Well we have made it to San Diego. Thank you to all the family and friends along the way for making it such a great trip so far.
Stopped by Mitch’s North on the way down to Custom Surf Glass/G&S, where I’ll be spending my time shaping. It’s a great feeling, knowing all of the good folks who help make it all happen. I am grateful to them all…
Those who have actually followed my shapes over the years may have noticed that the models that emerged from my rather selfish desire to shape the perfect boards for myself, have not been stagnant. They have evolved, along with my sensibilities, abilities, and knowledge of surfing and board design.
To be fair, no two hand shaped surfboards are ever identical. Even machine shapes vary depending on the final hand sanding and tuning. Even the unsung heroes at the factories (laminators, gloss and hot coat guys, sanders, fin guys, polishers) help determine the final result, each in their own way. Another factor for me though, it is my inability to shape as accurately as more experienced hand shapers. I am not one to rely on exact measurements of every aspect of the board. What consistency I achieve is sole a product of my doing each step of the shaping process the same each time. It’s an intuitive method that turns out shapes like mine because that’s just how I do it, each and every time. Often the process and what I see in front of me takes over, and in an effort to keep everything flowing and harmonious, goals and final results necessarily shift. I feel that far from being a bad thing, this reality allows for the opportunity to feel differences and learn from them, adding to the growing library of cause and effect in my mind.
Here is an example of this process at work. I was able to pull a template off an extraordinary board that I had the good fortune to come across. For my first shape that I did for a friend from this template, I tried to match the original ‘70s shape, with as good of results as I could muster at the time. It worked very well indeed, and he still has it today, close to twenty years later. The second one, I made for myself, and I foiled out nose and tail a lot, carved deep bottom contours and really knifey rails. I surfed it to death. It was wide, but the fineness of the rails and foil made it extremely sensitive (which I like), while still planing nicely. I don’t want to say my surfing is tentative, but I am certainly no power surfer, so it suited me fairly well. The third one, again for a friend, I split the difference, and it ended up the best of the three, easy and fast. It had no element that stuck out as extreme (to me anyway), and it just worked nicely in a variety of conditions. Experiments like these are excellent learning opportunities, and I try to do them whenever I can afford to.
One of the great benefits of hand shaping, is the flexibility it allows. Adjustments can be made, board by board, to improve (hopefully) any design, and back up on things that may not work out as hoped.
All of this gets me back to the point of this article. My model designations must be looked upon as an indication of the general feel and utility that one can expect from any particular model. They may vary slightly from shape to shape, but they typically retain a particular feel and purpose.
So please keep in mind that if you have a board of mine from ten or twenty years ago and want to recreate it, I am happy to give it my best shot. I will be able to give you the same vibe, but it would be a very lucky day indeed that I could produce the exact same shape. If all of this sounds like me making excuses, that’s because I am. Whether it is a good excuse or not, I leave up to you.
It was at one of the very first Sacred Craft Shows, now billed as the Boardroom Show, that I got eyeballs and hands on a Joe Bauguess mini-Simmons. Maybe it was Casper, not sure, but I can remember asking the guy in the booth if it actually worked. “Oh yeah!” was his response. I was thoroughly intrigued. It was so not smooth, not sleek, not sexy. How could it be that it worked as well as the guy said? Well, science, that’s how. I had done some reading on Bob Simmons and even a bit on Lindsay Lord, the author of “Naval Architecture of Planing Hulls”, the book Simmons was know to reference and study in his quest to produce a better surfboard in the late ‘40s/early ‘50s. I dove back into researching as much as I could find about Bob Simmons and his boards, and eventually read through the pertinent parts of Lord’s book.
While the mini-Simmons I saw looked to me like a traditional(ish) plan shape, the rails and bottom seemed more modern. After seeing a photo of a beautiful full length Simmons, with the incredible amount of belly forward and deep single concave throughout, I decided to try a board with more traditional (to Simmons) bottom and rail contours, in a mid size that someone of my age and surfing ability might actually be able to surf. I basically took the front end of one of my earliest templates, a 7’6” fun shape, cut the tail off, and did minimal adjustments. The once center wide point became the hips, decidedly aft of center. The tail block, which I have since arced a bit, is roughly 16”.
The Lindsay Lord book gives a great description of the theory and tested reality of the design elements of the most efficient planing hull (on smooth water). The belly forward provides primary lift and displacement. The water then has no choice but to follow the smooth contours around the belly and to a significant extent, into the single concave, providing secondary lift. It is then coerced into flowing on out the back. The keels provide added directional stability. It all gets a little wanky when you consider the less than parallel water flow across the bottom of a board actually going down the line on a wave, but it all still works splendidly.
