Kite and surfboard companies spend tons of time on R&D so we don’t have to. From small mushy waves to down the line riding, shapers and designers know what works for the majority in various conditions so that we can conveniently walk into a store, grab a board off the rack and get that instant gratification — what you want, when you want it.

Most surfers and kitesurfers also don’t have just one board. They have a quiver of go-to production and custom boards that are used for the ever changing conditions that the ocean serves up. I’m a fan of want it, need it, buy it now, but this summer, I commissioned my first custom surfboard…

In the summer 2016 issue, you’ll read the story of Buck Noe, a local Santa Cruz shaper who’s carved himself a life of surfing and shaping while seamlessly transitioning to kitesurfing. Buck’s a second generation shaper and a super down to earth guy. He greeted me with a handshake and a warm smile and we got right to business. We talked about what I’d been riding, how it’d been working for me and what I liked and didn’t like about it.

“What’s you’re riding style and where are you going to be riding?” He asked. Buck’s never seen me kite, so some basic questions were necessary to get the conversation going. He was sizing me up, trying to get a feel for me and what I was going to be doing on the board, so that he could make me the best board possible.

I tell him, “Right now, my focus is working on tighter and snappier backside turns. I need a board with a fast turning radius for a quick square-up in order to be thinking a little ahead and constantly re-engaging with the lip.”

“The bigger the surf you’re riding, the narrower we’ll want to make your tail for control,” he explains. “The size of the wave is going be a huge factor in how we shape the board.” I’m pretty dead set on a 5’4” but Buck suggests I go a bit bigger. “Waddell is one-hit wonders,” he explains. But down the road where I kite in the winter, I’m consistently riding head high plus waves, so we talk about building a board that handles and controls speed a bit better, which means a little less tail, a little more rail and a bit more length.

He asks me a few more questions: “Are you more surf oriented or are you going to be riding straps?” he asks. “No straps for me, thanks” I reply. He continues, “Is this going to be a crossover board or are we going kite specific?” As you’ll read in Buck’s story, he’s a big fan of the crossover. Buck’s been surfing since he was a kid and picked up kiting later in life as a way to get more time on his board. Because he’s more focused on surfing, he and a bunch of the local crossovers kite the same boards they surf. They don’t want a transition period. When the wind dies, they just want to pop up on their surfboard (the same one they use for kiting) and with the shape and fin configuration, they know exactly what their rail feels like, so they get that seamless transition. However, I’m more focused on kiting, so I tell him it’s going to be kite specific… but hey, if I can go out and surf it, all the better.

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Buck’s constantly riding and testing his own shapes

Out of curiosity, I ask him the difference between designing for surf and kite. “If you’re not going surf the thing at all you can definitely afford to go a little narrower,” he explains, but it’s really all about approach— “Well, you’ve got riders like a Mulcoy (a local BWS ripper) who barely uses the kite; it’s just kind of sitting there and he’s just using the power of the wave. Then you’ve got the guys that are always on a size bigger kite than everyone else and they’re usually strapped and riding these tiny little boards that can handle speed. I’d definitely design a board differently for someone who’s going to be more reliant on the wave rather than on the power of the kite,” he says.

Justifying his size recommendations he explains, “I don’t like the feeling of having to hold back. When you’re going at speed you want to put your board on rail and go for it. You don’t want to baby a board and hold back because of speed wobbles. You’ll probably want to go 18″ or something close, especially if you’re riding unstrapped,” he says.

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Filling out my order sheet

Okay, measurements are nailed down. 5’5″ x 17 3/4″ x 2 1/3″. Then we talk construction.

Epoxy or poly? Buck tells me he thinks they all work, but everyone’s got their own preference. “It depends on your type of riding and how light you like your board, but I like a little more weight,” he explains, “it kind of gives you more inertia and cuts through waves. Poly boards dampen the vibration a lot more and it just seems like they cut through bumpy, choppy surf better, so when you’re doing long tacks and stuff, the poly just seems a lot smoother.” A number of the kitesurf brands have experimented with poly board construction and have made them work for the relentless pounding of kiting in the surf, so this seems like an attractive route.

Buck explaining the purpose of carbon for reinforcement

Buck explaining the purpose of carbon for reinforcement

But while some people are beginning to go epoxy for its lightweight feeling, I was getting a board built by a true surfboard shaper, so why not get a board with a true surfboard feel. While there’s no denying the strength to weight ratio of the EPS epoxy compared to polyester boards, but Buck builds his poly boards with a high density foam for added strength and durability, and because of the size of my small board, we agreed that weight really wasn’t an issue.

Once we’d settled on the measurements and construction, we talked about all the bells and whistles: carbon, vector net, strap inserts, channels, color… the list goes on.

Buck suggested vector net for added strength: a lightweight, woven carbon fiber, vector net allows the board to maintain its natural flex pattern. “It’s great for impact resistance; it’s not going to keep the board from getting dinged but it’ll help from crushage,” he explained.

“Color?” he asks. I’m a no frills kind of girl so I skip all the fancy paint jobs and just go solid. “Turquoise,” I reply.

I continue on to ask him the purpose of rail channels. “They do a bunch of different things,” he explains. Some of the more progressive riders on Buck’s boards like the deck channels for attempting aerials. The channel fits right into your hand and locks for an instant, no slip grip. “They also make your board stronger because all the strength in your fiberglass is in the curve of the rail. The flat part of the glass on the deck on the bottom is really giving you no strength all; all your strength is in the curvature of the rail, so this is adding more curvature for the glass to stick to and that’s also making your board stiffer. So it does affect the feeling of your board as well,” Buck tells me. I’m starting to learn airs, so I opt for channels in hopes that it’ll help me get a better grab and keep the board on my feet.

That’s it. Done and done. The turnaround time is estimated between 4-8 weeks depending on workload, design and added components, so I anxiously await his call until his number shows up on my cell a few weeks later when my board is ready. I drop everything and hurry over to his shop.

“Magic boards are hard to come by,” Buck says as he hands over my new board. “If you get a magic board don’t ever get rid of it, try to baby it. Take care of it.” I take his advice to heart and slide my new Noe into it’s cushy board bag. In a hurry to ride it, I rally up to Waddell, slap on a new stomp pad, throw on some fins, wax it up and head out into the surf.GARY-4707 copy (2)

In between seeking out Central California’s best surf, stepping into fatherhood and continuing the family legacy as a Santa Cruz surfboard shaper, Buck Noe is pushing the surfer crossover from waves to wind. To read Buck’s full story, grab a copy of Tkb’s summer issue here: https://ow.ly/4nqAvW