Boarding School: Outline
Rightio, after a small false start, class is now in session. So welcome to Boarding School, where we aim to take the mystery out of surfboard design. Cory Russell from Cory Surfboards in Ocean Grove will shine a light on the dark corners of design and answer the questions you didn't know who to ask.
As always, questions, feedback, and sly payouts are welcome in the comment box below.
First up, surfboard outline.
The outline or plan shape of the surfboard is the defining shape of a surfboard from nose to tail as seen from the deck or bottom. Arguably, it is the outline of a surfboard that sets one shaper apart from another. It's almost like a signature, and a surfer with a keen eye will recognise which outline belongs to which shaper.
In the past, shapers would make templates from a thin veneer of plywood or something similar and spend hours getting their curves just right. I recently spoke to Stuart D'Arcy of D'Arcy surfboards and he explained that he has 35 years worth of templates but nowadays only keeps 25 in the shaping bay! 15 of them are master curves and the rest are used for tail and nose outlines. The introduction of surfboard design programs has allowed shapers to continually fine tune their outlines with a few key strokes or the click of the mouse.
The outline is usually measured at four specific points:
- Tail pod (the type of tail?)
- 12 inches from the tail
- The designated wide point (usually within three inches either side of the centre)
- 12 inches from the nose
Various combinations of measurements at these four points will establish the type of surfboard being created. Spend enough time around boards and you'll ascertain what kind of board is being made without any further description.
The general consensus amongst shapers is there are three particular types of outline curves used in surfboard design: continuous, parallel and hybrid.
A ‘continuous curve’ outline is commonly used on most of today’s performance boards for small to medium wave boards. The continuous curve ensures only a minimum amount of the outline is engaging the wave face and thereby enhancing response (most surfers experience this whilst pumping for speed or going rail to rail, etc.). Boards with these outlines encourage rapid directional change and can feel unstable for less advanced surfers. This type of design is best suited to active surfers and good quality waves.
A ‘parallel curve’ outline is commonly used on a longboard or big wave boards. The parallel outline is usually created by increasing the width 12 inches from the nose but may also include widening of the tail. The parallel aspect of the outline is to maximise board speed down the line and minimise drag. Boards with these outlines can restrict rapid directional change as well as feel more stable due to the increased amount of outline engaging the wave face. This type of design is suited to larger waves and more drawn out turns.
A ‘hybrid curve’ outline is used when the shaper wants to achieve a combination of the aforementioned outline curves in an effort to maximise speed and manoeuvrability. The best example of this would be step down boards for small waves or high performance longboards.
The wide point of a surfboard has a major influence on its performance. If the wide point is moved toward the tail it creates a narrower nose and a wider tail. The most obvious example of this are the early 80s Lazor Zaps made by Geoff McCoy. Simon Anderson used a toned down version of the Lazor Zap outline in his first generation Thruster giving legitimacy to McCoy's design. The increased width from the centre of the board to the tail creates a more curved outline and a board with greater directional change or turn ability. This type of outline is great for smaller or flatter waves when you are surfing predominantly off your back foot.
The unmistakable outline of the McCoy Lazor Zap as ridden by Cheyne Horan. McCoy and Horan were developing a board that could be surfed totally off the back foot.
If the wide point is moved toward the nose it creates a wider nose and narrower tail. The best example of this is big wave boards. The reduced width from the centre of the board to the tail creates a straighter outline and a board with less directional change or turn ability. This type of outline is great for larger or steeper waves when you are surfing predominantly off your front foot. Recently I contacted Bruce Kay of BK Shapes he described his boards as currently having a curvier outline to maintain performance as boards have become shorter and flatter.
The modern shortboard is more subtle in design than what I have described but if you think of your board in these simplistic terms it may help you identify problems with your board. For example, when I have customers come to me that are having trouble getting stuck at the top of the wave during a turn, the first thing I look at is the outline. Where is the wide point? What type of outline does the board have? Is the board too narrow or too straight in the tail? These are the things that can cause a board to get caught at the top of a wave.
