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.


Surfsister said...

I love it!! I've been smitten by these funky little boards too. I'm wondering if I even have the ability to surf such a board. I want one anyway!

I love this post.

HeadHighGlassy said...

Thanks, Surfsister. Sounds like you'll soon be sneaking another addition into the quiver...
I'll post ride reports when it's back from the Fattyshack.
Great blog--linked it.

6ftnperfect said...

looks like you got it right. I've been lucky enough to see casper in person and two other swift versions. I'll be starting my version sometime soon and I hope it comes out this well.

ridgeback said...

great post. what did you settle on for dims?

HeadHighGlassy said...

Stoked to see your results, Clay. Post 'em up when you're done!
Ridgeback, dims are a freakish 20" nose, 23" mid, 19" tail. 3" thick, but really tapered into the rails. Spoon nose is about 1/3 length of board, and bottom is belly up front, concave off the tail.
I actually have a hard time fitting the little guy (5'7") under my arm...

Kirk said...

that looks sweet, I think you've got it. As a truly satisfied rider of the Caspers in several forms, I'm sure you'll be stoked- they are blazingly fast and turn like a skateboard- epic fun