The History of Asymmetry and the Pursuit of Balance

Stu Nettle picture
Stu Nettle (stunet)
Design Outline

“Symmetry is what we see at a glance; based on the fact that there is no reason for any difference.”
―Blaise Pascal

Until last year I'd never had a reason to ride an asymmetric surfboard. I could turn with equal proficiency off my toe side and heel side, while riding backside was as enjoyable as riding with my face to the wave. It didn't feel like my surfing had a shortfall that required an amendment. There was no reason to try anything different. My surfing felt balanced.

6_14.jpgYet I ordered an asymmetric board. My first one. The desire was borne out of sheer curiosity, which is a powerful force for someone who's surfed for over 35 years and tried just about every design that's been named. Instantly I recognised it as a magic board, a concept that I'd long since relegated to grommethood but now had to revisit. After six months of heavy use I proclaimed it the best board I'd ever ridden, so when it was destroyed I got another one shaped with minor adjustments. Amazingly it went even better.

These excursions into asymmetry have caused many hours of lost sleep. Images come to me late at night: the sight of water flowing over fibreglass; the myriad shapes a human body can make; how those shapes control the boards we stand on. It's an excitement that's intoxicating, a veritable narcotic for a surfer on the cemetery side of forty who knows his best days of surfing are behind him. Through the fervour the thought occasionally arises, 'If only I tried this when I was twenty!'

“Don't confuse symmetry with balance.” - Tom Robbins

The beginning of any conversation about asymmetrical surfboards starts with the human body. Humans have bilateral symmetry, meaning just one axis of symmetry. It runs directly down your body from your head to your crotch and separates your body into left and right sides. A typical surfboard also has bilateral symmetry, the lone axis runs down the stringer.

The trouble begins when the axes – those of the body and the board – don't align. The usual riding stance puts them at 90 degrees to each other and that's where the imbalance begins; it takes completely different body mechanics to perform a heel side turn as it does a toe side turn.

There are many ways to demonstrate the difference but an instructive one is to assume your normal riding stance on flat ground, then rise onto your toes – an easy transition to make. Then try and take the same riding stance but roll onto the heels of your foot. If you're put together the same as I you'll discover it's a decidedly more awkward movement.

To a large degree the physical difference between heel side and toe side turns is compensated by our ankle, knee, and hip joints moving in unison. In wider, more expansive turns there's almost no difference, however, during short arcing turns the shortcomings of bilateral symmetry become apparent.

To begin with, humans have less range of movement when leaning backwards - as happens in heel side turns - compared to leaning forwards. This is mostly due to our knees only bending one way and our hips and ankles having a forward bias. This means any error turning off the heels is harder to correct, there are simply less shapes the human body can make to counteract that error.

This corporeal asymmetry is exaggerated during short clean arcs which are easier to do off the toe side as opposed to the heel side. Think about weak waves – say, small Bells Beach – and how backsiders have an advantage when turning off the top – their toe side – as they can lean forward and use body weight to wrench the board back down the face. Natural footers can struggle to get the board back off the top as short, clean arcs are that bit much harder to perform off the heels. Also, any error in weight distribution is harder to correct.

One turn isn't better or worse than the other, they're just different.

Snowboarders have long known this, hence asymmetric designs have been an accepted tenet in the mountains for nearly thirty years. Their reason for asymmetry is the same as ours, a disparity between toe side and heel side turns, the snowboard solution being a deeper sidecut on the heel side edge that initiates and controls a turn off that rail.

Though asymmetric boards have been around in surfing for over fifty years they've never captured the wider imagination of surfers. They've come and gone numerous times during the past half century, each time presenting a solution to design but ultimately proving too difficult or confusing for the buying public to buy in.

“Asymmetry is the rhythmic expression of functional design.” - Jan Tschichold

00000149t_1.jpgAccepted wisdom says that Carl Ekstrom invented the first asymmetrical board in 1965 and that he patented the design in 1967. It's an oft-repeated fact, never questioned. Yet recently I was flicking through a copy of Jack Pollard's book The Australian Surfrider, the tone and content of which placed it firmly in the 1960s: lots of toes over the nose, Ray-Ban Wayfarers, and boards upward of 10 feet. Amongst the '60s conventions was a small photo of Midget Farrelly's then-current board. Called the 'hook board' it had one rail shorter than the other, the two rails joining at the tail to form a shallow hook – it was an asymmetrical by any other name.

