Walking into any well-stocked board store these days can really test your powers of restraint. The Channel Islands have such seductive curves, the Slater Designs are so quirky, those retro Christenson quads are dolled up with dazzling colours and the Pyzels look so elegant and pointy – and is that glossy, epoxy DHD winking at me? It’s not hard to kill half a day just fondling rails and annoying the hell out of the sales-person charged with pimping the rides. However, faced with such overwhelming temptation most surfers are eventually going to reach for the cash-card and invest in a sexy, stock model off the rack.

But what does this mean for your relationship with the custom shaper who has been diligently curating your boards for years ­– the one who has put you inside the best barrels of your life, listened patiently to your mostly ridiculous feedback; added that meticulous spray you insisted on, kept all your files and given you a decent price for all of the above? Well, it feels like cheating on a girlfriend. However, is it ok to have mistresses in a golden era of surfboard design, when there are so many different models to date?
Some of the world’s best surfers are very loyal. John John has been devoted to his Pyzels since he was a blonde-mopped surfling. Jordy, on the other hand, has been married a few times (JS and Channel Islands for example) and has also done plenty of sleeping around – G-Force (his father's boards), Haydenshapes, Chris Gallagher and more. John John has won two world titles and Jordy none, despite his obvious talent. It’s a long bow to draw to suggest that Jordy’s fiberglass infidelity is the root cause of his failure to win a title. However, it might be something for him to think about.

Shane Dorian and John Carper have been working together for decades.

However, we are not really discussing the pros, who must constantly refine their craft with millimetric precision in order to compete within a narrow criterion. We’re talking about the regular Jenny or Joe who wants to experience a range of distinctly different sensations on a wave and ultimately find out what works best for them. 
Assuming you have some kind of disposable income for fiberglass toys, boards on the rack offer a very immediate opportunity to experiment with a menagerie of designs. Want to try a board with extreme rocker, a swallow-tail, a wide point forward, a pinched rail, a fuller nose, a twinny, a quad? You can find an example of almost every design-type in a good board store. You can intellectualise design and ponder theoretical performance all you want, but until you’ve experienced some of the design features referenced above, you don’t really know how they perform for you.    

Custom boards will always have a certain mystique. Getting your customs dialled is one of surfing's greatest pleasures.

So does this mean the end of the relationship with the loyal, custom shaper? Not at all. Riding a range of different boards off the rack can be a useful education process if you really tune in to the design factors at play. A good board salesman should also be able help you understand the elements influencing the performance of a different board. You don’t have to buy them all yourself either. You can share with mates and utilise board-leasing services like Awayco 

Once you have become more knowledgeable about your own design preferences, you are better equipped to re-connect with a custom shaper and really get your boards dialled. Alternatively you may view the custom shaper as the figure who provides a platform for you to engage in a radical experiment (with a little informed guidance) – just because you have an idea for a board and really want to know what it will go like.

Buying off the rack delivers instant gratification and feedback, but one should never forget how lucky we are to be part of a subculture where less than a AUD $1000 will get you a customised product that is tailored to your specific surfing needs – featuring the colours and coordinates that you specify, after a consultation with a design specialist. That’s a pretty damn sexy offer too.