The Sweet Potato by Firewire

Stu Nettle
The Depth Test

"Is it a biscuit?" "No mate, it's a potato – a Sweet Potato"

So went the conversation I had at the beach earlier this week. And if the answer I gave wasn't a Potato it could just as easily have been a Pod, Biscuit, Cheese Stick or Bean, because in case you hadn't noticed, food-oriented names have become saveur du jour in the board business. Seems everyone aspires to be a celebrity chef nowadays - even shapers.

Most of these flavoursome boards follow a fairly similar concept: short, round, high volume numbers that run contrary to the sleek, performance-oriented shooters occupying the pointy end of the board market.

The Sweet Potato by Firewire is, as far as I can tell, the most extreme of the lot. It's a board that dramatically alters the ratio between length and width. The model I rode was just 5'4" x 21 1/4". It was both the shortest and the widest board I've ever ridden. Carrying the board I felt like a grommet, struggling to get my arm around its girth. While paddling it I felt ridiculously oversized, the nose of the board sitting just under my chin.

Yet despite its diminutive length the Sweet Potato is a wave catching machine. With a comparatively large surface area it paddles as well as most longboards and this is one of it's great assets: on marginal days you can take the Sweet Potato out in place of a longboard and it'll catch waves as small as carpark speedhumps. But not only catch them, turn and perform too.

There is a deep double concave running down the back half of the board which allows the board to get on rail quickly. As they should, the concaves provide a tremendous amount of lift – two pumps and your planing. Once it's up and planing the Sweet Potato has a liveliness that makes it feel like you can do anything. Although it comes with a caveat: the 'liveliness' can be an illusion and the less talent you have the larger the illusion is.

Yes, the board is loose but it also takes a lot of ability to control it, because the same things that gives the Sweet Potato its liveliness – an incredibly wide tail, no rear fin, and very little rail to engage – will also whisk it from under your feet without warning when incorrectly ridden.

I found it easier to surf the board flat, making sure the fins were engaged before initiating a solid turn. I also got used to quick recoveries when I lost control – instantly re-centreing my weight as if there were no fins to push against. It wasn't always smooth, in fact it rarely was and this aspect causes me to again use a longboard analogy. Regular longboard riding can iron out the flaws in a shortboarders style, however the opposite is also true: riding extremely short boards can exaggerate style flaws.

The Sweet Potato is a quick board and it requires equally quick reflexes to handle it. Surfers lacking fast-twitch fibres or feline grace will find themselves like me, engaging in the odd bit of arm flailing to counterbalance an overpowered pump or an overcooked turn. Yet they'll also find themselves having a hell of a lot of fun, competing with longboarders for waves, connecting impossible sections, and feeling like a better surfer than they previously thought they were.

Thanks to Tim at Aloha Manly Style for use of the board.

Postscript: While writing this review I flicked through a Tracks magazine from October 1991 and found a picture of Christian Fletcher holding a board that appeared to share similar design concepts to the Sweet Potato (see image 4). The fin configuration is identical with a fairly similar planshape too. Twenty years ago! (Photo reproduced with kind permission from Sarge)

Comments

mickd's picture
mickd's picture
mickd Friday, 12 Aug 2011 at 2:22am

thanks for the informative write up, the plan shape looks remarkably 'astron zot'-ish to me though :)

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet Friday, 12 Aug 2011 at 2:56am

Yeah, I guess it does in planshape, Mick. However they are very different in thickness, the Zot being thicker than a standard board, especially toward the nose. This gives the McCoy a significant rail, which is something the Firewire doesn't have and it shows in the way they ride - the SP being looser and more 'slippery'.

evo62's picture
evo62's picture
evo62 Friday, 12 Aug 2011 at 4:16am

I borrowed a 4'11 from a friend a while back. In the junky northerly windslop I tried it, it was really fun. I was making sections I'd struggle to on my usual board. As long as you use a lot of backfoot pressure to stop it pearling on the take off and keep it turning it works well. The bottom design reminds me of the Starboard hypersonic sailboard - a really groundbreaking design, but not very versatile. Therein lies the flaw of the sweet potato.