I quickly flicked to the colophon and found the book was printed in 1963, two years before Carl Ekstrom 'invented' the asymmetric board and four years before he patented it. My curiosity sufficiently piqued I dialled the number of Surfblanks Australia and asked to speak to the CEO – Midget Farrelly.

Midget has a reputation as a curmudgeon, which is not wholly unjustified, because while he retreated from the media - or maybe it was the other way around? - he somehow managed to keep his opinions in circulation. We should be thankful, the surfing world is richer for it. “The hook tail [in the book] is really a Scotty Dillon creation,” admitted Midget. “It's a variation on an asymm I did at Keyo's in 1963.”

In December 1962, Midget won the Makaha contest, then regarded as the unofficial world championship. He was the first Australian to win a major international contest. After Hawaii, Farrelly travelled to Southern California where he visited the Yater factory and spied Bob Cooper with an asymmetrical.

mdillon1963_sav1n5.jpg“My Keyo was a variation of Bob's” says Midget. And though Midget's asymmetrical was photographed in The Australian Surfrider, he quickly moved on from the design. “I was always moving to the next thing. I didn’t hang around waiting for approval or otherwise.”

Scott Dillon, however, put the hook board into production. “Scotty was a loveable bullshitter who went hard on the hook” recalls Midge. “He made dozens and dozens - the surfing public loved it.” ...but only for a short while. The same photos used in The Australian Surfrider were incorporated in an advertisement which ran in a 1963 issue of Surfabout. Yet by the end of '63 Dillon had stopped shaping his hook tails.

“As a business proposition they're a loser” is Bob Cooper's blunt assessment of the commerical viability of asymmetrics. “They do not have shelf appeal and you get bored answering dumb questions.”

Cooper has spent 55 years answering 'dumb questions' about asymmetrics; the first board he brought to Australia back in 1959 was asymmetric – it had an offset nose – and he's been dabbling with them ever since.

He wasn't, however, the first to skew a board's symmetry. Says Cooper: “The first asymmetrical board was shaped by Reynolds Yater out of wood, the idea and the design were Grubby Clark's. Yater showed up at Malibu and it made so much sense.” Bob dates the board as either 1959 or 1960. “It was balsa and it was pre-Gidget.”

f1966_moreypope_blue_machine_finbox.jpgBob subsequently went on to produce his own asymmetric model for Morey Pope, called the Blue Machine. Built and distributed throughout 1967 and early 1968 the Blue Machine had an asymmetric fin set up with a bias toward the heel side rail (see image at right). It also had a wicked resin tint.

“The Blue Machine was a great board in its day,” says Cooper. “Very progressive and out there when everyone else was conservative. I still get compliments about the machine, but as to its selling...” Cooper's voice trails off. However, the effect isn't to imply how few boards were sold but a polite way to broach Karl Pope's business conduct. “I wasn’t allowed to know about the books and was later informed by a secretary that I’d been ripped off in my commissions by the company.” A year later Bob Cooper moved to Australia for good.

Before he emigrated, Cooper befriended a surfer from Santa Barbara and employed him at Morey Pope. Michael Cundith was a protege of George Greenough, and like George and Bob, he would later move to Australia. Cundith calls the Blue Machine “one of the all time great designs.” However his own discovery of asymmetrics is illuminating.

As a teenager Cundith fixed dings at Owl's Surfboards between Santa Barbara and Carpinteria. “The boards came into the shop in bad shape because there were no legropes,” says Cundith recalling his job description. “Sometimes the tails would be really beat up and rather than patch them I'd urge the guy who owned it to just reshape it and seal it up.”

This wasn't merely an example of teenage labour cutting corners with workmanship, Cundith knew a shorter rail line would help with the heel side turn. “I was young, I was riding shorter boards so I knew they'd turn better.”

Cundith recalls an older guy coming in after he shortened his rail following a ding repair and reporting on the board's performance. “It goes great,” the guy said excitedly. “It turns much better when I cutback.” This exchange occurred in the late-1950s, Michael Cundith was yet to meet Reynolds Yater or Grubby Clark, or even Bob Cooper for that matter. He'd struck upon the concept of asymmetry independently of those surfers.

Maybe this scenario isn't unusual. It could be that many discoveries happen this way, with numerous 'inventors' chancing upon the discovery while working independently of each other. However, convenience dictates that only one person gets the accolades, multiple narratives being harder for the public to grasp – much like the asymmetric concept itself.

If the above proposition is true then the central narrative belongs to Carl Ekstrom. As mentioned earlier, Ekstrom is widely considered the father of asymmetrical design. Like Cundith, he'd never heard of the concept before picking up the tools and customising a design that balanced surfer and board.

