Art by Tom Swanson

Imaginary Surf with David Murphy

board in the window at 60th and Madison, NYC

Imaginary Surf board in the window at 60th and Madison, NYC

David Murphy makes Imaginary Surf boards. It’s true: I own two of them. The way I look at David’s boards is that they’re functional art. So I wanted some details about what he’s doing now and how he got to this point. The article strays a little into technical details of board design/construction, but hopefully it informs the reader to some degree of the detail that goes into making a surfboard.

Daniel: Give us some background: How long have you been surfing and how long shaping boards?

David: I’ve been surfing since I was 26. I started soon after moving to NYC. As you know I grew up skateboarding and had to quit because of injuries and just really missed going sideways. Surfing is so totally different from skateboarding but it fulfilled the sideways urge for me.
I started shaping alaias (editor’s note: an alaia is a finless wooden surfboard that’s typically thin and flat compared to the boards most people are familiar with). I bought one from Jon Wegener and I love his boards, but it was the wrong size for me. I just looked at it on the beach after surfing one day and thought, “I could make this, it’s just a plank of wood.” I shaped about 6 or 7 alaias soon after that, then started making fiberglass boards, mostly as a way to try and make a better finless board. Eventually I started making regular surfboards with fins but I feel like my first attempts at finless boards taught me a huge lesson on how boards work.

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Daniel: And you do this in Brooklyn? Is Brooklyn a mecca for all things surf, whether it’s waves, surfboards manufacturers, etc? What’s the northeast scene like?

David Murphy: Ha, no. Brooklyn is a tough place to be making surf craft. I’m there because I have other interests. If I just wanted to surf I’d be in San Diego. New York is amazing and the art and cultural influences have a huge effect on what I’m building. Brooklyn is a great place for design, but it’s also a hard place to make anything because of the rent and the hassles involved with doing anything in the city. The rents are insane and I have a feeling a lot of designers will continue to be forced out in the next 5 years. On the plus side, my shop is 30-50 minutes from some of my favorite surf spots. The waves in the northeast are great, they’re just not consistent. You really have to be on it to catch swell here.

Daniel: You’re shaping is completely self-taught, correct? From zero to hero…

David Murphy: I don’t know about hero, but yeah, I’m entirely self-taught. What that really means is I’m good at asking questions and trying things on my own. In this day and age anyone can learn to shape, it just takes time and a willingness to experiment. The problem with learning on your own is that you end up making more mistakes and spend more money on building things that don’t work, but I really think I’ve actually learned way more from boards that don’t work. For a while I was pushing to make my boards as flat and short as possible. I feel like I have a real-world idea of what the low limit is for rocker on boards and how you can get away with tweaking shapes to make them work. I’m confident I wouldn’t have learned nearly as much if I’d been copying and tweaking existing shapes. In that way being self-taught is the fast way to learn.Screen Shot 2014-09-15 at 8.25.39 PM

Daniel: So how did you go from Structural Integration and bodywork into running a surf company?

David Murphy: I’m still doing both. I ask myself how I’m doing it still every day. I think this is the year of streamlining. I’m hoping to be working a lot less and making more boards. We’ll see. This year I’m moving my shop and partnering with a woodworker on building light weight high performance wood boards out of reclaimed timber and simplifying our glassing operation. I hope it means more boards and less time managing the shop for me. We’ll see.

Daniel: These are more than just functional surfcraft that you make: They’re arguably some of the most environmentally-sound boards on the planet, correct? Whycome the enviro stuff and how central is it to you?

David Murphy: The most environmentally friendly board you can make is one that lasts forever, bottom line. If you make a board that only lasts 6 months, it doesn’t matter what kind of eco-friendly garbage you make it out of, it’s still going to end up in the trash or worse, floating in the ocean. I think polyester boards can be eco-friendly if they last 25 or 30 years. That’s what I’m shooting for, but I’m doing it with recycled pinesap epoxy, reclaimed timber, and other environmentally sustainable materials. I really believe epoxy is just a better material for making surfboards. I’ve been in Panama this week riding out to the surf breaks on a boat and all the poly boards are dinged to shit. The stuff I’m riding is fine. It also happens to flex better and feel better in the water, but whatever. Dane Reynolds doesn’t ride my boards so what do I know.