When I win lotto, I'm buying one for sure, just for those really average days.

mayo's picture
mayo's picture
mayo Friday, 12 Aug 2011 at 10:40am

It's a knee board folks. Suck it up!

kneepete's picture
kneepete's picture
kneepete Friday, 12 Aug 2011 at 11:05pm

You wanna test ride one of my boards Stu. I got a whole quiver!

Ha ha

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet Saturday, 13 Aug 2011 at 4:21am

Kneeboard, eh?

Funny, there was a story accompanying the photo of Christian Fletcher above. The photo was taken in France and apparently Jake Spooner saw Fletcher riding the board (which is 4'9") and doing alright on it too. Not recognising him Spooner paddled up and said he should get off that kneeboard and try a proper surfboard.

Not sure what Fletcher's response was.

tomdo's picture
tomdo's picture
tomdo Tuesday, 23 Aug 2011 at 1:58am

Maybe Firewire could do a cross promotion with SPAM!

Mmmmmm

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet Tuesday, 23 Aug 2011 at 6:54am

Mmmm Spam. Just wipe the jelly off and chow down. Nothing wrong with it.

hovercraft's picture
hovercraft's picture
hovercraft Wednesday, 24 Aug 2011 at 10:33pm

.....if your a dog.....

batfink's picture
batfink's picture
batfink Thursday, 22 Sep 2011 at 12:50am

I'm just not sure. You know I hated it when the only surfboards you could buy were under-foamed wafers that only a pro could ride, and everyone was riding a board that wasn't suited to him.

So I have applauded the rise of the eccentric and the retro, at least the retro stuff that is workable.

But I can't help thinking that just about anything that is made out of foam is surfable, and therefore the shape doesn't matter as much up to a point, and the new 'every shape works' is actualy a bit of a con;

and that it has all gone too far, and that this is an example of it.

Sure, it's short, and it's wide, and it has lots of foam, so it will pick up waves and will turn, but you just won't get the torque, the carve, bottom turn, the whole power thing.

So I'm not sure that the new experimental mode for surfboard shapes isn't actually just more marketing hype.

And you should know how much I love marketing!

Craig's picture
Craig's picture
Craig Thursday, 22 Sep 2011 at 1:01am

You might be right in some aspects there batfink, but God it's a fun board to ride! And that's what it's about ay?

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet Thursday, 22 Sep 2011 at 1:22am

You're too cynical for your own god Batfink!

You're correct saying that you won't get 'the whole power thing' on a Sweet Potato, but then it's made for waves 0.5-2ft high where torque and carving simply isn't an option anyway. I had a blast simply building speed and booting about on ankle-high waves. It made me look at small surf more favourably which has gotta be a good thing.

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet Thursday, 22 Sep 2011 at 1:23am

Whoops. Cynical for your own 'good'.

Although being too cynical for your own God is probably a good thing.

lukesripping's picture
lukesripping's picture
lukesripping Monday, 26 Sep 2011 at 1:49am

knee boards . simon farrer multi world champ K.b rider used to stand up on his k.b all the time , and yep he would rip standing as well as on his knees . he would paddle with ease and catch more than his fair share at crowded n.narrabeen . i got a 5'11"x21"?"thick and mate same thing im surfing better now at 41 years than when i was in my twenties .i think my self lucky that i was in peak fitness for the wafer thin no foam error or is that error a error

sparrow's picture
sparrow's picture
sparrow Monday, 17 Oct 2011 at 9:19am

Hahahaha
Thanks lukesripping.

rihale's picture
rihale's picture
rihale Sunday, 30 Oct 2011 at 1:39am

agree with the first comment. draws its origin from the mccoy zot.
McCoy's 3 designs i.e lazor zap / nugget / astron zot can be seen a large number of designs these days.....