“Before designing and building my first asymmetrical surfboard I had never seen or heard of a surfboard designed to be asymmetrical,” says Ekstrom. “My asymmetrical concept came to me while surfing at Windansea in the early-60s. The concept was based on the fact that surfers stand asymmetrically on the surfboard and the surfers were either right foot forward or left foot forward.”

In 1965 Carl applied for a patent over his asymmetrical design, and in 1967 he received Patent number US3337886 A for an asymmetrical surfboard which, according to the US Patent Office, “compensates for the offset weight distribution of a rider in normal stance and gives the board substantially equal turning ability in either direction.”


After it was approved, Carl built many asymmetric surfboards in his “ten-board-a-week store” and he also sold the rights to California Company Surfboards and Jacobs Surfboards. “My design goal," says Carl, “has always been to design surfboards that have a natural tendency to do what the rider wants them to do.” Ekstrom is still shaping and still applying the same 'functional design' principles of asymmetry, however he's applying them to shorter, high performance boards.

Over the years many shapers have dabbled with asymmetrics, including many big name shapers, such as Bob McTavish, who set up his boards for Lennox Head, and Nat Young, who rode an asymmetric in the opening scenes of Morning Of The Earth. Other shapers include Peter Drouyn, Peter Townend, Allan Byrne, Col Smith, and Mark Richards.

Until the recent Ryan Burch-led resurrection, most attempts at asymmetrics have bamboozled the public and the boards have ended up in the shapers' personal quiver.

“Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?”
- William Blake

As the name suggests, the shortboard revolution saw boards dramatically reduce in length and also subsequently in weight. In combination this made them easier to turn and somewhat lessened the need to find design features that aided turning. However, just a few years later the surfing world's burgeoning professionalism put an acute focus on performance. Board design flourished as shapers sought incremental advantage for their riders over other competitors. Almost every facet of design was open to experimentation: fins, rails, planshape, thickness, length. Curiously, asymmetrics played only a very minor part in this rush of ideas and their side show role continues to this day. No surfer has ever won a top tier competition riding a deliberately asymmetric board.

Martin Dunn is arguably Australia's most successful surf coach, and he's definitely the longest serving. Dunn has been dishing out advice to top level surfers since the mid-1980s, yet not once in all those years and whilst servicing all those surfers has he had to factor in asymmetric design to a surfers' technique.

“It's just not something I have thought about,” says Dunn when I spoke to him about asymmetric designs. “I've never coached a surfer who was riding them.”

Dunn's admission suggests an incongruity: if shapers such as Carl Ekstrom are creating high performance boards that “have a tendency to do what the rider wants them to do”, then why aren't professional surfers, whose livelihood depends on performing at their the best, using the advantage of asymmetry?

aslaterasymetrical.jpgThe answer may lay in the fact that most top level surfers have such good technique that it compensates for the mismatch of axes. Their weight distribution during turns is more precise, body mechanics more able, and hence the asymmetric advantage becomes redundant. It's also not unusual to read that pro surfers want their boards to be neutral and predictable. Just give them soft curves, a single concave and they'll do all the rest.

There's another factor for asymmetrics' lack of popularity amongst pro surfers that should be considered. That being commerce. Most pro surfers have board sponsors and Bob Cooper's dictum about asymmetrics - “ As a business proposition they're a loser” - is as relevant today as it was fifty years ago. Set up for naturals or goofys, asymmetric boards impede the manufacturers economy of scale; they halve the production run for each board while doubling the required models.

Of interest is the impending arrival of wave pools. The promise of wave pools is that they take the variability out of the surfing equation, providing perfect wave after perfect wave so surfers can improve their technique. The same may hold true for surfboard design, where consistently perfect waves would allow shapers to hone in on the minutiae of design without the white noise of water in flux.

In a 2011 interview with Swellnet, Greg Webber said surfboard “experimentation will go nuts and surfers will be able to try amazing new concepts” in wave pools. Webber also mused that some pool owners might link up with world class surfboard designers. Said Webber eagerly: “Imagine riding all the unusual stuff that you would never risk buying for yourself?”

Webber's idea may be prescient with the recent rumour that Channel Islands, the world's biggest surfboard company, is a financial backer of the Kelly Slater Wave Company and plan to use his pools as test centres. The inexorable march of progress may yet match an asymmetric rider to their board.

"I think that symmetry is a neutral shape as opposed to a form of design." - Robert Rauschenberg

Over the years I've had many custom boards built for me, yet until last year I'd never questioned symmetry. Now that I have, and now that it's working, I can see a great well of possibilities opening up. I can also see the pitfalls.

