It seems any board today between 6’6” and 8’6” gets tagged as retro. While the distinctions are too subtle for the casual observer, any surfer worthy of the title should be able to, upon a quick perusal, distinguish between a true retro shape and most of what is being produced in this size range today.
Admittedly, the outlines for most of the midsize boards I see today are inspired or outright stolen from earlier eras. The similarity usually ends there. Take a look at the obvious things first. Thickness, rails, bottom contour. Unless a shaper is making a conscious effort to match the thick, bulky, flat to vee shapes of the past, there is probably nothing retro about these other elements. Many of today’s ”retro” boards enjoy bottom contours that, with a few notable exceptions, we’re not even dreamt of in the 60’s or 70’s. Rails; the refinement of today’s rail shapes is positively astounding. Have you actually looked at a 70’s era lightning bolt pipeline board? Approaching or even exceeding four inches thick, bulky hard down rails, flat bottom to vee out the tail. Now I’m not trying to put down these shapes. In their day they were the right tool for the job, allowing (or possibly requiring) a style that not only became iconic, but allowed the bold to survive one of the heaviest waves on the planet with panache.
Which brings me to style. The thing about any board, is that is permits, or perhaps even requires, a particular style of surfing. Herein lies the crux of this issue. How do you want to surf. If you feel the need to string together as many moves, lip bashes, and cutbacks on each wave, then the modern shortboard probably is the tool for you. On the other hand, if you spend rainy days watching Morning of the Earth and Litmus, find a board that works for the style of surfing you most admire. If you feel nobody gets you and your style, shape your own boards, or find a sympathetic shaper, until you dial in the required combination of elements that let’s you best express that style. If you love to nose ride, that design thread has been explored for decades. Take your pick. What you are likely to receive from your shaper though, will probably be a much more refined, ”modern” interpretation of the boards used by your style gurus. As you watch closely many of these older films you’ll notice that many of the boards are not working well at all. Occasionally one surfer and board will stand out. These boards often are the hereditary roots of today’s mid size, ”retro” selection, but decades of evolution have rendered them in many cases, much better than the original for the intended style of surfing.
Some people like to waltz. Some people like to slam dance. Choose your dance and then find the tool that allows your most pleasing expression. Today’s variety is as good as it’s ever been. Regardless of what the commercial surf industry is telling you, you can find just about anything, with the possible exception of the next big thing. Although I do believe mid size boards are the next big thing. The good part is that there is no defining set style that determines what you will be riding, no homogenized ”one design” vibe of surf fashion. Fish, Simmons, eggs, bonzers, hulls. You name it. Most are better for the average surfer (that isn’t really married to longboarding) than they realize. As we all get older, and we all will, a bit more volume, a bit more style, and a bit more ease of use will keep us from becoming that angry old shortboarder in the line-up. You know who they (you) are.
So yeah, retro. Anyone who remembers when these types of boards (if they even existed) were cool the first time around, realizes that they were never uncool in interim. They were cool all along. And what makes them cool is that they are the right tool for the job 90% of the time. Longboards? Shortboards? It’s time again for surfboards.