Surfing’s Wegeners

Two American brothers are “resurrecting ancient innovation” with minimalist surfboard designs, reports Claire Martin in The New York Times (12/24/13). Tom Wegener began designing small, thin and simple surfboards out of wood “after visiting the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum in Honolulu in 2004 and measuring traditional boards dating to the late 1800s and early 1900s.” His brother Jon began designing similar boards two years later, after visiting Tom in Australia. The two collaborate on designs, although they each “operate separate businesses.”

The brothers specialize in two types of surfboards: The alaia, which is “descended from the original Hawaiian surfboards,” and the paipo, a smaller design. The alaia is suitable only for the most skilled surfers “because they don’t float as well as modern boards.” The “more diminutive paipo” is “easier to ride” as well as “more fun, partly because it performs well in small waves.” “Big waves are cool; small waves aren’t,” says Jon. “But small waves are what you have 90 percent of the time.” As a result, the paipo is the relatively bigger seller, although demand for both boards is small.

“The paipo ranges in length from three to five feet; some models are as slender as a half-inch thick. This allows riders to tuck into a wave’s sweet spot … what surfers call the pocket. Because the exact shapes of waves vary, the Wegeners have created various paipo designs for different types of surf, a common practice among modern surfboard shapers.” While paipo is gaining popularity, the challenge is that it is “essentially an ancient boogie board – and in surfing circles, boogie boards are not considered cool.” But Jon Wegener says the old designs start “a whole new chapter for surfing.”

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