Longtime surfboard maker has observed an ever-evolving medium
As owner of Strictly Hardcore Surf Specialties shop in Galveston for the past 35 years, James Fulbright has seen pretty much all the trends and evolutions when it comes to surfboards.
Over the years, boards have gone from heavier to lighter, longer to shorter, and wider to more narrow, Fulbright said. Among countless design changes have been the number of fins on the board ranging from zero to four and adjustments to the bottom curve. And boards have gone from being hand-shaped to being shaped by machines, Fulbright said.
“You will see every type of surfboard in these waters, most of which are designed for your average surfer instead of whatever pro surfers are riding on the pro tour,” Fulbright said.
Perhaps the biggest change over the years has involved the materials with which surfboards are made. Surfboards primarily were built using polyurethane blanks and polyester resins until the late 1980s, when builders began experimenting with epoxy resins and expanded polystyrene foam to craft a board that was both stronger and lighter, Fulbright said.
“Now, surfboards are built using both technologies, depending on customer preference,” Fulbright said. “I am old-school and still prefer using polyurethane and polyester materials. The boards just seem to ride better and just feel good.”
Trending in the world of surfing are good quality soft boards, which are more durable than traditional surfboards, Fulbright said.
“They ride great, are safe, and don’t ding like traditional surfboards,” he said. “They are darn near indestructible.”
Fulbright, who opened his business as a repair shop before he began to shape surfboards in 1988, lately has been working on a lot of old-school style longboards in the 9- to 10-foot range.
“I guess I’m looked upon as the ‘Old Man and the Sea’ guy who was around during the longboard era when, in fact, I learned to surf during the shortboard revolution in the late ‘60s,” Fulbright said. “But, hey, as long as I am not replaced by a computer program or shaping machine, I’m a happy camper.”
Having a surfboard custom-built is a way for surfers to express their individuality while also having a board that recognizes their uniqueness, Fulbright said.
“In my opinion, custom-made surfboards are the only way to go,” Fulbright said. “If you think about it, every surfer is different, every wave is different, and every surf spot is different. So, why mass produce the same boards over and over and everyone ride the same models in an ever-changing and evolving medium?”