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

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Freeline 5-11 "GhostBuster2" Mini-Simmons

Freeline 5-11 GhostBuster2 mini-Simmons
Length: 5' 11"
Dimensions: 18 3/4 X 23 X 19 1/4 X 2 5/8
Fins: RFC Glassed on, fully foiled twins
Rocker: Nose (5.25") (approx.) Tail 1.5" (approx.)
Blank: Marko EPS Foam 6-6 Halibut
Glassing Schedule: Epoxy resin. Deck two 6 oz. e-cloth - Bottom one 6 oz. and one 4 oz. e-cloth. Fins two 4oz./side each fin. Sanded finish.

I was intrigued by the mini-Simmons design after reading the article by Richard Kenvin in the Dec-Jan (2008/09) issue of TSJ. I searched around for more info and found Kenvin's blog and website which made the whole prospect of the mini-Simmons even more interesting and enticing. Finally, I was able to put my eyes and hands on one when Kenvin associate and friend Kirk G. was in my neighborhood on a book promoting tour.

One of the most fun things about surfing is that it is not static. Surfing a wave is an ever changing dance replete with hundreds of adjustments. Change is the essence of surfing. Rigidity and inflexibility will just get you wet. Wave crafts, built for surfing, are the same. Rigidity and inflexibility makes you all wet, boring, stuck in your ways, never changing, stiff and dead to the joys of new life and new worlds to explore. But while all that is waxing full of debatable and dubious philosophical hot air, the reality remained whether or not at 62 years old, I could even surf one standing up. After all, my first board in my home waters over 30 years ago, was a Freeline kneeboard which was longer than the mini-Simmons board I was now contemplating!

Transitions. Could I even stand up surf one of these boards? I needed a new boogie board for the family. Killing two birds with one stone, I opted for a six foot foam "surfboard," thinking, "if I can stand up and surf this narrow, foam six-footer, I can probably surf a six-foot (or less depending upon the overall dimensions) mini-Simmons". Long story short, I had a blast standup surfing the six foot foamie.

But still, was this really going to work well enough to justify a five or six hundred dollar outlay of cash for an interesting but very unconventional (not to mention idiosyncratic) addition to my little quiver? I called up John Mel from Freeline Design who recommends that I contact Christian who just picked up the first generation mini-Simmons out of John's shaping bay. That sealed the deal, but I wanted to make some design changes that were more contiguous with my understanding of the mini-Simmons fundamental design concepts and elements.

John's been shaping boards for me since the early 70's, so of course, he got the call. John's surfboards and surf shop, Freeline Design, are a foundational mainstay of the surfing culture in Santa Cruz CA. An integral part of the surfing community for over 30 years, John is the man...although you'd never know it from his humble demeanor and presence. When it comes to shaping, John knows what works and does not like to let anything get out of his shaping bay that doesn't meet his seal of approval, and that he KNOWS won't work. I, on the other hand, am a bit more of a gambler. In the end though, our collaboration was 100% effective and 110% successful. GhostBuster2 was born.

Over the last 10 years or so I've been in the shaping bay with John for every custom he has shaped for me (at least one or two a year)...but never took pictures. With his permission I documented the entire process for the making of GhostBuster2. I will follow up with a future "The Making of GhostBuster2" blog story at a later date, including glassing, fin installation and the final sanding.

I've had a chance to ride GB2 only three times since I picked it up last week. Twice I had it out in glassy beach break closeouts, and once in reef point break where I really started to get a feel for the board. The adventure is just beginning so it's impossible to entirely evaluate or review the board on it's own merits at this time. But there are a few things I can say in the context of the mini-Simmons design and in comparison with GB1, the first Freeline mini-Simmons I demoed.