Daniel: What is the process? 1/2 art, 1/4 science and..? Seriously, what are you thinking as you make these shred sleds?

David Murphy: I’m trying to think less and make more. I could go on but I need a more specific question. Sorry.

Daniel: Ok. Talk about the process of making a custom shred device. And when doing a custom, do you get people giving you some basic info and encouraging you to create freely? For example, when it came to the boards you made for me, I gave you some parameters like my weight and roughly what kind of waves I wanted to ride, but then deferred to you entirely.

David Murphy: I guess the first thing with making a custom is addressing the needs of the surfer and how they surf: back or front footed surfer? Wanting more speed or a more controlled board that handles heavier waves? Do they like to skate the board or turn more off the rail? Since the advent of shaping machines a lot of surfers are becoming obsessed with liters of volume, but volume is such a small part of the board design in my opinion. I think planing surface is a more important, but I ride some boards that are under 2 inches thick. I still think the old school thing of holding the board under your arm is a good test. A lot of volume gets tweaked in the rails so it’s worth looking at rail shape when you’re choosing a board. It also helps to have the guidance of a shaper.

ready to ride no matter how cold or warm the water is

ready to ride no matter how cold or warm the water is

Daniel: Do you make more one-offs than production models? What do you prefer and why?

David Murphy: I have production models that I’m refining, but my favorite boards to make are customs that fit a certain set of perimeters for a surfer. It’s really fun when you can nail the perfect board for someone.

Daniel: Where do art and business meet? Or are they destined to be enemies forever?

David Murphy: My goal right now is to keep doing creative projects and keep the process financially viable. I doubt I’ll ever get rich from this.

Screen Shot 2014-09-15 at 8.25.09 PMDaniel: I told you that the 6’10 you made me recently took incredible abuse w/out showing a sign of it: You have a different take on durability than most manufacturers (large or small). As you know from our trip to The Ranch, the 5’9 mini Simmons you made me is still kicking 4 years later… And that was your 13th board – I love that thing! Plus I have this new 6’10 from you with a real cork top that requires no wax for grip… People can’t believe the 6’10: Jay Adams (skate legend, RIP) checked it out in Puerto and was so stoked on it.

David Murphy: I love that mini Simmons!! The 6’10 board I made you for that trip is vacuum bagged with 6 oz cloth and cork. It’s got a carbon stringer and a triple hot coat. More hot coats make a board more impact resistant, glass gives it tensile strength, cork and wood dampen vibration. I personally like S glass for boards under 6’2 because you get the same strength as 6 oz but with more of a snappy carbon feel. Carbon is too stiff unless you use it sparingly.

When people talk about flex they really mean vibration or harmonic. Eps foam is lighter and stronger than PU foam but it has a horrible harmonic. Thats why eps boards need some other material to get rid of the vibration. Cork and wood work great and make it feel more like what people like in PU and polyester boards. Unlike what most people think, Epoxy flexes up to 6x more than Polyester. Polyester resin doesn’t flex at all, which is why you get spider cracks on poly boards.

Anastasia Ashley, pro surfer and competitor on the World Qualification Series w/ an Imaginary Surfboard

Anastasia Ashley, pro surfer and competitor on the World Qualification Series w/ an Imaginary Surfboard. Photo: Sam Kweskin

Daniel: You don’t have any pro-models: Does this make it harder to sell boards? Does having a pro ride a board give other companies a sales advantage? Is it rugged being the small guy?

David Murphy: Everyone tells me if I just had a video of a pro riding one of my boards, they’d sell like hotcakes. When I can afford to pay those pros, I’ll start working on the video. It hasn’t happened yet. The boards work insanely well though. You just have to ask someone who’s ridden one.

Daniel: How can people keep up w/ what your doing and, if they’re lucky, maybe get a board?

David Murphy: They can email me through my website. I’m @surfymurphy on instagram, and it all gets posted on my website.

Thanks buddy…. see you on the next trip. Cheers

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