Surfboard Design

March 29, 2021

Surfboard Design
Question: HOW DO YOU THINK COMPETITIVE SURFING CHANGED THE EVOLUTION OF SURFBOARD DESIGN?
Wayne Lynch: Surfing was so different back then, I don’t know how I could describe it, to give people an insight into how it was…there were so few contests and so few surfers. When everyone came together for a big contest every few years, it was so obvious that the groups of people (Australians, Hawaiian, Americans, Africans) were so different to each other; the style, the approach, the designs. .. there was a huge variation in board design, technique and ways of going about surfing . . it was amazing how different is all was.
The contests in that 60s era were more of a showcase of all the directions and what was taking place, the relationship and sense of relationship to surfing in these different places. There was a Hawaiian style, an Australian style, a Californian style and other styles from around the world. It was really interesting because you had such diversity. The sad part of it was you had to have a criteria for judging, so whomever fitted the criteria won, but that didn’t necessarily represent anything to do with the bigger picture. The surfers understood the bigger picture and I don’t think it affected their surfing too much, I don’t think they went away for the next two years to work on their ‘competitive surfing.’ You went back to experimentation, working and living in whatever way you felt was inspiring and creative for yourself.
I struggled in contests, to fit my style of surfing into their ‘criteria.’ One minute I was in remote and rugged Victoria surfing big powerful waves and making boards to surf those waves, my whole surfing life was built around those conditions, the next minute I was in Sydney in a carpark by the beach and looking out at two foot mushy shorebreak … the contest was ON and I was completely out of whack with what they were doing. I had no hope. The surfing dynamic was far more creative, vibrant and exciting than these clichés that have been pinned to the history, through the media.
The inspiration and progress with board design, I think, was coming more from curiosity and creativity with surfers wishing to explore what was possible. We have to remember that was happening in different circumstances, different environments, and different wave conditions . . . the Hawaiian experience was very different to the Californian experience…look at what was happening on the North coast of NSW compared to what was happening in Victoria … vastly different requirements.
Puerto Rico (World Titles 1968) was a case in point … it was just that the format and the criteria of judging wasn’t keeping up with what was actually taking place, the criteria wasn’t representative of what was really going on. Again, they just came in with a format and you had to comply or fail. If you didn’t comply, you failed and you know, I did a good job of that. I think a lot of surfers understood that if you tried to apply yourself to those formats, that it was restrictive to your surfing. . . and that sort of exploration of what is possible with design and surfing, it sort of became a choice and in the 70s a lot of people just became disillusioned, realizing that the format (for competition) didn’t suit them. It wasn’t a philosophy and it wasn’t a hippy thing, it was simply about not wanting to feel restricted by the systemized context of winning and what was starting to develop as business and the accepted model of who was best and who was worst.
We used to think, ‘how are you going to define who is best and who is worst?’ I can still remember watching Reno (Abellira) ride a wave, years later in France, and he rode it so beautifully – he rode it in the same manner as when I first saw him in the late 60s – I looked at him ride this wave in France and I thought ‘how in hell are they going to judge that’. . . because he didn’t do anything that was like a modern maneuver- it was just remarkable surfing, completely in rhythm with the wave, in a way that no one else was doing. I looked at it and I thought ‘there is absolutely no way to judge that’ (by the modern criteria) and it was remarkable surfing. No one will ever recognize how good it was, because the winner/loser mentality has taken over so much…everyone is looking at the ‘form’, and not understanding that there is something else beyond…it is like we are conditioned into believing there is this way of surfing. I think it is a shame because we have lost that in surfing, we have lost that opportunity to develop and really keep true to that essence and what I would call the genuine culture of surfing, which is about relationship to the elements.
PT: “Oh it’s been critical to surfboard design. ALL of the major changes, you know in the last 40 years have come as a result of competition...I mean we wouldn’t have the thruster if it wasn’t for Simon trying to figure out how to beat MR! I mean that’s the bottom line on it.”
Michael Cundith: I can only tell you what it did to me…I was in competition for a few years, Queensland champion and all that. My whole thing was to go shape a board, then go test it, shape another one and go test it. When I got a good one I would put it on my little machine so I could reproduce it. The competition really made me want to progress in design, because I really liked winning. IN my 40s I was probably the fittest and surfing the best I had ever surfed and having to go in contests made me aggressive in designing and shaping…boy I did a lot with surfboards then, fins and everything. Being a surfer/shaper definitely gave me an edge over the next guy.
Geoff McCoy: Totally. The no-nose, the laser zap was the first step. It was all about Cheyne standing in one position and ripping the bags out of small waves. Competitive surfing has had and still has a fair amount of effect on designers at least. The mainstream consumers are moving away from it, waking up and realising that the equipment they are trying to shove down their throats is for elite surfers only and not for general consumption. It changed surfing and took it on a radical tangent, out in no-where land for 20 years, where is shouldn’t have been. It’s the greatest mistake surfing has ever made, surfboard design for professional surfers. They have been giving those boards to everyone, and it is wrong. Fortunately, after 20 odd years, the masses are waking up to it.
Joe Larkin : Why would you want to sell a Kelly Slater board to a beginner? That is what they are doing, trying to sell that sort of shape to a kid who has never ridden a surfboard. It is crazy. If there was no competition you would have no Kelly Slater model and you would say to a kid ‘here have this one, you are a beginner, it is a bit fatter a bit wider…get out there and learn on it.’ They are giving kids and beginner boards that the average good surfer couldn’t even ride!
Maurice Cole: I don’t think it changed it, I think that there was always going to be a group of talented designers that worked with surfers that wanted something “better”. The people who were involved in surfing in the 60s and 70s were the best surfers \ shapers, which doesn’t really happen now. Contests fast-tracked the evolution which would have taken us years and years to do. All of a sudden the quest to be the best surfer, the best competitive surfer, you had to have the best equipment and there was a deadline to have it made and ready to surf.
To me all the creative surfers and shapers that were around in the 60’s and 70’s all the way up to the 80s I think it was a golden period for surfing, because the competition worked well with the evolution in that every year, if you tried to surf last years magic surfboard it wasn’t as good as this years.
Contests were the only way we were communicating with the rest of the planet, people turning up with different boards, contest surfing was like the nucleus. How it fast tracked design, instead of being like 'Endless Summer’ and wondering around being a Soul Surfer and hopefully inadvertently coming across people, there became a formal mechanism\ vehicle called a surfing competition where everyone would come and congregate … show and check out everything that was going down. Then when money became involved that’s when people would be like “Don’t rip off my design”.
Dick Van Straalen: “It stagnated it. It stagnated it completely, it did. They all had to ride the same things because it’s a system and they made them do that. I saw that in the first stubbies, when Michael Ho went out on this little board, and he was just going everywhere. They were just going Jesus, and they didn’t now how to judge him. He was doing three turns down the face, and they were calling them wiggles instead of turns. He got robbed, most phenomenal surfing I’ve ever seen. It was so advanced for the time. (That was a Brewer). Michael and I went in and we made him a bunch of boards that went really good. That was the best thing about the stubbies, international people that were open. Today I find, because the nature of surfing has changed so much and all these people are get- ting paid so much. To get in there, you have got to pay them, to ride your boards. They are not riding boards because they like riding them; they are riding boards because they are getting paid to ride them. It’s like endorsing products.”
To read what the other 20 legends of surfing said to this and 20 other questions, check out the SwitchFoot surfing books

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