The design (as I understand it, envision it and as translated through our collaboration) delivers everything I expected, needed and wanted. Above all it is a fast planing, quick starting stable platform for wave riding with surprising glide and speed for a short board. It is NOT a radical turning machine. It was not designed with that intention or desire, i.e. slashing turns off the top and bottom was NOT what I was looking for. But a 5-11 surfboard has a short radius for turning and this one's not tracky. What I've got is a fast, stable and responsive board that I can easily place on the wave face. This allows the rider to both lose speed and gain it back, by making precise, non-radical changes in direction efficiently and with little effort, moving the board in and out of the power pocket at will. All this is accomplished on a very stable and smooth surfing platform or wavecraft. You can watch an expert surfer do this by observing Kenvin surf the Baugess collaboration mini-Simmons on RK's blog. (There are numerous video clips of RK surfing several types of minis.) There's also a good video piece located in the TSJ website.

Sometimes, I think of GB2 as "60% of a longboard." When you look at the outline, it is easy to imagine the "rest of the board" in an imaginary plan shape. This is a useful analogy in that the GB2 has several foundational characteristics of a longboard. 1) It is easy and fast to paddle. Catching waves is no problem, although head to head with a "real" longboard the GB2 rider is going to have to work a little harder and perhaps take off a bit later. 2) Like a longboard, the GB2 is remarkably stable for a board that measures only 5-11. It is the most stable and unpretentiously functional short surfboard I have ever surfed.

Stability was an extremely important consideration for me. (That's why custom boards rule. You can have them made specifically for YOU: your skills, abilities and physical limitations or lack thereof.) All that width allows me to pop-up with no problem, even though I don't have the flexibility to ride the same size contemporary thruster type chip. The board is very forgiving and allows for the fun and stoke of riding a short board that feels a lot like a skateboard.

The EPS foam blank gave us the option of going thinner (2 5/8" instead of 2 3/4 or 3") on thickness without losing any float or stability. Going thinner also allowed us to increase or maintain maneuverability without having to deal with slowness or a board that would just plod along or bog down. It also eliminated any corkiness that people often complain of with the more air filled styrofoam cores.

Neither John nor I could think of any really good reasons to scoop the deck on such a short board. As I understand it s-decks, step decks, aka scooped decks were originally used on longboards to save weight. Then came the notion that s-decks would work on longboard noseriders to create flex (downward deformation, flattening rocker) that would allow the rider to increase tip time. (For more on that see the current issue of TSJ (Vol. 18 #4), Soundings VI: The Question of Flex, pages 66-67, Renny Yater.) In my research I could find no reason to take away foam on the mini-Simmons, even though it appears to be a design element of the genre. For me having a little bit of additional volume was more important than taking it away, especially since I could find no compelling reason to do so. But the bottom of the board was a different story.

John shaped a small, but clearly defined section of beveled, double barrel concave into GB1. We both agreed that more was needed in GB2 so he added a perfectly placed section of double barrel concave with vee out the back which enhances lift, speed and maneuverability. The double concave with bevel isn't anything new. John likes many of Steve Walden's boards and ideas. For a quick video overview and partial history of this design element check this video.

Rocker was important in that a short board without much rocker will be fast, but tough to turn, wanting to track in a straight line. Too much rocker will take away from an element that was primary to me, i.e. speed. Because turning wasn't my highest priority we went with flatter than not. But I wanted enough rocker in the nose so that I wasn't burying it on steep take-offs which would be easy to do with such a wide tail with so much float.

I liked the fin set-up on GB1 but was looking for fins that were more aesthetically tasteful and a bit more eco-friendly. I opted for a set of the fully foiled, bamboo RFC twin fins. We both thought that this fin shape, foil and configuration would provide the necessary drive and release that would enhance the boards surf-ability.

Finally, I added a half board length sheet of clear grip non-skid deck covering to provide better traction and adhesion for cold water barefoot surfing. I'd rather surf barefoot but when the water is cold, for some reason my feet too easily slip off a normally waxed surface. Rather than add SUP-like traction padding, or a conventional shortboard traction pad, I opted for waxing the clear grip. This does in fact add to the adhesive quality of the surface and the wax does not rub off the surface of the clear grip as easily as the plastic surface of the deck.

