The Sweet Potato by Firewire
"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)