Footpads are nice. They make the landings a little softer. They save your spine. They help keep you on the board. They reduce point loading on your board so it lasts longer and maybe flexes magically better. If you build a foamcore board you can make it a little lighter without getting heel dings. Here's how to make your own footpads:
Get some foam. Many types will work. New commercial stuff or recycled. A camp sleeping pad, a kneel pad for gardening, a workout mat. A big pair of flipflops will work. Home depot sells flipflop-density foam nursery-room flooring panels that interlock like puzzle pieces. It comes in colors, looks nice, lasts forever, but it's just a little too firm. Mostly we use some urethane soft insulation they wedge between the studs of curtainwall buildings. It's about as firm as a camp sleeping pad. Softer and less durable than commercial footpads, but your feet sink into it in a really nice way. Cushy but still a solid feel. I got it from a foam company before dotcom startups priced them out of the neighborhood.
an outline and make a paper pattern.
I kept my foot handy for reference. You could just cover the whole deck with foam but it makes it surprisingly heavy. Also kind of dead feeling and floatier than you need. Our foot pads are between 1/4" and 1" thick, usually 1/2" or 3/4" feels right.
Trace your pattern onto the foam. Remeber to flip the pattern over if the shape is asymmetrical and you want the top surfaces the same. This is one of those Home Depot foam playroom squares. I found it blowing down Mass Ave after a storm. I contact-cemented some of the soft foam on top to make it a little thicker. I made another pair just from the soft foam and it's a lot better.
Sharpen your knife. Do a good job the usual way (many knife nerd sites will show you how) If you did a good job you can look right at the edge in bright light and see no reflections from flats or blunt spots. Then "strop" the edge by drawing it away from the edge across a piece of fine sandpaper. This is how you sharpen a razor. If you're in a hurry just use a coarse stone as for a butcher knife. Alternate sides. This raises a fine burr like you'll see on a razor under a microscope. Touch your thumbnail with it and if it grabs it's good. My Grandad had a strop like a thick leather belt in his bathroom. The cow or guts side was gritty like fine sandpaper. The skin or cowboy side got a dusting of garnet red oxide rouge to finish polishing the burr. He moved the razor so fast you couldn't see it, it just made a tapping hissing sound. You weren't supposed to play with the strop. Besides using it to keep his "hoe" sharp he disciplined my uncles with it. It had a gash in it where uncle "bird dog" goofed while learning to shave. I think he got whacked with it for that. When Grandad died none of the kids wanted it.
Cut out the outline and rough out the shape. Use light steady pressure and a sawing or slashing motion. Pull lightly on large chunks so the blade doesn't bind. If your edge is good it will go right through the foam without pushing it around much. The cut surface will be nice and smooth with no rips or irregularites.
For extra kicks try using an electric turkey knife. Custom upholstery guys like them a lot for this. Grandad said "Don't cut toward yourself and you'll never get cut." And "To carve a bear, just cut off anything that doesn't look like part of a bear."
For even more kicks before you get too close to the final shape try a belt sander or any high speed power sander. Use very light pressure and a sharp new piece of sandpaper. I like 80 grit or so. When it grabs the piece and it flies across the room your hand will get nicked by the machine. Meditate on what fragile blossoms we are.
Finish shaping it with light strokes from a sharp new piece of sandpaper. If you use too much pressure in any of these steps the foam will rip and roll up in an unattractive way. With light pressure the surface is nice.
Stick a piece of sandpaper onto the side of a butter knife to clean up between the toes.
Glue it on with DAP Weldwood original contact cement. Follow the directions. Do the gluing outside. Wear a mask with organic vapor cartridges and don't kill your brain with the fumes. If there's varnish on your board wait til it's very dry or the cement will make it peel off and you'll have a mess. 3M brand "77" spraycan contact cement works fine also and won't strip your finish off.
Bolt on your footstraps and pause. If there's any way to trap one foot and release the other, you've just made a joint-breaking machine. A friend just wrecked his knee this way and went crazy while the rest of us had many good days on the water. The straps need to be wide enough that you can pull your foot out even when twisted sideways as far as it can go. For size ten feet in booties that means at least 7.5 inches. The straps need to be inelastic and snug enough that your foot can't get jammed too far in. Some people like wooden block standoffs under the ends of the straps to raise them up a little. Others don't. If your pads are too slippery, rub them with surfboard wax. We use "pasteup wax" which used to be used for "cut and paste" in graphic design before computers. It's a mixture of microcrystalline wax and turpentine. It's nice and tacky, but not so tacky it picks up much dirt.
Now go kiting!
Copyright Tim Anderson 2003