Surfing has been around for millennia, dating back as far as cultures in ancient Peru. But it wasn’t until the 20th century that the surfing industry saw a “boom” thanks to fiberglass and petroleum-based materials such as resin and expanded polystyrene, which made boards lighter and more robust.
Today, these manufacturing practices and materials are hurting the environment, so Rodrigo Aranha decided to do something about it. He created Web Shaping Bay, an online application powered by Grasshopper and ShapeDiver that allows surfers to design their surfboards and download the production files for local manufacturing using materials such as wood, cardboard and cork.
In this interview, you’ll learn more about Rodrigo’s background, how he got into woodworking, Grasshopper, and when he built a surfboard made of covid-waste material.
1. Hello, Rodrigo. Thank you for being here! Tell us a bit about your background.
I was born in Brazil, but I've been living in Portugal since 2016. I am 36 years old and started surfing when I was 20. Since then, my life decisions have revolved around being able to surf as often as possible.
2. How did your passion for surfing and woodworking start?
Coming from the countryside of São Paulo state in Brazil, about 4 hours from the beach, I went to the state's capital to study architecture, and I started surfing with the friends I made at University. We used to go surfing before classes, leaving before sunrise.
At that time, weather forecasts were not as precise as today. We used to call a number that would give us daily reports of the surf condition but only after a certain time, so it was a gamble to find a good wave. If the weather wasn’t good enough, we would go in anyway. It wasn't easy initially, but I fell in love with surfing.
After graduating in Architecture, I felt the urge to move to a beach town, which I did. I moved to Ilhabela, a beautiful island in São Paulo state, where I worked in a small architecture studio and at a woodworking school giving technical drawing classes. That's when I started to become familiarized with woodworking.
3. How did you learn about Grasshopper?
In 2016, I moved to Portugal to continue my studies. I enrolled in a master's program in product design at the University of Lisbon and a post-grad program in Computational Design at the same University. That was when I started studying the surfing industry and first had contact with Grasshopper.
4. How did the idea of a customizable surfboard come to be?
I had built a few surfboards in the past when I lived in Ilhabela, some from regular surfboard blanks, some from old broken surfboards, and some wooden ones.
I decided to investigate the surf industry when I had to choose a project for my master’s thesis in Portugal. I found out that the materials used to build the majority of surfboards today are the same petroleum-based, non-recyclable materials from 70 years ago. The new advances made by CNC production have only exacerbated that issue. What previously were hand-shaped products, usually built locally and customized to that specific surfer and wave, nowadays are products that are mass-produced and shipped globally.
I decided to experiment with different materials and processes to build a surfboard. At that time, I was intrigued by Ron Resch's moving paper structures. So I wanted to substitute the foam blank (which is more than 90% of the final surfboard and generates twice its weight in non-recyclable waste) with a cardboard and cork core structure (some shapers had previously used such material for surfboard construction). Grasshopper seemed like the perfect tool to take on that approach, and it was also an excellent opportunity to increase my crude knowledge of computational design.
I managed to write a basic GH definition to generate the cardboard inner structure of my surfboard. After much trial and error and some help from local shapers in Costa da Caparica, I came up with the final model to present as part of my master’s thesis. That later evolved into WSB and Aranha Shapes.
5. What were some initial challenges you faced during this early stage?
At first, I was using surfboard-specific software to get the model so I could run my GH code to generate the structure, and I found that software to be difficult to work with. In the end, I didn't have all the information about the model. I realized that if I created my surfboard parametric model with Grasshopper, I could have much more data and understanding of the modeled surfboard.
For this reason, I made a parametric file for surfboard modeling using GH, going through the steps involved in shaping and the parts that constitute a surfboard shape, the size, outline, rocker, foil, rails, deck, and bottom. That way, if I changed any parameter of the surfboard, the inner structure would change instantly according to its shape.
6. How did you find out about ShapeDiver?
In the two final months before I delivered my thesis, I learned about ShapeDiver. It opened up a new perspective of sharing with others the parametric surfboard modeling tool I had created for myself. ShapeDiver is now at the core of WSB.
7. How did Web Shaping Bay start?
After presenting my thesis, I left the project aside for a while due to other career opportunities.
At the same time, I was selected to participate in the “MEO/WSL Unwanted Shapes” call, where selected shapers were challenged to make a surfboard using covid waste. I built a surfboard using cardboard and covid-mask waste that professional surfers used during a special heat at WSL events in Ericeira and Peniche.
Meanwhile, I built the same shape out of wood from the same model created in the GH definition, which worked very well, so I decided to add the option of generating the inner core for hollow wooden surfboards in WSB.
I got this project selected and sponsored by Cascais municipality as one of their programs for small business ideas.
8. Why is this concept so important for the surfing industry?
I believe that the surf industry is experiencing a shift. There is an increasing concern about the environment and the industry's use of more environmentally friendly materials and processes.
In recent years, there have been advances in material and production methods. The concept of Web Shaping Bay is to be part of that movement and to apply innovative technology and building methods to these materials that are less damaging to the environment and to the people that work within this industry.
For example, wooden surfboards have been around since petroleum-based foam came onto the scene, but they were very laborious to build. However, with CNC, laser cutting, vacuum bagging, etc., it is much easier to produce high-quality, resistant wooden surfboards. With WSB, one can quickly generate the inner structure for a hollow wooden board. WSB offers the unique feature of generating a horizontal and vertical structure for the inner wooden structure, which follows both the rocker and the outline curves.
9. What’s the main selling point of these types of custom surfboards?
Web Shaping Bay positions itself as a user-friendly, simple, and accessible surfboard modeling software. The main aim is to support shapers that make hollow wooden surfboards.
There is an increasing community of wooden surfboard makers. Primarily small businesses, surfers that want to build their board, shapers that usually shape foam blanks, or wood enthusiasts that want to make a wooden “Stand Up Paddle” for cruising on calm waters.
WSB has a lot of parameters to adapt to your specific way of building and your available material. There is an underlying idea of separating the immaterial (meaning the shape of the surfboard and all the parameters that form that shape) from the material (meaning the final product, the materialized surfboard). This way, after the user models a surfboard and has at their disposal the information provided by the model, there are many options available to produce that surfboard. This approach makes it easier to incorporate new building methods and materials. That said, the tool will constantly evolve and adapt.
One can have the inner structure to make a hollow wooden board or have a spin template, rocker template, outline, etc., to handshape from foam or wood. Right now, these are the options, but there's more to come, such as providing the gCode to CNC core blanks, etc.
10. What’s next for Web Shaping Bay?
WSB is constantly evolving. Many new preshaped options will be added, for example, the possibility of modeling an asymmetric surfboard. We will also add a pro version with more functionalities and an easy version with fewer parameters.
In parallel, I have my custom surfboard company Aranha Shapes, which makes hollow wooden surfboards. It will be open for custom orders soon, but until now, I have been testing material and doing R&D for Web Shaping Bay. I developed a straightforward and effective way of making the inner structure for a hollow board implemented into WSB.
Aranha Shapes aims to make more environmentally friendly surfboards without the added price. I have been working with flexible plywood and cork, which are very cost-effective materials. The next step is to build a website for Aranha Shapes where the WSB configurator will be incorporated so clients can select certain specifications of their custom surfboard, and I can build the board as desired.
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