The Coast News Group
Famed San Diego glasser Ernie Higgins with a surfboard that requires no glassing, an Alia he built. Photo by Chris Ahrens

Waterspot: Who glassed your surfboard?

Long before surfboards were made from rubber or came fully formed out of molds, they were handmade by a series of skilled craftsmen.

Beginning with the shaper, who took a raw hunk of foam and sculpted it into the desired form, the board then passed through the hands of glassers, glossers, sanders and polishers until it was a beautiful object capable of handling waves from 2 to 20 feet.

Like most surfers who came of age in the ’60s, I had always wanted to be a shaper. I actually hacked out a few boards in my parent’s garage with mixed results — some rode well, others were duds.

Regardless of the outcome, however, I always felt a great deal of satisfaction whenever a board I had made by hand was under my feet.

One thing I always enjoyed about shaping over glassing was the lack of pressure it offered. While one bad pass in shaping can ruin a surfboard, at least the blank holds still while you’re whittling away on it.

Glassing, on the other hand, is a rush to the finish line as the moment you spread catalyzed resin over the fiberglass, it begins to harden.

I recall a couple times when glassing boards in the garage that the resin began to set up well before I had squeegeed the excess resin off the deck or tucked the rail.

That meant ripping the entire gooey mess from the blank, hoping the shaped blank could be salvaged and, if so, starting again.

Glassers go through this every time they perform their art, and I have always marveled at their calm in the face of a ticking clock.

Master glassers whom I know in our neighborhood include Gary Stuber, Brian Szymanski and Wayne Hasaki. These three and maybe half a dozen others in North County have probably glassed one or more of your surfboards.

Glassers are responsible not only for a board rides but also how it looks. They did not create that clean line, but they have accented it. They can make the difference between a good rider and a clunker.

And while they don’t make your board shine — that’s the job of glosser and polishers — without them it wouldn’t be worth buffing out.

Glassing, which is difficult even on standard flat- bottomed boards, becomes all the more challenging when dealing with variations in form like split tails, concaves, wings and channels.

One of the greatest challenges of glassing a surfboard is coating a frail, cracker-like and easily broken foam core (aka, a blank) and bonding it so that it becomes light enough to perform well and strong enough to withstand all the fury of the ocean.

Without glassers, you have nothing but a shaped blank. Someone once told me to look around my house and identify all the handmade items I own. I did and stopped at a handful of beautiful and expensive paintings.

So, if you consider custom surfboards expensive, think about all the hand labor they require. Then consider the glasser, and all that has been poured into your surf craft in order to give you all the pleasure that nobody but a surfer knows.