G. Niblock on the L41 TipSUP Noserider. Photo: J. Chandler

Monday, May 25, 2009

The New Wave: Short and Fat

While we often take pride in coddling ourselves with the notion that we are rational and linear beings, more often than not, our thoughts and our lives are shaped like the aftermath of rocks thrown into a quiet pond. One thought, action or event creates a series of concentric circles which collide with the next thought, and the next series of concentric circles, all blending and banging up against one another, creating non-linear, uneven, seemingly random patterns. This is how stand up paddle surfing has affected my laydown surfing perspectives, not only on means of locomotion, but on surfboard shapes. Is a short and very maneuverable SUP possible? Yes. Can those design elements be translated into a shortboard surfboard? Again, the answer is yes. While the wisdom of Solomon imparted that there is nothing new under the sun, I say, "Let's hear it for recombinant evolution."

After surfing my current Angulo custom SUP, my suspicions were confirmed that a brilliant designer/shaper can go beyond what exists in a changing and emerging genre, and make something that is different, that works, a new creation. Ed's custom SUP's surf like longboards. Period. Gone are the "point and shoot" days of the old, heavy stand up paddleboards. Now, instead of having a paddleboard I can surf, I have a surfboard I can paddle.

Oddly in some way, this led me to believe that I could have a "big" shortboard, i.e. one that would maneuver like a shortboard, but truly paddle like a bigger board, like a longboard. Not a hybrid, but a "big" shortboard. Thus was my new Ward Coffey 6-10 conceived. Ward gave it life by shaping elements from my stand up paddleboard into the 6-10. This has enabled me to enjoy SUPing, and laydown surfing on a much shorter board, because after all, SUPing, longboarding and shortboarding are all different genres of the same general sport, with emphasis on the word "different."

While I now have in my possession the hard copy of my original thesis, I couldn't let go of the idea of how well intelligently designed short and fat surfboards work, even though they are considered highly unconventional in today's mainstream shortboard culture, where most shortboard sales are driven by 45 guys on the ASP circuit.

Somewhere in the hazy recollections of my mind I remembered an article about a very short and fat shortboard that had drive, glide and lift and was insanely loose and skatey. TSJ ran a story last Dec/Jan about a "new" idea, given life by Richard Kenvin, Joe Bauguess and John Elwell. If you read the story, it will give an idea of what I'm talking about, and it just might stoke your imagination like it did mine.

I had the good fortune of communicating with Kirk G., one of the mainstays of this revo/evo/lution via his website Foam and Function, which is a great browse and full of interesting "new" and radical designs and boards. Kirk lives in SoCal, but was in my area on a book signing tour with Patrick Trefz, so I was able to hook up with him and check out his working edition of the mini-Simmons.

An extremely affable "Kiwi" (his nickname) and people person, we talked about a lot of things. But Kirk was quick to tell me, more than once, that all three men in the article were the main players in the rebirth of the mini-Simmons. John Elwell was a contemporary of Bob Simmons himself in the late 1940's and early 50's, and John brought to the table a working knowledge of Simmon's designs. Joe is a master shaper, and RK has the passion to bring this "new" idea to the surfing world. The complete primer on the mini-Simmons can be found on RK's blog, Hydrodynamica. He is also the driving force (and primary funder) of the independent film project, Hydrodynamica Project.

As a contemporary surfer, former pro surfer, and articulate observer, Kenvin is on familiar ground vis a vis modern surf culture. Why then, dig into the past? What could possibly be gained from looking at such a strange and frankly odd design? I mean, look at that tail! Look at the dimensions! But surf culture veterans who are open minded surfing moderns, bring creative and practical sensibilities based upon their natural bent and life experiences. And almost all moderns have deep experiences with skateboarding. In the evolved and enhanced mini-S, RK presents a blending of the shortboard with the immense dexterity of the skateboard, and the drive and glide of the longboard. All this in a 5'4" to 6' package.

If I hadn't already purchased my 6-10 I would have taken a much harder look at the mini-Simmons...even at my age and skill level this board is doable. Consider the (rough) dims of the board pictured here: 5-10 X 20 X 23 X 19 X 2 7/8. The caveat for me is that I just no longer have the flexibility to quickly pop-up and get my feet under me on a really short board (read anything under 5-10 or 6'.) But for younger surfers, raised on shortboards and skateboards, this is not a problem. The longest mini's don't usually exceed 6-4, at least for now. Beyond 6-4 I'm told, one starts to lose the efficacies of the Simmons inspired shortboard/longboard/skateboard synthesis. To get an idea of how the board works, scroll through RK's blog. He has a lot of videos posted that demonstrate how well the board performs under the guidance of a competent ripper.

As for me, who knows what the next year will bring. But I can tell you that my now empty but slowly refilling surfboard piggy bank may be the monetary means to bagging one of these boards in the future. If so, you can be sure you'll hear about it.

In the end, I have mixed feelings about new designs like the mini-Simmons, or designs that should emerge from highly evolved shapes like the mini-Simmons. If you have the float that makes it possible to catch a lot of waves in variable conditions from crappy to epic, but your board's float doesn't impede your surfing performance, shouldn't that translate into more waves caught, while still capturing the stoke of airborne, tail sliding, tube riding, high energy surfing? Well, in fact it does. So why don't they get it? Slaves to fashion I guess. Bottom line...less mini's in the line-up mean more waves for me.

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