Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Child is the Father of the Man

A few years ago, Conrad moved from North of the Bridge to Really North of the Bridge.
He brought with him a hound dog, a tractor, and his father's 1973 fluted-wing single fin. It was his father's first custom order, and had enlightened him to the wonders of glide.

Three decades later, when Conrad's dad noted that his son was partial to chippy tri-fins, he intervened. It is every parent's responsibility to educate their offspring, so he handed over his prized board and a challenge:
Learn to feel the wave.
Conrad took his pop's fluted-wing single fin and did just that. He put the old blue board through its paces in progressively colder, larger waves. It glided, it swooped, it enlightened him to the wonders of trim.
And he found that not only could he feel the wave, but if he listened closely, he could hear it, too.
Unfortunately, lately he's been hearing a lot of wheezing coming from the blue board, some clicking coming from under the hood, a little squeakiness from the wheel area.
Retirement was imminent.

Conrad wanted another single fin, but with some modern refinements. Because the original shaper hadn't signed the board or placed logos on it, and because Conrad's father couldn't remember the name of the shaper other than it may have had an O in it, actually maybe a P now that he thought about it, the job landed squarely on my shoulders.
The board got stretched from 7'2 to 7'8 to maximize glide and trim possibilities.

Although the board received a thoroughly modern foil, the beak nose was preserved for the bitchin' factor.

The tail was thinned considerably, but the fluted wings stayed put. Why mess with a good thing?

The Original blue, 1973, fluted-wing, rounded pintail trim master about to be put to pasture. Two generations of stoked surfers can't be wrong.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Spoony Love

In the 1940s, the Pacific Ocean, the United States Military, and Bob Simmons aligned for a few brief moments.

The collision was the equivalent of a surfboard design Big Bang—an expanded hydrodynamic universe whose effects are still being felt, scrutinized, and elaborated upon today.
Bob Simmons’ influence on surfboard design is so vast, so cosmic, that virtually every surfboard shaped in the last sixty years contains within it, somewhere, a molecule or two of Simmons DNA. If you’ve ridden a board with rocker, convexes, concaves, a tuned-in tail shape, round rails, a precise foil, domed deck, or sandwich construction, you’ve bumped uglies with the master.
His spoon design, which featured a scooped nose, parallel rails, concave/convex bottom, and wide tailblock with a single low-aspect fin on each rail, has enjoyed considerable attention these last few years.

Two Girls, Two Spoons

Recent tributes include Greg Noll’s incredible balsa Simmons Spoon reproductions and The Swift Movement’s mini-Simmons series, including shrunken-down Simmons spoons in various sizes, some featuring impossibly wide swallow tails.
The boards were revived, in part, by fish enthusiast/Hydrodynamica stoker Richard Kenvin (“RK” to those who know him so, clearly, “Richard Kenvin” to me), shaped by Joe Bauguess for The Swift Movement, and researched by John Elwell, a San Diego surf pioneer, Simmons biographer, surf historian, 1950s North County lifeguard, and witness to Simmons drowning death in 1954. Their flagship design, a scaled down styro version of Elwell’s original 9 foot, twin-finned balsa, was dubbed ‘Casper.’
It is rumored to rip.
I am a man—weak, suggestible, easily influenced by curvy things. When I first saw a picture of Kenvin’s Casper, I was smitten.
I was also thrown off—it didn’t look right, and like all forms contrary to expectation (extra toes, extra nipples), I was drawn to it. Because North of the Bridge is somewhat of a design-trend hinterland, I took to the phones, talked to some unsuspecting folks, chased down rumors that a nearby shop actually had one on the rack.
I got nada, or, as my people would say, bupkis.

Necessity breeds surfboards, so I got to work shaping my own based on rumor, innuendo, extrapolation, the occasional blurry online photo or video grab, and a few lengthy consultations with my friend, The Mendocino Brewing Company’s Red Tail Ale.
My partner, a grumpy old stringerless Walker blank, gladly swapped out its original nebulous form for the Simmons-inspired one.

It was a joy to shape, to think carefully about every step, every planer pass, each curve and flat.

And to keep in mind that Simmons contemplated all the same choices--except that he had no reference points for his ideas. He turned curves where there had previously been flats. He thinned tails that had previously been thick. Added a fin where before there had always been just the flat bottom of a wooden surfboard.
During the shaping session, I felt I was standing on the shoulders of a giant. Until I realized it was Simmons who could see farthest, standing on the carcasses of the surfboards of his era, staring down the future, challenging it to go on without him.

So far, it hasn't.