This post details the journey of creating a hybrid Alaia/Fish surfboard by local Mozambican Dhow boat craftsman, Mussage.
Before heading through to Pemba, Mozambique I had made contact with a couple of people living in the area there to get their input on the waves. I’d been up North by boat before, but couldn’t recall what the waves were like. I received advice that there were very small waves and nothing really worth added effort of travelling with boards. So I took that advice and figured I’d just focus my ocean time on diving.
However, on arrival in Pemba, I found waves right on our doorstep! (I stayed at Ana’s AirBnB )
Being greeted every morning with rideable waves, but no board at hand would have driven me insane. So, I figured the local Dhow craftsman would have the skills to shape a wooden surfboard – this journey proved they certainly do!
The board was constructed out of Mbila Tree, which is the same wood used for the Dhows. However, with hindsight, I would recommend using a lighter wood from the region.
At first I thought to keep it as simple as possible and aim for an Alaia inspired board – I found this Alaia-Manual online. (can’t remember where I found it, but I’ve read on forums it was created by the team at Wunderlust)
But then after further researching, I decided to rather aim for a Retro Fish or hybrid of Fish/Alaia, as I wanted a board with more maneuverability and figured it would be more fun. There’s loads of resources out there and you can get lost in it all..so just sharing what I found most useful and actually think this is all you need!
The biggest challenge I found was finding the right dimensions (in cm and not inches) and a diagram that broke up the dimensions throughout the length of the board in order to assist with lines to follow for the overall shape. The image below was really helpful there, and I’ve also included the dimensions converted into metric measurements next to it.
How to use the above template and dimensions
The Dimensions table refers to the image on it’s left.
- The Interval Spaces are numbered 0-12. The board’s length was divided into 12 equally spaced out sections. From tip of the tail to the end of the nose/ For me, they were 13.33cm apart (Total Length/# of Sections = 160cm/12)
- The 2nd column shows the distance from the stringer (center of board) to the edge. i.e. one half of the board.
- 3rd column Diagram refers to the numbers 1-5 as per diagram.
- 4h column Length is the total length from tail to that specific section
Below are alternative shape templates.
- Find a local cratfsman who will shape and construct the board for you.
- I did so by asking a local taxi driver to take me to the area where they make the Dhows. In Pemba, this is Paquitequete. Once there I simply spoke to people on the ground and asked for someone who builds Dhow’s. The Taxi driver also brought a friend with him, Viegas, who could speak English. This was critical, and Viegas assisted with translations throughout the build.
- Contact details: (both are keen to help others build a board and are happy with me sharing their details here)
- Mussage: (+258) 86 104 7023 *does not speak English
- Viegas: (+258) 84 059 3680
- Source the wood
- We found a local timber supplier near Paquitequete. The original plan was to go to Muxara and buy direct from the supplier, but it’s a longer drive and the price wasn’t much more at a reseller in Pemba town.
- They had two types of wood and we went for the lighter wood made Mbila Tree. With hindsight this wood is too heavy. Do not use it. Rather source a light and more buoyant wood. Since then, I’ve seen some dug-out canoes made from a lighter wood and learnt that of a saw-mill nearby that processes this lighter wood. I forgot the name of it! Please let me know what lighter wood you find!
- Cut and plane the wood
- The planks we found were 2m in length and not consistent thickness. So they took them up the road to another business that specializes in cutting and planing wood.
- Cut your length here, from end of tail to tip of nose. Also double check the width of the planks and that they are sufficient for your planned shape. And ensure that the planks are equal width, to allow for symmetry when cutting in the next step.
- Glue the planks together
- Set and glue the planks together and leave overnight to harden. I glued mine around 12h00 and began working on it the next day at 08h00
- Do one side, and then use the cutoff piece as a template for the other side
- Based off the measurements from the template you’re working off (Figure 1), focus on one half of the board and plot the section’s width along it’s length. i.e 0 (tail) = 16.13cm from center line (stringer) ; 1 = 18.03cm ; 2 = 19.81cm etc
- After doing the above point, you will have a series of points/dots that will guide you to draw the perimeter shape of your board. You now need to draw a line joining these dots. Mussage had a brilliant idea to do so, rather than a freehand drawing hoping the lines flow between the dots. He used a thin, flat piece of wood that could bend without snapping. We then bent that piece so that it would link from one point to the other and drew a solid line
- Cut the wood along the perimeter line. We used a hand-saw here which worked well.
- After cutting, you will be left with an off-cut that can now be used as a template for the other side of the board, ensuring an exact match and symmetry.
- The original template suggests 5cm in and 0.6cm deep, but I went with 2cm in and 1cm deep.
- I began the nose rocker 2/3 up the length of the board. From that point we drew a line from the board’s bottom to a point that was 1.5cm thick that the nose. We then cut away using a blade and a rasp. This could have been more pronounced and I’d recommend a more aggressive rocker.
- For the tail rocker I began at Point 1 which is 26.67cm from the tip of the tail, and followed the same method as above.
- Initially I wanted to make a Twin-Fin Fish, however after we began shaping I thought it would be best to keep the glued centre line (stringer) as thick as possible, for maximum strength of the bond. This would also assist with creating a bit of a keel to assist with direction when surfing.
- Secondly, the Mbila Tree wood is very heavy, so I wanted to remove as much a possible and so I created a deep double concave – beginning 2/3 of the way up (where the rocker began) and continued it through all the way out the tail. This helped reduce the weight considerably. With hindsight, I should have continued the channels into the nose, as the board ended up being a bit nose-heavy.
- I used some off-cut to make a fairly long fin/keel, beginning 15cm from the centre of the tail. The shape of the fin just followed the general keel shape with wider base than tip and being narrowed in on the leading and tail edges. The fin was attached to the board with wood glue and a single nail on the leading edge.
- Leash plug
- We simply created a small indent/channel on the one side of the board and then made a an arched piece of wood that was flush to the board on it’s ends, thus creating a channel underneath, where a rope/leash could be passed through and attached.
- Deck carvings
- We carved out ‘fish scales’ on the deck of the board to assist with grip and for asthetics, which worked out great. Mussage also signed-off on his creation by carving out his name on the tail.
- Finishing off
- After sanding with fine sand-paper for a smooth finish, the wood was sealed off with wood varnish. This was applied around 15h30 and I picked up the board at 11h00 the next day, where it needed to dry out for the rest of the day and was ready the following morning
- An alternative to the wood varnish is Linseed Oil, but we couldn’t find any in Pemba. Do not use a vegetable oil as they are known to turn rancid.