So now I think I have a very well rounded (albeit unconventional bordering on the weird) three-board quiver that should be a complete "all season" equipment cache for surfing any kind of waves that might come my way, and which I should choose to surf. 1) The 10' Custom Angulo SUP 2) The 6-10 Custom Ward Coffey Power Biscuit 3) The Custom Freeline 5-11 GhostBuster2 mini-Simmons. How do you spell e-c-l-e-c-t-i-c?

Postscript: John has a longer GhostBuster in the shop available for demo if you're interested in trying one out.


  1. I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


  2. Thanks for your comment Betty. This blog started out as a journal, written in a spiral notebook in 1999. Essentially, it is still that same journal but with the ability to add more info through links and pictures.

    My goal was to note my experiences, keep track of weather and wave data, and to learn more about all aspects of surfing. I think I've accomplished this goal, and I continue to learn and have fun with it.

    I hope you continue to enjoy it and get something interesting and worthwhile out of it too.

  3. Fascinating. A very thoughtful approach to a board I can't stop thinking about. I could also identify with your situation -- I'm 51 and am looking to ride something shorter, but need foam. Lots of foam.
    I like your design approach. I can't figure out why the nose deck is scooped out on certain boards, other mini simmons and hulls. I'd always thought Greenough did that on his kneeboards to get closer to the water, so couldn't figure out why that feature made the transition to standup boards. It seems to remove volume unnecessarily and makes sense that you kept the volume.
    What are your thoughts on the type of wave for which this board is best suited? I live on the east coast and so ride a lot of short, steep beach breaks. (Turning is often not an option: it's paddle, stand/turn and get your behind down the line.) Do the twin keeps provide enough hold? What are your thoughts on how a quad and/or fish tail would work? Or is the square tail, with its advantages in lift and planing, the best option?

  4. Thanks for the thoughtful and thought provoking comment Paul. I've got more to add but I've been busy and there've been waves so I haven't gotten back to you yet. Soon.

  5. Paul,

    The mini-Simmons (GhostBuster2) was basically designed for softer waves up to six ft. or so. I've had it out three times in those conditions and it works well. I ride reefs and beach breaks so it has to work in those environments. I plan to use it a lot at the beaches when there's no ground swell, just smallish and junky wind swell. But it'll go good on long, fast walls too as long as it's not too big and/or bumpy.

    The board gets up and planes very well and even though there isn't much curve in the outline it turns just fine. You're probably not going to throw any big hacks with it, but you can put it where you want it on the wave face no problem. At the beaches there isn't any time to drop down the face, bottom turn and go. Rather it's point it where you want it to go...and go!

    The Rainbow Fin Co. bamboo fins work very well. Better than I thought they would. They hold and add the drive I was hoping they would. And they look good too.

    The design is based upon the mini-Simmons which has a large volume square tail. A fish tail removes a lot of volume and as I understand it was cut into the tail to provide better turning and flex. That isn't what I wanted 'cause I wanted a mini-Simmons. I've owned fish boards and basically don't like 'em. Just me.

    If you check out Kenvin's entire blog you'll see several variations of the mini that include different fin configurations (including tri-fins and quads or twinzers) and some different tail shapes based upon the square tail. But to start, I wanted to get as close to the "original" mini-Simmons as I could.

    Although I haven't surfed it in waves that put up a steep face takeoff, I am skeptical about how well the mini would handle such a wave. On the plus side is the shortness of the board. (Actually my 5-11 is a little big for a mini. Kirk G. said absolutely no bigger than 6-4, and that most mini's were in the 5-4 to 5-8 range. That was a little shorter than I was willing to gamble on, but now that I've ridden my 5-11 I could definitely go a wee bit shorter.)

    On the minus side is the relatively flat rocker of the mini and the wide tail which will tilt the nose down pretty quickly in a steep takeoff. The mini would have a bit harder time fitting into the curve of the wave on steep takeoffs, therefore if you ride a lot of steep waves that pitch on take off, and you've got to get out of the lip fast, you may want to "try before you buy" as they say. But those are just my thoughts after having ridden the board only three times.