When Carl Ekstrom patented his idea it had just one unique feature - different length rails. However, asymmetry isn't one lone configuration, like say, a twin fin or a Thruster. Asymmetry implies an infinite arrangement of configurations. Ekstrom's patent won't work over most asymmetrical boards because there are so many ways to achieve it aside from different length rails. And this is where the wariness creeps in.

Many surfers - and I include myself in this assessment - aren't wholly sure why existing features on a surfboard work. Our knowldge is rudimentary. So increasing the complexity of a surfboard is a daunting proposition. Take for example Ryan Burch's asymmetrical designs. Like modernist art, Burch appears to eschew all conventions, rearranging known design features into an exotic form. And the form is deliberate, it's functional, testament to that is how he surfs on them. However, Burch has a savant-like understanding of surfboards while the rest of us are scratching our heads wondering.


In a recent interview Cape Town shaper Donald Brink, who's an asymmetrical acolyte, said his modus operandi was to "look at the frustrations common to a specific design and make subtle changes to promote the board's design characteristics." He achieves this by allowing "the harmony between the elements," that is the board, your body, and the wave, "not oppose one another."

In short, everything balances.

I believe my first two asymmetrical boards - the agents of those sleepless nights - were so exciting because they were simple. Compared to Burch's abstruse versions, the functional form of my asymms are relatively Apollonian: clean, ordered, elementary. I wanted drive off the toe side and turn off the heel, thus the rail was two inches shorter on the heel side, and the fins were also pushed slightly forward on that side too. It was a quad, the fin clusters were equidistant from the stringer. The whole board is symmetrical till the last third. Why it works is very clear to me. They're the most customised boards I've owned and they're also the most balanced.

They can, however, be improved...


le-renard's picture
le-renard's picture
le-renard Wednesday, 13 Apr 2016 at 1:33pm



Haha sorry...i may have some OCD tendencies?... I'll just continue being ambivalent towards lefts, rather than introduce yet-another variable to the surfing experience.

Interesting read though!

50young's picture
50young's picture
50young Wednesday, 13 Apr 2016 at 1:37pm

Great read Stu,

lostdoggy's picture
lostdoggy's picture
lostdoggy Wednesday, 13 Apr 2016 at 2:47pm

With the amount of prosurfer/shaper relationships over the years, it's staggering that it's not been incorporated in modern competitive surfing. Is this purely because they're scared of it effecting sales?

Gazman82's picture
Gazman82's picture
Gazman82 Thursday, 14 Apr 2016 at 12:15pm

Kerrzy rode an assym last year.. saw photos of him shaping it with Rusty... for teauphoo.

udo's picture
udo's picture
udo Thursday, 14 Apr 2016 at 12:23pm

The Bi Polar.

lostdoggy's picture
lostdoggy's picture
lostdoggy Thursday, 14 Apr 2016 at 1:08pm

Cheers for the heads up.
That one must be using the wave direction philosophy as it is longer heel side.

Gazman82's picture
Gazman82's picture
Gazman82 Thursday, 14 Apr 2016 at 1:35pm

I think so.. ordinarily i'd prefer the long side on my forehand.. shorter on my backside if i was going assym.

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet Friday, 15 Apr 2016 at 9:35am

Yep, gotta be using wave direction to guide the design.

That's the theory that Chris Garrett, who shaped my first asymm, uses. He started doing it while camping up in the NW and wanted a board that will drive off the bottom yet do tight pocked turns.

When I ordered my first asymm I got it shaped for Sandon Point, a righthander, so it was a stroke of fortune that the long side was my toe side. I resisted taking it out in beachies for a long while, however once I did I realised it went unreal in them.

So I guess you could say my theory differs to Chris', which I was going to include in the above article 'cept I figured there was already information overload and didn't wanna kept tipping the content in. Maybe I'll do another article later.

All that said, I reckon the 'wave direction' theory has validity when you're talking about wave such as Chopes.

One more thing - see what I mean about info overload? - Al Byrne did asymms and he also applied the 'wave direction' theory. I have a feeling that was because he was making them for Sunset Beach 'cos every asymm of his I've seen is a gun and mid-80s vintage - back when Sunset was king.

Again, that'd make sense, Sunset has a shiteload of trough so you wanna really draw long arcs off the bottom.

