By Andrew Nash
Are alaias are an outdated relic from times long gone, a type of board that doesn’t bring anything new to the table? How could a somewhat simple slab of wood possibly compare to a typical foam board with all the advancements in modern surfboard design? In case you haven’t heard, the alaia is back – and it’s here to stay.
Alaias are flat, finless boards that can be built using a variety of wood types. Paulownia is popular (and ideal), but you can make an alaia out of pine, redwood, or even that dusty sheet of plywood hiding in the garage. Building an alaia can be as easy as drawing an outline on a sheet of wood, cutting it out, and sealing it with linseed oil. Yes, linseed oil. You don’t need to glass an alaia like a foam board – applying several coats of linseed oil will do the trick. You can put a leash plug on the board if you’re worried about losing your log and excessive paddling (it’s always a good idea to avoid being a liability in the lineup). However, a lot of people ride alaias without a leash. You don’t even need to wax alaias – you can, but it isn’t necessary. Keep in mind that everything isn’t so simple with these boards. Alaias have a steep learning curve that can be frustrating for first-timers, but the rides are rewarding.
Alaias come in different shapes and sizes – and have different purposes. Some are meant for riding prone, others for standing up on. Some are meant for small surf, others for epicness. I recently made two alaias (my first attempt at shaping) and I would recommend it to any surfer with a knack for do it yourself projects. The boards I built are very simplistic; I just cut them out of a sheet of three-quarter-inch plywood. If I could start the project over, I’d make a couple of changes, but these boards score pretty high on the fundometer and I can’t wait to build another one.
The first time I took my alaia out in the Lake Michigan surf I felt like I’d never have to touch a foam board again. I didn’t even attempt to stand up on the plywood plank on that day – not only were the waves pathetic, but I knew better. These boards are a pain to paddle, especially in the freshwater waves, so I just rode it prone in the shorebreak. Having said that, the speed and ability to spin were enough to seal the deal and riding these boards has only gotten better with time.
Maybe the whole alaia revival isn’t for you, but you’ll never know for sure until you try one out yourself. Depending on your ability and the conditions you surf in, you probably shouldn’t expect to stand up right away. But you don’t need to stand up to have fun on an alaia. Even though prone probably doesn’t sound too exciting, it’s a different game on these things. Plus, you can ride small waves that you wouldn’t even think of catching on foam. But the alaia shouldn’t be cut short to small talk about riding tiny waves on your stomach – if you watch some of the better videos on YouTube you’ll see how amazing these boards really are.
If you don’t feel like building an alaia yourself, you can order one from the pros. Surfing Magazine’s 2009 Shaper of the Year Tom Wegener (http://www.tomwegenersurfboards.com/) sells some nice models that will ride much better than a crusty piece of plywood.