    Generally, if the wave faces are consistently over head high, and there is chop on the surface of the waves, I'd go with a bigger board...either my Angulo SUP or the 6-10 Ward Coffey.

    In summary, I would think that the mini would work really well on the east coast. Anything a longboard would work well in, a mini would work well in. They're a blast to ride and you'll have fun. Best of luck!

    Feel free to contact me at any time.

  6. Hey Gary,

    I saw the same TSJ article and wondered about the board. Wow, you made a big leap and had one shaped! I have a 6' fish in my quiver, so I was even more intrigued.

    John Mel shaped my first custom board as well. Like you, a kneeboard (early tri-fin swallow tail) from his first little 41st Av. shop back in 1972. I took the board to the North Shore that winter and got some very funny looks, and great waves -between- swells. :-)

    I'd enjoy seeing your biscut some day.


  7. Hi Ron, yeah, them were the good old days. That was when just about the only riders at Suicides were knee boarders. Remember that...and the defining Freeline graphic on the exterior wall of John's little shop?

    I've been having such a good time on the mini, it does everything I want it do, and is well suited to the kind of surfing I love. Next time we're out together you'll have to give it a try.

  8. Thanks for the insight, especially regarding how this board would perform in steep waves, which is what I surf 99% of the time. I'm torn as to whether to get a square tail or a fish tail, but am leaning toward the fish tail based on your advice. A fish with a quad would seem to be the best setup for me, but the the design of your board is so perfect that part of me just wants to go for that. (I actually called the Freeline shop the other day but the guy who shaped your board was out. I want to find out the cost of the board, plus shipping, etc.) The quick tilt down the face due to the flat rocker and square tail might not be a drawback -- could be a big rush, in fact. (Is that what causes the instant speed I've been reading about?)
    I'm curious -- how wide is the tail, tip to tip? Also, I see you went with 2 5/8 thick -- what would happen if you went thicker? Say 3" or even 3 1/4"?
    I also see in the profile pic that you kept a fair amount of volume toward the tail. I've always wondered about the thinning out of the tail on some minis. Is that to give the tail more bite, like the tail version of a thinned-out rail?

  9. Paul,

    Send me an email and I'll send you John's email address and cell phone number. You can call him direct.
    gary -

  10. Thanks Gary... I would like to try it.

    When I mentioned John's "little" shop, it was the really little one up by where O'Neill is now. It may have been '71.

    I still kneeboard sometimes in the winter, and it's still just a fun as ever.


  11. Hi Gary,
    I just wanted to let you know I called John Mel today and ordered a GB2. It took me about a week to call him while I agonized over existential matters such as length, fish vs. square tail, thickness, etc., which of course are the best kinds of things to agonize over. The length issue was difficult to resolve given I've never ridden anything this short with this much volume while also factoring in increasing age and decreasing ability. John recommended 6'4" and I agreed. (I seem to recall you saying 6'4" is about the limit before you start to lose the feel of the mini Simmons. Part of me wanted to go a little shorter, but the 2 1/2 hour drive to the shore means I need a board with enough float to keep me in the water for at least five hours, waves permitting.) I also went with the square tail, again taking your advice. (If I want a fishtail I might as well buy a fish.) I went thicker, too, to 3". As I mentioned in my voicemail, John and I had a small discussion about the tail width, tip to tip. I think he wanted to go shorter, but I really wanted the 12" like yours. The planshape is perfect.
    I would've loved to have gotten the glassed-on bamboo fins like yours, but cross-country shipping -- John was worried they might get crushed -- made lokbox the better option. (I like lokbox -- have them on my other boards.) I'm leaving it up to him regarding what kind of keel fins to get from Rainbow.
    The bottom contour will also be identical to yours -- belly in the nose giving way to bevels/double concaves.
    It's funny. Today was the first time I'd ever spoken with John and yet I felt 100% confident in his shaping thoughts. Our conversation was also brief, 15 minutes tops. Not bad for working out the type of board you want from a shaper you've never met who lives on the other side of the country.
    Needless to say, none of this would've happened if I hadn't come across your blog, which is outstanding, a lot of fun to read. It works because of your honesty and thoughtfulness. (A welcome relief, too, to the vitriol you see too often on message boards these days.) I'm grateful to you for your advice and for pointing me in John's direction.
    John said the board should take about four weeks. I. Can't. Wait.
    p.s. The best part? My wife's totally cool with me ordering this board.