A surfboard is not always a single curve from nose to tail and over the last 40+ years since the shortboard revolution shapers have tested numerous ideas and designs. Flyers or ‘wings’ as they were originally referred to were created in the mid-seventies by master craftsman Ben Aipa. The most extreme manifestation of wings were in Ben's Stingers (which he originally called 'Da Sting'). Stingers had sharp wings a third of the way up the board that aligned with a lateral step across the bottom of the board as if a foot long length of the board had been removed from the outline. In fact that was how the idea of Stingers was conceived. The design will forever be recorded in history books for providing quicker release and tighter turns. Ben extracted maximum manoeuvrability out of the single fins for his extraordinary team of surfers.
Da Sting, or the Stinger, shaped by Ben Aipa were ridden to maximum effect by Larry Bertlemen, Buttons Kaluhiokalani, and Mark Liddell.
These days the flyers or wings are not as deep and they're commonly located in the last 12 inches of the tail. They can be either single or double flyer, or even more depending on the desired outcome (see Michael Peterson's Fang Tail!). The use of flyers allows a shaper to maintain a straighter outline from the centre of the board to the fins for maximum speed and then provide quick release and a tighter turning circle.
Hips are much the same as flyers although they are more subtle and often go unrecognised by the customer due to the shaper blending them in to the outline. Hips are much less dramatic in their response when surfed than flyers.
A common trend over the last few years is the introduction of the 5 fin plugs on boards to give people the choice to surf them as a tri or quad fin. The 5 fin plug set up is not suitable for all types of boards and Nick Blair of Joistik surfboards identified a noticeable increase in tail widths to accommodate the quad aspect of the boards design. It's worth being aware of this. With 5 fin plugs may feel you're getting more bang for your buck, however the trade off could be a wider tail than is ideal.
Side cuts (or an inverted outline) are best described as ‘when the outline changes from its traditional path and goes in the opposite direction resulting in a narrower width’. Mick Mackie is the shaper best known for the side cut though Bear Mirandon and Hayden Cox have also experimented with side cuts. Mick got the idea from a board designed for ‘snow surfing'. Mick first stumbled across the idea after flicking through an article in an old SW issue from 1979 about the ‘Winterstick’ design created by Wayne Stoveken and Dimitrije Milovich. The idea resonated with him and he began applying the concept to surfboards. Coincidentally, the 1979 article was written by Richard Gifford Palmer who has since become a collaborator with Mick Mackie.
The theory behind the design is this: side cuts reduce the resistance created by a standard outline and when the board is on rail it creates a quicker response as well as sharper turning circle.
Asymmetrical boards have been rising in popularity in recent years and for good reason. First created in 1959 by Grubby Clark and Renny Yater, then patented by San Diego surfer/shaper Carl Ekstrom in 1965, they've again become popular on the back of performances by Ryan Burch. All the above shapers, and anyone else who's made an asymmetrical surfboard, have recognised that we surf differently when surfing front side compared to back side. To solve this problem asymmetricals combine a board that performs well front side board with one that performs well back side.
The asymmetrical design informally addresses the scientific study of human movement and non-movement known as Kinesiology. As surfers we simply understand it is easier to bend forward, maintain balance with greater movement than it is to bend backward and balance on our heels. Commercially, there are a lot of drawbacks when it comes to asymmetrical surfboards but I would encourage every surfer to ride one if they get the chance.
So, what will a surfboard outline look like in 10, 20 or 30 years? The truth is I expect it to be similar to what we currently have but the relationship between the outline and all the other elements of surfboard design will become more precise. Many of my friends in the industry are excited by the free thinking that exists in today’s marketplace. Jamie Byrne of JB surfboards says his “customers seem to be more opened minded than ever to ride different designs.” This really motivates him. However there's an onus on surfers to understand how their boards work and also shapers to inform them.
The last point is this: Surfboards may start out as a bunch of measurements in a shaper’s mind – tail and nose width, length, wide point - but they slowly evolve into a 3D object that he will heavily scrutinise. So while the outline of a board is very important but it is no more important than the other elements of the board. As Stuart D'Arcy says, “The outline is one small part of a big picture”.
Next up, surfboard rocker.
Cory Surfboards / Stretch Boards Australia