Wood is Good . . . the Series

I have posted links to these videos before, but I thought that embedding them would be better for all the new readers that this blog has been attracting. Here is the complete "Wood is Good" series filmed at Patagonia Surf Shop in Cardiff. Tom Wegener giving a great talk about wooden surfboards, in general, and alaias, in particular (especially parts 3 and 4):


My Alaia Project

Okay, talk is cheap. So, here is the beginning of the process. Glued up 4"x1"x8' boards soon to become an alaia. I am using inexpensive fir because I didn't want to use expensive wood for my first board and butcher it. This way, if I do screw it up, I can have a nice fire at the beach one evening.

I'll post updates as the project advances.


More Great Alaia Blog Post Links

A series of posts related to alaias and other historical surfboards and styles of surfing at Surf In Oregon.

Wood is Good series at Daily Surf Video.

Random alaia shaping forum.

Xylem surfboards in Hawaii.

A couple of posts (first one; second one) from Studio Light Room

Really? On Yahoo Answers?!

A software company called Alaia Technologies? What, do they program using punch-cards or maybe BASIC? And, yes, they named themselves after the surfboards.


Tom Wegener Talks olos and alaias

Great footage; great discussion.


Description of Historical Alaia Surfboards

[Here is an excerpt, discussing alaias, from LEGENDARY SURFERS: A Definitive History of Surfing's Culture and Heroes, a great site about the history of surfing.]

The ancient Hawaiian surfboard, or papa he’e nalu (pa-pa HAY-ay NA-lu), came in four types. Listed in order of length, these were (from longest to shortest): the super-long olo (O-lo), kiko`o (key-CO-oo), alaia (ah-LAI-ah) and paipo (pie-poe) bodyboard. The olo and alaia were both used under different surfing conditions and by different classes of people. According to Abraham Fornander (1812-1887) in Hawaiian Folk Lore, the alaia averaged 9 feet long. It was best suited for kakaha, “a curling wave, terrible, death dealing.” That is, a wave that broke quickly and had a hollow curl section to it. The olo, on the other hand, averaged 18 feet long, and was ideal for opuu, “a non-breaking wave, something like calmness.” Waves like this are typical at Waikiki on days when the surf is not big.

In Surfing, the Sport of Hawaiian Kings, academian Ben Finney and writer James Houston, noted that in both the olo and alaia, “the top and bottom were convex and tapered to thin rounded edges, so that either side seems to have been suitable as a riding surface.”

Historian Ben Finney acknowledged that, “between the biggest surf and the low easy swells of Waikiki, there were not many waves suited to the big olo boards. Consequently, limited maneuverability usually restricted their use to those few suitable areas with ample space for their characteristically long rides. Waikiki is such an area. But Waikiki’s combination of long, low swells and sandy shore is not common in Hawai`i. Along the Kona coast, for example, one finds more often... rocky terrain... with steep walls of water breaking closer to shore. These latter conditions seem to have allowed only the use of the smaller alaia.”

Compared to the olo and kiko`o, the alaia was shorter, broader, less convex and more plank-like in its thinness. Hot Curl surfer John Kelly pointed out that, “Today’s guns and light short boards have basic features including shapes, contours and breakaway edges handed down from or similar to the ancient alaia boards.” The largest alaia boards in the Bishop Museum collection – including the Ka`iulani alaia -- range from 7-to-12 feet long, average 18-inches in width, and are from a half-inch to an inch-and-a-half thick. Alaia boards were used by the common people, but the ali’i were also known to ride these shapes. One particularly representative alaia board was collected by J. S. Emerson, in Kailua, Hawai`i, in 1885, and later donated to the Bishop Museum. It is made of koa, is six-and-a-half feet long, and is a little over a half inch thick at its center. The bow end is curved in a convex shape and the stern end is cut off square. Its widest point toward the bow is 14 3/4 inches and the narrower stern end is 10 3/4 inches.

The alaia board was the preferred shape for steeper, faster-breaking surf. “The board’s thinness and shorter length,” wrote Finney and Houston, “gave it much greater mobility on the sheer faces of fast surf. The technique of sliding at an angle to the moving swell, which alaia surfers had obviously mastered, was called lala.” The alaia ranged from a child’s board of approximately six feet to about twelve feet long for adults. The adult board was about one-and-a-half inches thick through the center, leveling off on both top and bottom to about one-quarter inch at the edges. The comparatively small size of the alaia board made it easy to handle in waves that wall-up quickly and form tubes or hollow sections in the process.

“The alaia board,” wrote Nineteenth Century historian John Papa Ii, “which is 9 feet long, is thin and wide in front, tapering toward the back. On a rough wave, this board vibrates against the rider’s abdomen, chest, or hands when they rest flat on it, or when the fingers are gripped into a fist at the time of landing. Because it tends to go downward and cut through a wave it does not rise up with the wave as it begins to curl over. Going into a wave is one way to stop its gliding, and going onto the curl is another. Skilled surfers use it frequently, but the unskilled are afraid of this board, choosing rather to sit on a canoe or to surf on even smaller boards.”

The alaia shape made it possible for ancient riders to avoid getting worked on close-out sets and kept them from pearling. “It was the board most suitable along the frequent rugged coasts,” wrote Finney and Houston, “and it is no wonder that most of the ancient boards remaining (ten of thirteen in the Bishop Museum collection [in 1965]) are of the alaia type.” As to who rode these boards, Finney and Houston believed that, “whereas the olo was reserved exclusively for the ali’i, it seems obvious that the commoners had no such exclusive rights to the alaia. The greatest number of early reports tell of surfing alaia style, and many legends mention chiefs surfing along rocky shores where an olo board would be difficult to handle. These two board types, then, allowed the separation of chief and commoner if desired, but never to the point of depriving the ali`i of the faster and more hazardous surf.”


Alaia Link Post

I put together some links to posts about alaias on blogs that aren't exclusively about alaias. Check 'em out:

http://www.kassiameador.com/blog/?p=187 (We love you, Kassia!)

http://www.billabong.com/au/blog-post/64/rasta-ripping-a-piece-of-wood-aka-alaia (Rasta)

(hey, this guy linked to this blog in his post. Thanks.)

http://espn.go.com/action/surfing/blog?post=3979988 (Very cool post about just doing it on a piece of unworked plywood.)

http://sports.webshots.com/album/563553005FJuoST?start=0 (a bunch of pics posted by some guy who made his own alaia)

Finally, did you know that Alaia is the last name of someone who designs shoes? If you care, here is a link to get you started: http://www.stylelist.com/blog/2008/08/30/i-want-that-alexis-bledel-in-alaia/


Props from the Man

Okay, I think this post over at Machado's MySpace Page shows that Himself has been reading my posts. Note how he refers to "sightings," which is the exact wording I used in THIS POST.

It must be tough being a spokesman and getting paid to do something we all would do and do do for free. It must to create some existential issues: from the kid at San Dieguito who was a couple of years younger than me to surfing celebrity known the world over who is the subject of stupid posts like this one. I wonder what I would do in his situation?

What a crazy world!

By the way, the Trim Your Life Away site that Machado links to from his MySpace blog is really cool.


(More) Alaia Surfing Videos

[By the way, Mikey De Temple is coming out with a killer new surf movie called Picturesque.]

Transworld Surf apparently does not let people embed their videos (which is lame), but this one is worth watching. CLICK HERE for the link. [PS -- the hippie psychadelic soundtrack on the TWS video is classic.]


Machado at Seaside -- Video

Well, this isn't the same day that I mentioned in an earlier post, but you get the idea.