  12. First thought, always good to have the wife on board! (No pun intended.)

    Second, got your phone message when I got home from work late this evening. Long day and I teach all day tomorrow too.

    I think you're gonna love the board. So much fun, I like mine more every time I ride it. Good call to go a little bigger, you can always go shorter later. (I think you're going to be surprised at how "big" this board feels.)

    Caveats: Thickness, 3" could be 2 3/4" with no problem. EPS has a lot more float. You can go thinner with EPS than PU and get better performance results without losing any paddle-ability. I like the LokBox idea. Don't cheap out though, get the RFC bamboo fins like mine. You won't be sorry you did. The Fish Doc LokBox look right to me. The other LokBox I saw on the website (Fish CI LokBox) look too big. You don't need that much fin.

    I'll call you later this week when things settle down. 4 weeks from scratch to the east coast? That's fast bro! John's gonna have to bump somebody to get you into Jesus and Maria's (the glassers). Talk to you soon,

  13. Hey
    I have really enjoyed reading over your blog and I am getting ready to shape a mini simmonish board. I was wondering what your width is at the tail block and what it is at the nose as well. I saw that you have 18.75" at front and 19.25 in back (I am guessing that is 12"from nose correct?)
    You can email me at

  14. Bryan,

    Width at the tail block is 12". Nose width is 18.75", 12" back. Not sure what you mean by "what it is at the nose as well."

    For me, I wouldn't change one thing about the GB2. My opinion is that there are four essential and basic design elements at work: 1) the overall width of the board 2) the bottom configuration (slight roll, vee or belly in the nose blending into a pronounced double concave like many of Steve Walden's boards, then exiting the wide tail with slight vee) 3) the wide, square tail. 4) the twin fins as shaped and glassed with 9" base and 4.5" depth. All four work together to make a fun and functional board. But whatever you do, don't go narrow at the tail block. Keep it wide. I'll email you so you'll have my address.

  15. Hi, I read the article in TSJ too. I was wondering how the simmons theory would work for a paipo. Since you rode kneeboards i thought I would write and see if you thought it might work. i was also thinking of having John shape it. I was thinking in the 4'11" range. Just thought i would see what your opinion and input were. I will look on this site for your answer.

    Thanks, Dave

  16. Hey Dave,

    I think it would go great for a paipo. John will know more and better, but don't let him make the tail too narrow...esp for a paipo. Let me know how it works.

  17. Ok thanks for the tips. I was thinking of a swallowtail with twin fins. I see other shapers have been changing the original designs. I know Richard Kenvin had one made with swallowtail, but i guess John would steer me in the right direction.

    Mahalo, Dave

  18. Dave,

    A couple months or so ago, the Billabong shop across from Freeline had a couple Joe Bauguess shaped mini-simmons in the their racks. If they're still there you might find them interesting.

  19. Recently I lucked out and bought the GB1 from Christian. Its a 6'0 x 22 x 2.75 and have actually ridden it in low tide OB 10-15 ft hollow barrels as well as some 8-10ft Santa Cruz waves with soft shoulders.

    It is a great board and can get squirly, especially riding bigger stuff, however, if you move your rear foot up, the board holds quite well.

    I'm thinking about asking John Mel shape me another one but going up to 6'4 and modifying it to suit bigger, more hollow waves on occasion. Possibly adding a center box to add a fin on some bigger stuff may work well.

