In 1969 George Greenough was the most advanced shaper in the world. A regular visitor to Australia, Greenough attracted a coterie of disciples who absorbed his theories on surfcraft design and put them to work, setting in motion the Shortboard Revolution. Despite its name, the Shortboard Revolution was much more than a radical reassessment of length. Inspired by Greenough, surfers looked at their boards anew: at fin design, hull shape, planshape, and flex patterns. They threw out the old ideas en masse and applied Greenough’s futuristic designs, building upon his work, either pushing them to breaking point, or morphing them into new concepts.
This was true for all Greenough’s ideas bar one - flex.
“Flex remains the one area of George’s teachings that hasn’t been fully explored,” says Mitchell Rae of Outer Islands Surfboards.
In the late-60s Mitchell Rae sat at the feet of George Greenough, and in time he assimilated George's ideas with his own native understanding of surfboard design. For the last fifty years he’s applied a singular approach to board design, utilising deep concaves long before they were accepted, sleek nose lift, and the one thing everyone else overlooked, flex.
Mitchell Rae grabbed George’s baton - the one that yields and springs - and he ran with it. He kept on running with it. And fifty years later Mitchell hasn’t stopped. He’s been ceaselessly building upon that seminal idea of flex: let the board store energy and release it. From the initial fibreglass flex tail, Mitchell’s current quest is a "controlled flex" that grades from nose to tail. Many who ride his boards say they feel alive, that they feel animate underfoot. All Outer Island surfboards come with ‘spirit eyes’ on the rails. A favoured colour is red. Cut them and they’ll bleed.
I was fortunate to surf with George Greenough when he was in his absolute prime. When we started Outer Island surfboards in '69, I was the junior member and Glynn Ritchie was my mentor, and we used to do a lot of trips surfing up the North Coast. We'd surf Lennox mainly, which had no crowd back then. We were on shortboards, early versions of our extreme down rail, deep concave, single fins. In many ways they were the antithesis of George's design, with the drive lines and turning curves in opposite areas of the board.
Geoge was so connected with the pocket, he was able to go in and out of the tube with ease due to the flexible nature of his board - the acceleration was just amazing. I often used to just watch what he was doing. I was in awe. That surfing always stuck in my mind.
He opened my eyes to observe and study the natural world, how fish and birds are so perfectly designed. They meld form and function. He was a pro fisherman and many of his theories came from that.
George was prepared to sacrifice everything to get the flex he wanted. Almost all the foam was removed from his boards, so much that some of George's boards would actually sit below sea level. I remember, he brought down a new one and he dropped it in the water and it went about three inches below the surface of the water and sat there. That was its float ratio! But he could use flippers and stuff to catch waves...