My first HPH (hydrodynamic planing hull; aka the thumb, aka mid-Simmons, aka lima bean), came in at roughly 6’7”x22 1/2”x2 3/4”. To my surprise, it was incredibly easy to surf. While you could not glide into soft wave on the outside like a longboard, it totally kept up with boards up to eight-something feet long. There’s a lot of foam in that tail, and it picks up small to mid-size waves nicely. So many people that I let try it ordered one, so it became one of my regular model threads. It evolved into two threads; a “speedster” version with slightly subdued contours, and the more original “lima bean” curvy original. Interestingly, the original, while feeling extra fast and dynamic in small surf, ended up having a speed limit, I believe dictated by the extent of the contours (and there is a LOT of curve in the bottom). The speedster version, with its milder contours and edgier rails, had the same dynamics, but it spread them over a longer distance/arc. The speed limit was raised considerably while retaining the fundamental character of the design, which to me was that if you stepped forward, it acted like a hull, but you could still step back and surf from the tail in the manner of a fish. When you pressed your weight down on the deck a the bottom turn, you could actually feel the water flowing out the back, accelerating.
Over the years I have done them down to about 6’0”, and as long as 10’, but I really like the mid length. It just surfs way longer than its length would indicate. A good friend of mine, who typically surfed ten foot noseriders and longer Fryes, gave it a go one morning. He was close to my age (fifty something at the time), shorter and significantly heavier than me. He truly did not hold out a lot of hope for it, but popped up on his first attempt. At 6’07” it was the shortest board he had ever successfully ridden and was stoked out of his mind.
I success of my version entirely to my adherence to the original Lords concept. It just flat out works, even if my mid-size version does stretch the original length to width ratio a bit. The amount of planing surface/foam in the tail keeps it up and on plane even in the most gutless surf, although the same attribute can make it a bit of a handful in surf much overhead. That’s my comfort range anyway.
I you catch me at the beach, hit me up. If I have one with me, you are more than welcome to give it a go. It might surprise you.
Well it’s been a couple of crazy years, but my post-Covid shaping schedule is starting to come into focus. Last Fall, this Spring, and now this Fall. Settling into a trip at least every six months. I am working towards a set up with a workable three to four trips a year.
Debbie and Eric Gordon, along with the entire crew at Custom Surf Glass and G&S have allowed me to continue putting boards through their factory, alongside so many great labels (G&S of course, Frye, Mitsven, Miller, Pinder, etc). I feel very fortunate to have the continuing opportunity to have my shapes built in such an environment.
Hit me up if you would like to secure a space for my next trip, tentatively lining up for the Spring.
Also, I am going to attempt to break down the design elements of my most popular model lines in future posts, to give a sense of where they came from and where they may be going. So please stop back and have a look occasionally.
This past week I had the privilege of witnessing some of the best craftsmen in the surfboard industry practice their skills up on “the hill”. I feel very fortunate to get a glimpse into this world that is completely invisible to most. One of these craftsmen was Sam Cody. A veteran color guy, both resin and airbrush, Sam has worked for some of the greatest labels in surfing.
I completed a shape that a good client of mine requested and was very stoked that he decided to splurge for one of Sam’s “falsa” jobs. Not even remotely cheap, but you have to see one to believe it. Seriously, he recently did some falsa stringers in a board for Jim Phillips that even the veteran sander at Bing didn’t recognise for a good portion of the job, and this is a guys that knows! Here is the man at work and just a taste of the beginning of the project.
Sam not only makes it look like a traditional balsa glue up, but on this particular board, he decided on making it look like high quality, carefully chosen lumber. His skill and attention to detail is unsurpassed and often underappreciated.
I’m very sad today. I got a call from an old friend informing me that Larry Gordon had passed on New Years day. I had the great honor and privilege to surf with Larry on a regular basis over the years. When I was just learning to surf, Larry was there, usually with a smile and quiet word of tolerance, if not encouragement. When I was learning to shape, Larry was there, with a smile and a quiet word of tolerance, and encouragement. When I would show up at Tourmaline with a fresh board, still in plastic, to deliver, his sole piece of advice was “more color!”. I’ve heeded that advice, along with every other nugget of wisdom he was so generous to pass along. So the next time I show up with a board to deliver, I will probably hear the echo of “more color!” and head out to pumphouse and catch more waves than I deserve, because I used to sit next to Larry, and nobody new that place like he did, and I paid attention.