    BTW, this board has definitely rejuvinated and improved my surfing. I highly recommmend you GET A MINI SIMMONS. Ask John Mel to shape one for you.... and thanks Christian!

  20. Shaped myself a 5'9 x 23 x 3" simmons with very parallel rails. Have surfed it in 2'-double overhead and it is a blast! It surfs hollow and absolute mush. I know, sounds to good to be true, but everyone that tries it has the same impression. I did scoop my deck out for two reasons. 1) less volume for duck diving. I'm 190lbs and use full westsuit/booties and this thing is on the border of being to buoyant on the big days! 2) It allowed me to keep a very flat bottom with only about 3.5" of nose kick and yet still have a lot of foam under my chest. If I had just hot wired the deck thin, it would have not had the volume in the right spots for me. I sold all my other fish/short boards and am now shaping these exclusively.

  21. Sounds super fun...addicting isn't it? I like your ideas about shaping the foam for volume and buoyancy (or not) based upon your personal needs. That's what "custom" is all about. Kudos!

  22. Any idea if a mini simmons would work well for a fairly new surfer? I have only surfed on a fun board and would like to try to move to something shorter to maneuver a little more. Thanks, DC

  23. I think it would work just fine. I'd find a shaper who is open minded to the mini-Simmons design and concept and work with him on what would work for you. You can always go a little bit bigger on your dimensions which would make the board more stable and easier to paddle and surf. But depending upon how fast you learn, you'll want something smaller after a while. Go for it!

  24. Thanks for the input. Will definitely give it a try. DC

  25. Why not go to the REAL originator of the Mini-Simmons, Joe Bauguess? All the rest are copies and they seem to always lack some or all of the proper design features that really make Joe's Mini's work like the magic little sticks they are. I understand that he also owns the US Registered Trademark, "Mini-Simmons". Richard Kenvin is NOT even a shaper. Try Good luck!

  26. Anon,

    I understand your sentiment and I wish nothing but the best for Joe. I hope he makes plenty of boards and plenty of money, after all, he's in business as a shaper to make money.

    Richard deserves some credit though in my book for bringing the Mini-Simmons to light in his Surfers Journal article. He may not be a shaper, but he's a good writer, an excellent surfer, and certainly a proponent of "out of the box" thinking when it comes to surfboard design.

    Finally, there are not many copyrighted surfboard designs or plan shapes that I'm aware of. Yes, Joe has the original Hydrodynamica design and if you want the orig, go to Joe. But there are also plenty of good and enthusiastic shapers out there who can build a fun "mini-Simmons". Gotta give some credit to the real original shaper too don't we?

    My journey with the Mini has taken me from 5-10 surfboard to 8 foot SUP. The design holds up remarkably well from skatey shortboard to stable performance SUP. This is ultimately what Kenvin takes pleasure in, alternative designs that work and don't "fit the mold" of the conventional three-fin thruster surfboard. If the idea of surfing is to have fun, then Eureka! I have found it.

    Peace, blessings and aloha,

  27. ive had the pleasure of meeting with john ewell who knew bob simmons and watched him shape his boards.he has put all his entrustment in richard to carry on the simmons legacy with boards and a film on simmons.

  28. Thanks for the update Matt. I'm definitely looking forward to Richard's film.

  29. Hi, This is a great and informative blog--thank you! After reading the information here and elsewhere on Simmons boards, I ended up custom ordering one of John Mel's Ghostbusters. It is short and fat: 5'6", 22" wide, 2.5" thick, epoxy, double concave, quad fins. It was finished yesterday and I took it out this am and, wow, unbelievable--quite possibly the most fun I've had surfing! The waves were small but this board is fast and buoyant, easily catching several of them, and its stability was like a longboard.

  30. So glad you got one, they are such a FUN board. Light, stable, fast and easy to catch waves on such a short, maneuverable board. Congrats on your score. We know you'll love it more each time you ride it.