14 . 03 . 14
Every once in a while we receive a request from a customer asking for something a little different. We love these little forays into the wider world of wave riding craft as they tend to require some extra learning on our part in order to apply our construction techniques to alternative designs. Most recently we were contacted by Al Stewart who wondered if we could produce an alaia for him using locally grown western red cedar, rather than paulownia which is the most prevalent wood used for these interesting surfboards and which has to be imported primarily from South East Asia.
An alaia is a thin, narrow, solid wood surfboard with a round nose and square tail and, most importantly, no fins. They originated in pre-contact Hawaii where they were shaped from Koa wood left over from producing canoes and they were usually around 7-12 feet long. Modern alaias usually come up between 5 and 8 feet long, and we shaped Al a 6’10” which is a fairly standard length. The alaia design relies on thin, blade-like, rails to bite into the wave face and provide hold instead of using a fin and as a result of reducing the drag caused by a fin they can be devastatingly fast when locked in trim. They can also, however, slide around and prove difficult to control – in fact many accomplished surfers find their first few sessions on an alaia quite challenging until they get accustomed to the difference between paddling and catching waves on a normal foam and fibreglass surfboard and a thin, narrow, flexible and finless piece of wood. Half the fun of these boards is the frictionless feeling of controlled sliding in the curl of a wave which ancient Hawaiians called “lala”.
Al’s alaia has a deep single concave running from under the chest through to the tail to provide lift when planing, and an in-cut tail template which maintains a wide tail for ease of paddling and catching waves whilst also reducing the volume through the section in front of the tail to allow it to flex and fit the curve of a wave. Alaias are very flexible and this characteristic can be used when turning to transform the flat rocker profile into a curved one by the surfer pushing into the board – they are dynamic vehicles. Besides the incredible speed of these boards, many surfers appreciate them for their incredible simplicity and accessibility. An alaia is a direct link to the feeling of riding waves that ancient Hawaiians had, and they provide a challenge above and beyond regular surfing.