Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The ______board Revolution

These are not the best days to be a Middle Eastern dictator. Nor are they great for polar bears or allergy sufferers. Mortgage owners, too, have cause for concern.
However, these are unbelievably exciting times to be a surfer or a custom surfboard shaper. The last five years of surf culture has seen the rules of the game change so much that there are no longer any rules. Last century, surfers laughed when the odd twin keel fish made its way into the local lineup. Now I can’t even wax up my Mini-Simmons in the parking lot without a handful of passersby deliberating design nuance: single or double-foiled fins? Concave all the way out the tail, or flat behind the fins? Would a shallow swallow tail give it more release?
The Shortboard Revolution of mid 1960s saw surfers hacking down their longboards six inches at a time. Shorter and shorter they got—ideas ping-ponging between California and Australia as traditionally designs were reinvented monthly.
Monthly. Can you imagine that? It’s a sloth’s pace compared to what’s going on today. It takes a month to fill a laboratory dish with bacteria. It takes two weeks to buy a gun (and feels a lot longer) in California. It takes minutes for a stoked surfer to see something online that captures their imagination, copy it, send it to their custom shaper with a few tweaks and a question (“what do you think of this but as a quad with a more pulled-in nose?”), and decide on a color.
The Shortboard Revolution was, as indicated by its name, unidirectional: shorter.
Today’s surfing revitalization is three dimensional: longer, fatter, shorter, thinner, more fins, fewer fins, concaves, convexes…etc.
It works with mindboggling speed: A backyard shaper in Portugal redistributes foam in an interesting way and posts it on his blog. Online surf communities initiate substantive discussion before the board even finishes curing. A California shaper gets inspired, fires off a few testpieces, and sends a crew to Baja to film and post up some video. The Big Guys see it and push a new model into production, but by then it’s too late. The dude in Portugal has moved on, deciding that the board would work better stringerless with carbon rails. The California shaper, too, decides to widen the tail, change the fin configuration, and push the widepoint back.
The target has shifted. The conversation has changed.
Suddenly, we’re talking about a teenage girl in New Zealand who hacks foam out of her parent’s mattress, glues an innertube to it, and shreds the reforms. The conversation continues, it expands, it contracts, it pulses like a jellyfish. It moves, literally, at the speed of light.
The result? Everyone is relieved: grizzled old shredsters are no longer talked into underfoamed, overfinned, banana-rockered potato chips with the float of a kickboard and the shelf life of swiss chard. Gremmies aren’t hounding after the latest ‘CT hero model guaranteed to blast them over the lip in 2ft beachbreak windswell, and the rest of us are encouraged, gently, to experiment.
Interestingly, it’s been a collaboration between the old and new guards that has brought us here. Elder statesmen like Kenvin and Ekstrom have enlisted the energy and talents of stoked groms. Everyone wins. The kids have their minds significantly blown over the pleasures of trim and glide, and the older guys get to reap the benefits of more user-friendly boards without the stigma.
Case in point: Big John had a vision for a specific board for a specific wave that requires a specific (read: dealbreakingly long) paddle to access. The wave is powerful and known to throw big, legit barrels on the right swell. He wanted paddle power. He also wanted it to be able to handle juice and steep walls. Not a longboard, not a gun.
Also: pulled nose and tail, e-wings.
Also: a bonzer setup. With bamboo fins.
Also: enough foam to float a guy as long as my car.
Also: banana/mango yellow tint with a tapered black resin pinline.
Try finding one of these on the racks.
It's not that a board like this didn't exist ten or twenty years ago--it did. The difference now is that the kids in the back row, the ones grinding their popcorn into the carpet while texting their girlfriends and downloading seven movies simultaneously, are now the ones standing up, aiming their camera phones at the world, and saying, "that's rad."
And it is.


Hugh said...

That. Is. IT. That's the board I've been looking for. If the owner gives you feedback, would you be kind enough to post it? Even though I can already see it's magic...

Dirty Hippy said...

Long may we wave......we always will have surfing and its eclectic culture! Things are just getting exciting!

turtle said...

that pretty much sums it up. and you even worked in the Swiss chard.

exceptional post on both accounts. board and perspective.

Kirk said...

Yes, exactly right on everything. Thank you. Check this when you get a moment:
it's Ryan Burch's site. The kid's a madman but he's inspiring little bastard too. And I ate Chard from the yard tonight (sauteed with chicory on the side of lamb tagine, not only am I a pretentious fool but a cheap one as well.)

HeadHighGlassy said...

Who would have thought that Swiss chard would inspire so many comments? Hugh, shoot me your email and I'll get you in touch with the owner. In short: he digs it. I agree, Dirty Hippy, but it makes me ask: is there such thing as a clean hippy? Thanks for the link Kirk. Those kids are great, but they've got great direction as well. As for the Swiss chard...just don't leave it in the fridge for a week...