Ride: Free Flight edge board
Early last year I wrote an article stating that I’d ridden every kind of surfboard design that had been named, and I thought I had. But recently, Andrew Kidman and Ellis Ericson have brought attention to edge boards, an obscure late-60s/early-70s design favoured by George Greenough. I’d never surfed an edge board. So, to keep my integrity intact, I had to go out and buy one.
You justify your board purchases however you want, and me, I’ll justify mine.
With a history of radical bottom curves - think channels, vents, and steps - it was no surprise that Phil Myers from Free Flight had also made a number of edge boards. Yet from what I’d seen, Phil’s edges were different to those Andrew and Ellis were making. Phil was dropping the edges into longboards, he was adapting them to wide-tailed grovellers, even into kneeboards. I asked him about dropping an edge into a high performance shortboard and he jumped at the prospect.
The shaped blank in Phil's shaping bay - note the edges aren't full length
The basic premise behind the edge design is to reduce the planing area on the bottom of a board. This is done by creating steps, or edges, in the bottom of the board that run approximately two inches in from each rail line. The step lowers the normal rail line from the planing area, so the width of the new planing area is four inches (i.e two inches x two) narrower than usual.
It does many other things too, but we’ll get to those shortly.
With no knowledge of how an edge board is supposed to ride I left the final dimensions in Phil’s hands. The board he delivered was 5’8” x 19 ½ x 2 ⅜. Yet despite the full planshape the nose was more pointed than round and the tail pulled in, equating to a lot of curve in the outline. Also, compared to classic edge boards, Phil used half-length edges that faded in two feet down from the nose and faded out before the fins.
First surf and it was immediately clear why Phil had gone short and wide. Here’s the thing: edge boards feel narrow. With a reduced planing area and, more importantly, volume taken out of the rail, the board was quick going rail to rail despite being almost 20 inches wide. It also felt, for want of a technical term, ‘tippy’, like an old style vee bottom. The very opposite of that low, locked in concave feeling.
Because edge boards feel narrower, Phil took the opportunity to go wide, hence the 19 ½ width, and because it was wider he also went shorter. In all, it was a cascade of dimensions brought on by the peculiar design. After twenty years of shortboard stasis, dropping an edge into the design requires a complete rethink. And ain’t that refreshing! The possibilities that open up...
For starters, Phil dropped a subtle forward vee into the planing area, which combined with the edge, made for the aforementioned heel to toe looseness. Moving down the board, the planing area spiralled into a modern double concave, while near the fins the edge faded out and Phil dropped in his vent channels, and a slight concave sat behind the rear fins. It’s not quite Erle Pederson territory, but there’s a bit going on under there.
In the book On The Edge Of A Dream, Kidman makes a bold prediction: “I believe that in the future every surfer on the planet will have some kind of Edge element at play in what they are riding.” Not a statement I subscribe too, but after my first few surfs I understood his enthusiasm. Two decades of concaves don’t prepare you for the liberation of having a centre line lower than the rail. I’ve never been a fan of hulls, but they provide the best comparison: a sense of being in the water rather than continually skipping over it.
The same feeling ultimately worked against me, but before I go there I’ll keep trimming on the good things.
The capacity to make a wide board still feel narrow is a clever deception. Like a gun that turns as a shortboard it provides the best of both worlds. In the edge you get foam under the chest for paddling, and also for planing across the small stuff, but without the rail to rail delay of a wide fish or groveller. It could also be unweighted for glide between turns without losing speed.
Similar thinking is being employed at the other end of the wave spectrum, where Northern Californian shaper Michael Wallace - who learnt his chops under edge pioneer Marc Andreini - is shaping edge guns for Grant Washburn and Hunter Manuel to ride at Mavericks. Closer to home, Dave Rastovich rode a Greenough-shaped edge gun at big Cloudbreak a few years ago.
8'9" gun shaped for Grant Washburn to ride at Mavericks
Kidman’s line about all boards having an edge may be overstated, but it’s not hard to imagine a future where edges are common in big wave boards. Because it’s there, in big wave board design, that the major innovations are happening with new materials, new processes, and new shapes. Anything that provides an advantage, that can safely get a paddle surfer down the face of a sixty foot wave, will become part of the armoury. And in that scenario the deception holds great promise. Think a board that paddles like an 11’0’ but turns on the face like an 8’0”. The future is unwritten.
But the future won’t be scribed by those who think they know it all. The most common comment about the edge design is that the edges provide another surface for water to catch on. I thought the same too - until I rode one. It didn’t happen and so, once again, I understood how little I know. That discovery also reminded me how to approach design problems.
In sucky waves I had trouble reaching a few angles on the board and immediately attributed it to the edges. Fortunately Phil wasn’t so hasty in jumping to conclusions. “The boards ride better under-finned,” said Phil. “Give that a go.”
In On The Edge Of A Dream Andrew and Ellis come to a similar conclusion, and after experimenting with multi fin set ups, they settle on singles with a Greenough-designed ‘blade fin’ in the box. I stuck with a quad but put two customised half-sized fins in the rear slots, or small size C-Drives all around for anything over a few feet. Surprise. No more stickiness between the X and Y axis. It wasn’t the edges at all.
Because edge boards easily roll onto their rails, the relationship between fin and edge is crucial. But what exactly constitutes the best relationship is not yet known. The old rules don’t apply, the new ones aren’t set in stone.
After each session the texts bounced back and forth between Phil and I. “Give yourself some time to get used to the forward vee,” wrote Phil. And so I did. In small sucky waves the board was fantastic, it was fast, responsive, and loose, especially once the fins were dialled in, however the conditions this past summer were more often weak, flat-faced windswell, and first pump speed was an issue. On those occasions I missed having a deep single under the front foot for lift.
“If I knew the waves would be so bad I'd have put a concave under the front foot,” wrote Phil. “Next time, hey.” Indeed. There are more faces and angles on an edge board and it feels like that planing area is one of the key areas - maybe forward vee for big waves, and concave for small. With this board we were hiking into virgin territory, scouting fresh tracks, there was no pathway for a shaper to follow, so Phil, like Andrew and Ellis, was guided by his own intuition and sense of adventure. Nothing ventured, nothing gained has never had greater significance.
I’ve talked a lot about concaves in this review and I’d like to raise the topic one more time. This time as a historical lesson. You see, surfers experimented with concave for 80 years before the code was cracked. The Duke dropped concave into his 1915 Freshwater board, Brewer too in 1968, Fitzgerald and Mitchell Rae in the 70s, and Al Merrick had concave in his Tri Plane Hull in the 80s, but it wasn’t until Greg Webber unsheathed his early 90s Insights that concave fully worked, and it did so because Webber balanced it with other features, namely rocker lines, plus foil and volume.
The point being, a lot of ideas have to get thrown against the wall, sometimes decades worth, before the believers get the ratios right. Edge boards work, but they won’t gain mainstream appeal until the pioneers find the balance between the edges and the surfboards other elements. Till then, the pioneering work continues and new feelings await anyone with an open mind.