them a convex nose, instead of flat. This calms down the ride a lot, making it smoother and with less tendency to jump around in side chop. It’s one of the things I loved about the 90 litre demo board I tried.
[part title="The Tail"]
This photo shows how the back of the wings will be raised up out of the water once planing. I had to coax Mark to put a small amount of “vee" in the tail (difficult to see here), as he feels it’s unnecessary. “But I want it!" I whined, and he complied.
[part title="Straight on"]
Can’t believe we forgot to take these in the studio! Sheesh!
BTW, computer screens almost never show the same exact color, and can vary widely. Blaze is a very bright, “fire-engine" red, and the flames are bright lemon yellow.
There hasn't been a lot of sailable wind in Southern California in December.
As soon as there is, we’ll get some pictures on here and some feedback on just how she rides.
About the author:
Spencer Thompson has been an avid windsurfer for over 23 years. Boards magazine published his comic strip called "Wind Junkie" in the past, and he has a website of the same name. His wife Debi is also a sailor, and they spend all their free time chasing the wind, or SUPing if they can't find any. They live in Southern California, and are sponsored by Sailworks, ProMotion wetsuits, Maui Fin Company, and Murrays.com.