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Pow Wow on Shaping Alaias

Over the past three years or so, I have been in contact with and a whole lot envious of Tom Wegener, in Noosa, Australia. Tom's been shaping and riding wooden boards, the templates of which are based on the plan shapes of the few Hawaiian traditional surfboards still in existence.

Tom has a newsletter that he puts out periodically and I recommend it. Here's an excerpt from his latest, writing a little bit about what they're learning about how the alaia actually rides:


A long time ago I competed in the longboard contests in Southern California... turned to making surf movies to enjoy surfing and try to make a livelihood from it... but then I found my happiest times were spent making boards.

Recently, for two weeks I lived the shapers dream - Thomas Campbell came to town to film the alaias surfing the Noosa points. A tremendous crew of surfers came to stay for the filming and the points were firing the whole time. My brother Jon came down as well to shape the numerous boards for the crew. Thomas called it Jon and my "pow-wow on shaping alaias." Jon has been shaping them for the USA and I for Australia. During the day we surfed and studied the shapes. At night Jon and I milled wood and shaped boards.

Watching all the surfers experiment with board after board really helped us come to terms with the finer points of the alaia. In the end we came up with a list of things that do and do not work. Our most important finding was that the edge on the bottom rail makes for a faster board and that making drops on a board with flex is a lot easier. The boards with the heavy concaves perform “lala” easier, while the flatter bottom boards go faster across the wave. We learned the gradients from when a board is too stiff or a plank to when it is just right and then to when it is a wet noodle. None of the rules are hard and fast because each board has to be made for the size of the individual and how they will surf the board. But we definitely have parameters for shapes and sizes. I was personally hoping to find one shape was favored over the rest but that was not the case at all.

... the search continues for the best tube ride on the alaia. I don’t know why but this seems to have become the Holy Grail for the current crew. Jon made some boards for Rob Machado who has been surfing Uluwatu on the boards. Rumor has it a big, heavy tube ride was filmed and is now in the can but we will probably not know until “The Present” comes out. Dan Malloy is presently waiting with a camera crew for a big swell to hit his favorite spot in Central America. Meanwhile, David Rastovich feels that the best alaia style is backside and he is in Chile searching for the perfect left. Chris Del Moro has stayed closer to home carving up Swamis in North San Diego County. But, so far, the best documented tube is a Sunshine Coast screamer of Jacob Stuth shown here below and shot my Nigel Arnison of www.onsurfari.com.au





By focusing on the alaia surfboards for the last three years, I have been able to step back from my finned boards and look at them from a distance... The most amazing thing about “primitive” alaia surfing is the “lala,” defined by the Hawaiians as “the controlled slide in the wave face.” I interpret this to mean the side-slip as well as trim. The alaia is more like a hovercraft that can go forwards, sideways and backwards. The finned boards are meant to go straight ahead with the tail following the nose. But finned boards do a little bit of the lala as well. They do actually slide sideways a little. It is not really a lala in the real sense because of the fin so I will call it “drift”. I never really thought about this element of surfboards much until now but I think it is very important especially for my traditional longboards.

Mike and Tom have teamed up to make the Mike Stewart Model Alaia. Mike tested the boards in Hawaii last winter and found they worked great in smaller waves. In addition to the functionality of the boards Mike is really impressed with the way the boards are made and the operation of a “green” surfboard factory. Furthermore he likes their artistry and the link to Ancient Hawaiian culture that the alaias represent.

Mike and his family came to Noosa to meet Tom and check out the factory. He was most impressed with the sawdust going into the gardens and the amount of worms in the soil. They made several surfboards and tested them on some small peelers at Noosa National Park. Mike was also able to hand-sign a limited edition of the models.
Tom’s highlight was to find that the back corner of the bottom of Mike’s foam body board is very similar to the tail of the boards that Tom makes for David Rastovich yet they came to this tail from totally different directions.





The Alaia Story DVD

When I made this DVD I was worried that it was technically not good enough however the feedback I have received is very positive. It shows the work that went into the first two and a half years of the Alaia Project. It starts with the time in 2005 when the only people I knew of in the world that rode an alaia were Jake, Margie, my brother Jon and me. You can see the progression of the shapes from smaller to longer and then back to shorter. It is a great start for anyone curious about the alaia. It is simply a little look at the development of the alaia and the story of the boards.

(available for purchase)

You can contact Tom at info@tomwegenersurfboards.com and for United States alaia inquiries please contact Jon Wegener at jswegener@yahoo.com

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To read about earlier efforts to make an exact alaia replica, please read what Wally Froiseth did with the Princess Ka'iulani board at: Princess Ka'iulani Alaia

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