Jed Done and the joy of flex
If it's hard for the average punter to get their head around the metric of flex, then it’s even harder to feel it. We’re told that all good boards need flex. Only a few millimetres perhaps, but those millimetres are essential. Just like an F1 Car needs but a lick of suspension lest it fly off the track.
This science I’ll take as given. Confined to an upper-intermediate skill set, I’ll never require the tight recoil of a pro board. That aspect is lost on me. If somehow it’s making my boards perform better then that’s great, yet no matter how much I tune my antennae, I just can’t feel it in my high performance shortboard.
Fortunately flex can be built into a board in many ways.
Jed Done comes from the far south coast of NSW. In the late 1990’s he travelled up to Sydney to make his fortune. It’d be a disservice to Jed if you read the previous line with a straight face, as it sure wasn’t delivered that way. A stranger in a strange land, Jed lived in the inner city and surfed the Eastern Beaches, mainly Maroubra where the bolshie young Bra Boys were on the rise. Jed, however, was drawn to a different crowd.
At Maroubra he shared sessions with maverick kneeboarder Neal Cameron and also met Peter Berry, who, like George Greenough, was a kneeboarder who pushed his craft via the nuances of flex. Berry shaped “space ships”, futuristic looking boards that tripped something in Jed’s approach to board design. Not all of Jed’s boards were flex tails, only a few in fact, but those boards shared a key feature with Peter Berry’s kneeboards - reverse rocker. The seemingly counter-intuitive idea of bending the tail rocker down, not up.
After two years in the city Jed packed up the chariot and headed home to make Bushrat Surfboards.
Hiding behind his designs
When I meet Jed he’s doing a short run up to the city. He's now opened up a shop, Switchfoot Boardstore, in Pambula with his wife Patricia. The racks there are full of Jed's craft but he's also selling them around Australia and the world. Today his wagon is full of boards, some heading for Sydney showrooms, others to the US. Jed has recently ditched the Bushrat moniker, his label of almost twenty years, and he now shapes under his own name: Jed Done Surfboards.
No more cheese, just clean typeface.
Of the fifteen boards Jed is packing, six are designed for greater flex, and some of those are old team boards. Test boards for curious punters. We spread the boards out on my living room floor and Jed talks me through them. One has parabolic stringers that fade out near the fins, a few have carbon flex tails, and another has a design Swellnet has written about before: the ‘wedge stringer’ or ‘vanishing stringer’. A stringer that begins the usual width at the nose and gently tapers down to nothing.
“The original one didn't vanish,” says Jed of the first board with a wedge stringer. “It went all the way to the tail. But that board really worked. It was a real standout board for me.” And so Jed began experimenting, bringing the point of the wedge up the board so the tail was stringerless and flexed.
Kevlar rail reinforcement, wedge stringer, and carbon flex tail: integrated flex from Jed Done
The wedge stringer is just one example of an overarching concept in all of Jed’s flex boards. “I try to create an integrated flex,” says Jed by way of explanation. “It’s not how one design feature works, but how many features work together.”
Another example of this is an older board of Jed’s, it still has the Bushrat logo on it. The board has parabolic stringers that fade out the rails near the fins, and shortly after that a carbon flex tail completes the rear end. There’s effectively two stringers at the front for longitudinal stiffness near the nose, though the board can twist as all boards with parabolic stringers do. The stiffness eases down the board till you arrive at the carbon flex tail which can bend up to a half-inch if you really put your weight against it. The tail is glassed in vinylester to cope with the flex, though Jed now solely uses epoxy.
When I pick it up Jed points out a hitherto unseen feature: reverse rocker. It’s only subtle, perhaps a quarter inch deep and extending just a few inches from the tail. It’s the kink that he borrowed from Peter Berry, the theory being as soon as you put weight on the board the rocker straightens out and stores energy. No energy is lost in that process but it's released when unweighted.
At 5’10” x 19 ¾” it’s closest to my own shortboard in dimensions. Jed passes me the board.
Parabolic rails and carbon tail with a kink - the subtle curve of reverse rocker
It helps to have waves for a board test. If that sounds like a blindingly obvious statement then allow me to qualify it: It helps to have long peeling waves for a flex tail board test. And that’s what I got for the first few days when a regulation southerly groundswell wagged a long tail, the fetch slowly turning southeast opening up the walling inside section at the local pointbreak.
Which was fortunate 'cos try as I might I couldn’t discern any specific feelings from takeoff or set up. The board did what all boards do, at least should do. However, when given space to unwind down the line, particularly while leaning into long open shoulder turns, and the late stage release was an unmistakable thrill. A short burst of speed that at first felt artificial, arriving suddenly and lasting but a moment.
Mostly I was an observer to this performance, happy to feel something new in surfing. It was only afterwards that I thought about how the reflex could be capitalised on, how it could be used to surf tighter and beat fast sections. It’d require commitment to the design, calling your senses to attention and responding, but it was possible. Of that I’m sure.
When the swell retreated I got a chance at the local beachbreaks and an opportunity to go left - backhand for me. Curiously, the board performed differently. Whereas I couldn’t get reflex during a frontside bottom turn at the point, it happened much more during backside bottom turns on the beaches. My assumption is that a greater backfoot bias and heelside weight forced the flex, which supported my theory about committing to the design and also had me jotting a mental note: pack a flex tail for the next Indo trip!
Flex tails and fish on the Switchfoot board rack
To date there are no standard measurements for flex. I can quantify the length, width, and thickness of Jed's board, the volume too, but I can't put a metric on the flex. And for this reason it remains a nebulous concept. Yet that very aspect has to be factored into the performance of the board.
When I mention to Jed that a scientist at the University of Wollongong is testing flex he asks to get his carbon tail tested. Rather than keeping flex in the dark, hording the arcane knowledge, he wants to build some concrete facts around it. Quantify it somehow. Take flex out of subjective experience and into objective reality.
Right now we don't even know what the units of measurement might be but the process of discovery has already begun.