I have an interview with Al taken from an 80s ASL mag but it's at home and I'm not. Might read and post again later.

lostdoggy's picture
lostdoggy's picture
lostdoggy Friday, 15 Apr 2016 at 1:08pm

Maurice Cole also wave direction I believe?
Did Al Byrne change his tune on wave direction to stance?
Dale Wilson said they go by stance philosophy at Byrning Spears.

In the comments, Stu -

memlasurf's picture
memlasurf's picture
memlasurf Wednesday, 13 Apr 2016 at 3:02pm

Love it Stu mixing that madman William Blake (he was a serious lunatic), Blaise Pascal (I had to look him up, a rather obscure French mathematician), Apollo, a US novelist, and a US avant garde artist with a bunch of crazed surfboard shapers is a hoot. Have you had it in reasonably solid Indo style backhand waves (I think you are a natural footer)? My issue would be if you rocked up to a right or left-hander where there wasn't much room for error, and it worked better one way than the other, it would throw my confidence out.

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet Wednesday, 13 Apr 2016 at 5:20pm

Yeah, I'm a natural Memla. I had the first one out at Cloudbreak last year, probably 6ft+. Not a perfect match for it, though that was more to do with how short the board was rather than asymmetry ('twas 5'8"/5'10").

These days I paddle out in beachies, left and rights, without even thinking about it. Big Indo-style lefts? If I had a bigger board I'd be curious to see how it went.

memlasurf's picture
memlasurf's picture
memlasurf Wednesday, 13 Apr 2016 at 6:37pm

Yeah good luck paddling into 6' Cloudbreak on a 5'8" board. How weird did you go with yours as I think you said it was a Ryan Burch from memory (he turns out some really hippy dippy shapes) , how did you nail the size and where did your order it from? You have me going now I am interested.

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet Friday, 15 Apr 2016 at 9:20am

My boards haven't gone weird at all, even the very first board took very little time to adjust to. I resisted taking it out in beachies 'cos it was originally made for a righthand pointbreak but to my great surprise it went fine in lefts. From then on I rode it in anything.

How did I nail the size? I really just ordered a normal board but got the asymm tail. If you didn't see the last 12 inches or so you wouldn't think anything was different.

The first board was from Chris Garrett at Phantom on the Gold Coast, it had slightly knifier rails as it was made specifically for Sandon Point. Fittingly it also met it's demise at Sandon.

The second boad was shaped by Stuart Paterson at PCC and it had the rails bulked up ever so slightly as by then I knew I could ride the boards in beachies so I wanted something that rode well in waves with a bit less push. It was the asymm tail bunged onto a model of his that I really like (called the IQ+).

Both board are shown in the article - Garrett's near the intro, Pato's near the end.

I have two new boards coming, one from each shaper that I'm itching to ride; Pato's is a straight ahead hi per shortboard and Garrett's a step up. I like his knify rails but want them put on something that'll really warrant the design - i.e a board designed for bigger waves.

There's no need to overthink asymm's Memla, at least when you get 'simple' ones such as mine. In effect all they have is a tweaked tail and fin config layed over a conventional board model. Nothing different going on with bottom contours, volume, or the planshape.

memlasurf's picture
memlasurf's picture
memlasurf Monday, 18 Apr 2016 at 6:46pm

Thanks Stu for the run down. Those Ryan Burch shapes really threw me however your approach is far more palatable. Me thinks I would love a back hand special for Indo left-handers and a certain one nearer home which there has been much ado about of late here in Swellnet.

Blowin's picture
Blowin's picture
Blowin Wednesday, 13 Apr 2016 at 4:06pm

I made my first asymmetrical board as a young Grommie by attempting to repair a tail that had been split down the stringer and due to lack of an alternative I kept riding it till it died.

I ruminated upon the concept and failed to notice any obvious disadvantages.

Of course I was stoked to finally get a new board so I could avoid the fucking annoying inquisitions every time I pulled the thing out of its soft woollen cover.

Never thought of it as a negative or a positive just a solution to a problem.

Really enjoyed this article Stu and of course it made me keen to experiment, yet it's probably unlikely as my boards are usually of the rack stock standard.

So stoked that crew like yourself are experimenting as any positive outcomes benefit all surfers as a rising tide floats all ships apparently.

Great story regardless mate and as Fong said on another post you've made a big mark in the culture of Australian surfing with your efforts here.

Cheers legend - Same goes for Ben and Craig.

Top job gents.

