Smoke and foam dust: Stretch Riedel, Part 1
He's one of the few shapers whose boards can be recognised without seeing the label - and that goes for his guns and shortboards. In person, William 'Stretch' Riedel is an exemplar of American individualism, so it's no surprise that the same disposition finds its way into his creations. Stretch's boards look like no-one elses.
The deck channels are the obvious feature, but the differences run deeper. Stretch's profiles and planshapes hold the volume in unique ways, and there's continuity between his shortboards and guns. His big wave standard, the Buzz Gun, ridden by a chunk of Big Wave Tour surfers, is an elongated Mr Buzz, the same way a Porsche 911 is a VW Beetle that's been stretched.
Stretch is currently doing a shaping stint at the Glass Hut in Wollongong. Between boards he pulled up a chair amongst the resin tins and had a chat with Swellnet.
Swellnet: Can we talk about big wave boards first? To me, it seems not much has happened with shortboards in the last three to five years, but gun design has really changed a lot.
Stretch: I'd have to disagree. In my view there's much more happening with shortboards. With guns, my view is limited to my own personal designs, but those haven't changed in the last three to four years.
Well that kinda stuffs up my questions. How about we just talk about your guns first then we'll find out what's happening with shortboards.
So how did guns change five years ago?
They made a huge jump five years ago, though it kind of started, probably eight to ten years ago, with Nathan [Fletcher] shaping Mr Buzz, the 5'0" board, which ultimately had a huge impact on the guns.
As in parallel rails, width forward, tail kick?
Yep...parallel rails, massive amounts of tail rocker, no nose rocker, and volume aft.
Volume in the back part?
Yeah. All my boards have volume in the back. Volume forward is bad.
What about paddling?
Ask yourself this: Do I want to paddle, or do I want to catch a wave? Which is it?
Well, catch the wave.
Okay. So volume up front kicks the board like this [Stretch gestures with his forearm so his hand is higher than his elbow]. Volume in the back kicks it like this [Reverses forearm] This goes down, this gets pushed up. Period.
And when you stand up, you stand up from where you're paddling. So shifting the weight or the volume back means it's at the balance point of the board, and that's super important with my designs, because of what I'm doing with nose rockers and tail rockers...
[Stretch pauses for a while]
Ah, I'll say certain things here, but there's stuff I'm not going to say.
Maybe I'm old and a bit eggy, but the surfing industry has no ethics. Zero. Everyone is perfectly willing to see a design and say: "That's a great idea. I'll do it." And then give zero credit to the person who came up with it. I'm tired of it...
You mind if I smoke this? [Stretch motions at the unlit cigar he's had in the corner of his mouth]
Uh, no, go ahead. So let's speak in general terms then. I'm occasionally surprised by how manouvreable a 10ft gun can be; I see the odd moment in huge waves when someone's board will appear looser than I'd credit a big wave gun to be.
[Stretch is nodding]
I imagine that comes down to forward fin positioning...?
[Stretch suddenly shakes his head]
Not fins then? So what is it..?
Larger tail rocker. You know, a lot of the guys are running....[pauses] large tail rocker. And consequently you put the board on rail at those speeds and it's gonna just follow that curve.
If you put the fins forward on a board you're asking it to pivot off the fins, and I don't ever want it to pivot off the fins. Guns really can't do, what I call, a flat-turn pivot. They rail-turn. The board has to be on rail, the fins just follow along.
Nic von Rupp and his Portuguese Buzz Guns. At left, 9’6” x 19.25” x 3.5” Vol: 70L. At right, 10’4” x 20.25” x 3.8” Vol: 85.7L.
Are quads still the favoured set up?
Always five fin. With the exception of Nathan [Fletcher]. Nathan just doesn't want that brake to slow down. And I think it kind of hurts his performances in some big waves.
Explain "the brake"?
If it's smooth, quads are always better. But if there's bump, you just have to slow down, because if you're going fast over the bumps, you'll just get airborne. The faster you go, the higher you're going to go. So slow down, put the brakes out, throw the anchor out...
You want the Thruster's rear fin for controlled drag?
Yeah, exactly. And I will even recommend guys, when they try fins, go for the biggest, ugliest piece of junk fins there are. The Twiggy fins are awesome fins. It's like just throwing the hugest anchor out the back that you possibly can.
To create more drag?
Just drag. Just trying to slow the board down. Knock off three, four miles an hour off the board. Because if it's that bumpy, you just never want to go that fast. You don't ever want to go over the 32 mile an hour zone. Stay sub-30 miles an hour and just make it.
And fin placement? You say you don't want them forward..?
My fin placement, it hasn't changed from day one. From the day we made the fin configuration that Tazzy [Anthony Tashnick] wanted for the Mavericks contest he won in 2005, the fin configuration hasn't changed at all.
Is there room for improvement?
My fin theory is based on a couple of different things, and those things I don't ever see changing: where the rider is on the board, and how the board is moving through the water. Those two things would have to change. So either the rider would have to stand somewhere other than on the tail of the board, or the board would have to be moving through the water in some new way for that to change.
Okay. Nose to tail, what bottom contours do you usually use?
I'm running an extreme panel up front, mellowing out a little bit and then going into a double, just to destabilise the tail as much as possible. That kinda allows it to create a lift factor down the centre of the board. A lift factor is a point at which you are creating more lift than any other place on the board. Because it's running down the centre, you're getting a teeter-totter effect.
Like a vee-bottom feel?
It's more more pin-point than that. A panel vee will tip uniformly across the whole panel, but spiral vee [the bottom shape that longitudinally describes a double concave] gives you that lift factor. So one spot running down the centre of the board is giving you that teeter-totter effect. At those speeds the pressure is pretty high, so getting that thing to go on the rail quickly is pretty important. Especially when it's like, "I gotta go. I gotta get the hell out of Dodge."
10 foot Comp Gun model with deck channels and 'driftboat nose'
Now you mentioned earlier that the surf industry has no ethics. Well, your signature feature is the rail channel, yet I've seen very few people copy it.
Well, for one, they're really hard to do. Until you figure out how to do it then it's really hard to shape them, and it's really hard to glass them. Most people back away. I figured out how to do it pretty easily and consequently I don't have to charge that much for it.
And also, those are not mine. That's Greg Loehr, he did them back in the 70s. He was doing it for years and years. Christian [Fletcher] got hold of one of Greg's boards and it held up, then Nathan tried the board and they both got plenty of air time. And consequently Nathan started saying, "Hey, if you don't put it in to my new boards, I'm gonna break them."
They strengthen the board by stiffening it up.
It adds vertical surface. Corrugation.
What about flex?
They stop flex. They don't stop torsion. They are a strengthening aspect to the construction and they stiffen the forward section of the board. You can see that they flow out of the mid-board and allow the tail to have it's flex. You don't really need the flex up front, you need it in the tail.
In shortboards I really put them in as handles. Guys like to grab them for airs.
You said shortboards are where all your progression is happening, so let's talk about that.