Artificial Surfboard Intelligence
Marcio Zouvi and his shaping machine.
By Aaron Checkwood
Label: Sharp Eye
Years shaping: 18
Hometown: San Diego, California via Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Boards shaped per year: 2,200
Teamriders: Matt Keenan, Ryan Kimmel, Shane Upchurch, Nick Kovack, Brandon Tipton, Brett Schwartz
Tool of choice: CNC (Computerized Numeric Control) machine
Blondes or brunettes, Ford or Chevy, single or double concave–everyone has a preference based on what works best for them. For years, theories regarding surfboard design have been bounced around like tennis balls, because everyone had different ideas on how to make a magic board. With little or no record of the shapers’ work, a slightly magical tweak of a dimension was only stored in the gray matter of their brains. Computerization has changed that. Marcio Zouvi is one of many shapers now utilizing computer power to automate each surfer’s board and create a memory for every body type and surf style–taking surfboard design in a direction Zouvi says benefits everyone.
Constraints of time and money limit many surfers to buying a board off the rack or their buddy’s leftover. But guessing randomly at what shapes work best can seriously hinder a surfer’s improvement–a basic relationship with a shaper changes that. “We surf differently,” says Zouvi. “One board, one design we call magic for one guy, will not work the same for another. All these variations make so much difference in the way a board rides.”
In Zouvi’s San Diego office is an ordinary-looking personal computer, only it contains a specially designed program. With it he’s able to visualize changes through a three-dimensional model on
-screen. He can vary every aspect of the board from rocker to rail. Floppy discs sit on the shelf above him–he can pull a random one out and change the design within minutes. The shaping machine, known as a CNC (Computerized Numeric Control), works similarly to a lathe you’d use in woodshop. The CNC makes grooves on the board’s surface resembling the perfect lines found on groomed snow, and it has the capability to carve out approximately 80 percent of the board, leaving twenty percent (or the grooves) to be fine-sanded by the shaper for the finished product–cutting down the time it takes to produce a board from an hour and a half to 25 minutes
Every board shipped out of the Sharp Eye factory has an identification number. Through a computer record of IDs, surfers who buy a Sharp Eye are able to call Zouvi and work with him over the phone. According to Zouvi, “If he has a board he bought from any shop, he has the ID number and feedback from the board. He calls me up, tells me the number, and says, ‘I really like that board–can you do it again? I gained a little weight. Can we change a little bit of the rail? I need a little more flotation’–
Where surfers were limited to working with their local shapers before, Zouvi’s goal is to reach a broader clientele and give them more options. “The consumer has a choice that was never presented to them before,” says Zouvi, “which is to pretty much have full access with a shaper anywhere in the world. When you’re a local shaper, you have clientele right there–you don’t go outside of that. If you want your business to grow on an international level–it’s a little harder for you to keep that control.”