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet Wednesday, 13 Apr 2016 at 5:21pm

Big words. Cheers Blowin.

spencie's picture
spencie's picture
spencie Wednesday, 13 Apr 2016 at 4:11pm

Neal Purchase made me one in the very early seventies. From memory it was about 6 feet 3 inches and a single fin. Went well but can't remember why I changed boards after that. He made a few but I don't think there was much demand at that time.

jaunkemps's picture
jaunkemps's picture
jaunkemps Wednesday, 13 Apr 2016 at 4:57pm

l rode one of Micheal Anthonys sticks back in the late 80's in 6-7' Bells it went really well and if l remember right that stick was a tester only (the poo brown one) , he went on to shape a bunch not sure what others felt about them, the boys at the Curl at that time would have given them a shot I'd recon, just something alittle different for those with an enquisitive mind l'm guessing........ Giddyup

mk1's picture
mk1's picture
mk1 Wednesday, 13 Apr 2016 at 8:05pm

Very interesting. Great detective work pulling all the historical info together and compiling it in one place. This may become quite the reference article in the future.

BobC's picture
BobC's picture
BobC Thursday, 14 Apr 2016 at 6:04am

And he saw the stars and the veins of the leaf and the light and the balance and when he went forth to the board store he saw beauty, proven function and balanced design, he then brought forth the required $800 to own such a balanced work of years of crafted perfection, this side and that both in harmony and plus and minus equilibrium . This proven design years in the making, of which a poor surfer could only own one of, became his dear friend, he mastered its features and back hand would skillfully shift his front foot to the rail to create a masterful bodily asymmetry to guide his friend high upon the wall of joy. Yes , it was he who mastered this finely balanced symmetrical work of glass and foam. His pleasure was full and after a year he flogged on Gumtree easily and bought a new one because it wasn't an ugly head scratching asymmetrical pig experiment that no one would buy.

Sou-Wester's picture
Sou-Wester's picture
Sou-Wester Thursday, 14 Apr 2016 at 7:24am

I might be naïve, but has anyone applied the same theory by simply using different fins to each side of the board? Say, in a quad, using a small set one side & large the other?

lostdoggy's picture
lostdoggy's picture
lostdoggy Thursday, 14 Apr 2016 at 7:38am

Yes, a lot of people have.
Would be interesting to know if pros ever do it or not though.

If you want to try it, start with larger fins on wave side of board to give you hold in bottom turns, and smaller fins on the other to loosen top turns.

saltman's picture
saltman's picture
saltman Thursday, 14 Apr 2016 at 12:04pm

Looking at a NPJ duo design with the parallel fin boxes.
Would lend itself really nicely to experimenting with offsetting the heel v toe fins

sharkman's picture
sharkman's picture
sharkman Thursday, 14 Apr 2016 at 1:09pm

wow the article started off well , very interesting till we got to ,

"Martin Dunn is arguably Australia's most successful surf coach, and he's definitely the longest serving. Dunn has been dishing out advice to top level surfers since the mid-1980s, yet not once in all those years and whilst servicing all those surfers has he had to factor in asymmetric design to a surfers' technique.

“It's just not something I have thought about,” says Dunn when I spoke to him about asymmetric designs. “I've never coached a surfer who was riding them.”

Dunn's admission suggests an incongruity: if shapers such as Carl Ekstrom are creating high performance boards that “have a tendency to do what the rider wants them to do”, then why aren't professional surfers, whose livelihood depends on performing at their the best, using the advantage of asymmetry? "

How is Martin Dunn Australia's most successful coach?
who has he coached to World titles ?
His son Ben (Been) was one of Australia's best young juniors and became a boring , regimented , journeyman , coached by his dad!
Does Martin Dunn , have as part of his coaching, how to educate surfers on their equipment so they can work towards improving their equipment ?

Currently pros are riding stock designs that have been around for 15 years , and its more about how quantity than quality , get 20 bs and find a good one , which means there is very little workwise between the shaper and the surfer .
Asymetrics are fantastic and the future of performance surfing!

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet Friday, 15 Apr 2016 at 9:36am

Hey I did say 'arguably'.

sharkman's picture
sharkman's picture
sharkman Sunday, 17 Apr 2016 at 12:15pm

fair enough , damn arguments!!

chickenlips's picture
chickenlips's picture
chickenlips Thursday, 14 Apr 2016 at 7:31pm

The more fings change? The more they stay the same? But differentz?!

jesse's picture
jesse's picture
jesse Friday, 15 Apr 2016 at 7:52am

What about the idea that originally our board symmetry and body symmetry were once aligned - feet parallel to the stringer.

tonybarber's picture
tonybarber's picture
tonybarber Saturday, 16 Apr 2016 at 7:23pm

Great read. Used a lot on sailboards, also. More successful in sailing.

Headspace's picture
Headspace's picture
Headspace Sunday, 24 Apr 2016 at 9:06pm

Great article Stu, good background work & very well written. Haven't stopped thinking about the design ideas & concepts since reading it. Not to mention a skateboard session with the kids this afternoon. Way easier to turn forehand, than backhand. Why did I realize this twenty years ago? Next board will be an asymmetrical, if nothing more than a 5'8" bat tail on one half of the stringer, with a drawn out 5'10" swallow the other side. Thanks!

eat-your-vegies's picture
eat-your-vegies's picture
eat-your-vegies Tuesday, 26 Apr 2016 at 8:34am

I have enjoyed the discussion guys.
over the years I have made a lot of asym boards although not with radically different rail lines and stuff. More just drinking that six pack while shaping the last one on a Friday arvo lol.
just kidding (sort of) . my asyms were all pretty much the same as my normal boards I was making at the time. and just for me. I would just do something like move the bump wing forward an inch or so on my back hand rail or blend it out more on my forehand rail but nothing too noticeable . I find that very small adjustments can make huge differences to performance.
also something I do even now is to adjust my fins to affect board flow through turns by sanding down the tabs to make the fins toe or tilt change.
for instance by tilting your heel fin out just a few mill you can get a tighter turn off the bottom or a bit more lift, if this is needed.
or by moving the toe out on the front of the fin you can lengthen a turn and give a board a more down the line flow. (a millimetre is a lot )
this is all great for adjusting that new board just right. though it isn't always necessary.
I too would luv to try some of the more radical versions of asyms like you guys are talking about if my old bones could handle the g forces.

udo's picture
udo's picture
udo Tuesday, 26 Apr 2016 at 9:21am

Those adjustments your doing would suit having the 4-way fin system fitted.

ONE80 pivoting fin system - interesting how this bloke leaves his rear quads loose and able to move around.

eat-your-vegies's picture
eat-your-vegies's picture
eat-your-vegies Tuesday, 26 Apr 2016 at 9:28am

yeah . that's interesting.
would make for a versatile set up.
any feed back on its durability ?

udo's picture
udo's picture
udo Tuesday, 26 Apr 2016 at 11:51am

He was looking for $200k on kickstarter .....but only reached $9k.

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet Wednesday, 14 Dec 2016 at 12:56pm

Latest shots from the queer quiver:




lostdoggy's picture
lostdoggy's picture
lostdoggy Wednesday, 14 Dec 2016 at 1:27pm

Is the similar colour theme to make the new ones go unnoticed?

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet Wednesday, 14 Dec 2016 at 1:29pm

It didn't start out that way 15 years ago but it's definitely the reason it's continued so long.

batfink's picture
batfink's picture
batfink Wednesday, 14 Dec 2016 at 2:00pm

So Stu, I take it you're back surfing! Health all good now?

Asymms, yeah I'm going to go down that path one day, but not yet. FWIW, I asked a very knowledgeable mate about how you decide which rail gets the longer edge and he just laughed and said that's the easy part, it's based on your stance (not the effin wave direction).

Which is for the best, owning a board that only goes left or right is a stupid idea!


batfink's picture
batfink's picture
batfink Wednesday, 14 Dec 2016 at 2:03pm

Oh yeah, can't remember which is which, the longer rail on your toe side or heel side, but I'm thinking the longer rail on your toe side, which would be right if they are Stu's boards in pic, and Stu is a natural.

Why are you keeping those snapped ones Stu?

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet Wednesday, 14 Dec 2016 at 2:09pm

Hey BF, yeah wouldn't say the neck is 100%, I can feel it at all times, however I've got it to a point where I can manage the discomfort. Means constantly staying aware of diet, exercise, and posture but that's probably all for the better anyway. And hey, I'm back in the water.

As for asymm theory, I use longer rail toe side, shorter rail heel. Some people might do diferently but that's what's working for me.

Why am I keeping the boards? Can't bring myself to put them in the bin, they were both really, really good boards. I've been thinking about fixing them, but as I've already got a huge pile of busted boards all saved with the intention of repairing them I guess I never will.

blindboy's picture
blindboy's picture
blindboy Wednesday, 14 Dec 2016 at 7:11pm

Great to hear Stu.

pointy's picture
pointy's picture
pointy Thursday, 15 Dec 2016 at 5:30pm

most asymm's that I have seen have symmetrical noses but asym tails.

I saw a board by Album surfboards on instagram that is asymmetrical in the nose as well as the tail, it as alos on their website

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet Wednesday, 13 Dec 2017 at 3:59pm

The article above was published in the most recent issue of The Surfers Journal under the title 'In Unequal Measure' (wish I kept the title that brief!).

On the Journal's IG account Richard Kenvin has lightly put the boot in for not including he and Ryan Burch in "the modern conversation" of asymmetricals, which isn't entirely fair as I wasn't detailing modern history, and if I was then a few others besides Richard Kenvin would also get a mention - which they didn't.

Anyway, here's RK's beef: "The modern era 2007 conversation started with making a Simmons planing hull and a 6'9" Frye longfish asymmetric. Carl Ekstrom was the shaper, I was the surfer. This was done by having a straight toe side rail with a keel or MR twin type fin, and a quad set (two smaller fins) on the heel (curve) side. A series of regular foot boards were made. Results very pleasing. Finally a goofy version was made in 2009 or so, after much pestering from me so Burch could try one, which he did. And then he started shaping his own, refining the concept. That's how the modern asymmetrical thing started. But you left all that out of your article. Dubious."

Lastly, TSJ has posted this footage of Burch from G'Land in 2011, much of it unseen - no, it's not the footage from 'The Rush of the Continuous Rhythm' but it is worth watching.

amb's picture
amb's picture
amb Wednesday, 13 Dec 2017 at 4:46pm

some crankin waves in there!

Blowin's picture
Blowin's picture
Blowin Wednesday, 13 Dec 2017 at 7:48pm

Pull your head in Richard.

Inspired by sheer laziness and a comprehensive lack of technical ability I glassed straight over the stump of the amputated heel side rail of the 2nd new board I ever owned.

Decades ago.

Authentically asymmetrical and genuinely ugly , I surfed that thing till the rest of it fell apart. How'd it perform ?


Anyway , I'm no doubt not even close to being on my own with my foray into the uncharted and unheralded modern era of asymmetric surfboards.

You didn't get your due recognition, Richard ?

Join the queue and while youre waiting get over yourself.

PS Was that too much ?

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet Wednesday, 21 Mar 2018 at 1:59pm

Nat Young is getting aboard...

Latest asymm shaped for him by Ryan Burch:

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet Wednesday, 15 Apr 2020 at 9:24am

Good article on asymmetry over at

'If asymms work why aren't they mainstream?'

Brad Drummond's picture
Brad Drummond's picture
Brad Drummond Sunday, 14 Nov 2021 at 10:12am

First off, nice article!! Great read.
I am super excited to try asyms. I have used snowboards and windsurfing boards that were asyms in the 90's - they were great. But the asym has come and gone a little bit in the snowboard world for reasons I suspect are similar to the surfboard manufacturer. It narrows the buyer and has not proved to be a huge advantage. But it really is a great ride. Asyms are coming back on to the racks again in snowboarding. They particularly work well for a twin shape where whichever direction you are stronger, there is symmetry in a way since all riders will have their heels on one side of the board and the other side is toe side. This way the sidecut of the heel side is a little deeper which makes sense since this is your weaker side when turning!
In windsurfing is worked super well for point breaks and specific spots for specific styles of riding. However, windsurfing boards are pricey and this kind of a designation was too specific. Wind can change and conditions vary by the hour so although it offered a good ride for a drawn out hard driving toe side turn on a specific tack and an even better heel turn off the top of the wave, as mentioned, price and changing conditions ruled it out for the most part.
But, having rode all these asyms in other 'spin-off' surfing sports, it seems odd that I never got a chance to try an asym surfboard - the origin of asyms. I am about to get one or two built and I can only see advantages to this since you really only surf as your body dictates. So regardless of the conditions the tweaking and tailoring of the surfboards dimensions should only improve your surfing. It only makes sense. For example, this 6'11" board I will be getting has a drawn out rail as my step-up board for when I drop in on toe and drive a fast bottom turn. I then can only see advantage to having a squashed or rounded off, shorter board on my heel - making my top turn snappier and with more pivot or slash. You get two boards in one!
I guess our bodies adapt to each board and our surfing adjusts. But I think an asym might just be a true quiver killer so I 'll just have to see!

udo's picture
udo's picture
udo Sunday, 14 Nov 2021 at 10:34am
stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet Wednesday, 2 Aug 2023 at 9:51am

Another very early asymmetrical, this time being sold on Facebook (thanks for the heads up, Udo).

The label is Dale Surfboards, and the ad says from 1961, though has the earliest entry for Dale as 1963 - so the same time as Midget's hook board in the story above.

Either way, a very early example of the concept.