Luke Short drops the Hammer
Mention the nineties to older surfers and watch them convulse, eyes closed as they flashback to anorexic surfboards that stunted their surfing lives.
Early in the decade, Kelly had everyone under a spell with his 'Glass Slippers', a shortboard stripped down to its most basic elements: accentuated concave; exaggerated rocker; and dulled rails sapped of volume. Shapers followed the trend largely without protest, believing Kelly's high-speed, progressive surfing was facilitated entirely by the boards he rode. But for almost everyone else, they were difficult boards to ride.
As the nineties receded into the background we were told to pump up the volume and foam has been our friend ever since. But everything old is new again, as the saying goes, and a nineties revival is upon us.
Shaper Luke Short from LSD Surfboards has been toiling away in the shaping bay, revisiting templates from the nineties and adding a modern twist to arm a vanguard of power surfers such as team rider Noa Deane and good friend Creed McTaggart.
Alex Workman caught up with Luke on the Gold Coast and asked him about his latest design inspired by the decade that gave us scrunchies, dial-up internet, and pub rock.
Swellnet: We’ve been told to pump up the volume for a while now, and as a result people seem to be on boards more suited to their ability, or at least reporting they are having more fun compared with the anorexic glass slippers of the nineties. Why revisit this period in shaping history?
Luke Short: I was watching some old footage of Kelly and Andy at some event, and I remember thinking how much better they looked on longer boards; just the drive and the leverage, rather than on these short, wide boards that they’re riding today. I dunno, it kind of, in my eyes, looked better.
I’ve had this old Timmy Patterson board knocking around the factory which is a bit of a classic nineties boards, maybe late-eighties, and I just had the idea of, more as an experiment or a bit of fun, to make my version of that for Noa [Deane]. So I made him one and he’s like, "This thing actually goes really really good".
I didn’t go the full extremities of the super narrow slipper. I kind of went down those lines but added a little bit more width to the nose just so it wasn’t so extreme, and yeah, it just sort of came together. Noa was the one saying, "This could be an awesome model, you should do it." That was probably around 18 months ago I started making it for him. And then some of his peers started getting on it, like Creed [McTaggart] and a few other guys that ride for me like Benny Howard, and I made one for my son and it’s just gone from there.
People are just liking that drive and a bit of a different feeling, I suppose.
Can you break down the shape and its DNA? What’s in its engine besides that longer planshape?
I guess one of the key elements is less concave so it doesn’t want to lift and jump out of the water. Even at high speeds, it’s going to hold really well and stay in the water. That’s a combination of less concave, a narrower tail, a little flatter in the tail, you could say it has the same as a contemporary shortboard nose curve but a fair bit flatter in the tail.
Having the narrow tail you can still dominate the board pretty easy even at high speeds. I think for Noa and those guys they’ve done the whole air thing and now they are loving the feeling of pushing as hard as they can through a turn and using all the speed they generate. Usually, they’re punting a huge air but now they’re trying to do the biggest turn possible.
It sounds like it’s not a complete Glass Slipper and still maintains volume in critical areas of the planshape. How much is it a blend with modern boards?
I think the overall nose rocker is similar to today’s boards, but in the nineties they were a little bit longer and flatter and then they had the flip at the nose, whereas I’ve spread the whole curve out under the front foot so the entry point is sort of long and smooth so you’re getting that initial speed and drive under your front foot as well. A lot of the nineties boards were a bit elf slipper-y where they were almost pushing water.
Yeah, they looked like they had to be kept in perpetual motion and if you weren’t in the pocket you were bogging rail and not driving through turns.
And then the dimensions. Back in the day, you’d probably ride a 6’2" by 18’¼", where I’ve sort of pushed it out to just under 19” for a 6’2". So it’s sort of meeting in the middle of today’s contemporary boards and back then. It’s just trying to find a balance.
I noticed the glass on fins – the sanders must be hating you.
[Laughs]. Yeah, but for a lot of them it’s kind of a nostalgia thing, it’s something different, they kind of enjoy it. It might change if there’s a full production line of them [laughs].
Is there an ideal wave, or a type of surfer it's more suited to? You mentioned Noa and Creed as test pilots, and judging from the clips I’ve seen lately they’re surfing powerful breakwall waves.
Yeah, you probably hit the nail on the head. Generally, you’d say they are for a better wave with more push, so you’d have it in your quiver as maybe an alternative to your normal step-up where if it’s a punchy wave you are surfing.
I guess it would suit any type of surfer [pauses to think]. For the guys riding shorter twinnys and stuff, I think it almost irons out turns a little—like even myself, I surfed this morning on a little twinny and halfway through a cuttie I was letting the tail go just for fun, but you kind of can’t do that on these. It’ll iron out your style, you’ve got to draw longer turns. You’ve just got to approach it a little bit differently - for the better I reckon.
The nineties are in vogue right now and the boards seem to gel with Noa and Creed’s whole act. But it also feels that surfers are looking back like you did originally, at those longer boards, and wondering if the surfing that was done back then was better because it seemed more fluid and less flicky. Do you think that’s another aspect of their appeal?
Yep, totally. I guess you’re always looking forward but at the same time people are looking back to trying to pluck elements of what has worked in the past, aesthetically as well, like maybe it looks better when guys are throwing their board into the pocket and see the guys get points for that – at least the competitive guys. But then there’s an element of that glide and speed and power surfing that gets lost a bit because they’ve got to nurse the wide, short, rockered boards.
There’s just something nice about the glide, but you can still get them critical because they are quite narrow.
Reckon the rise of accounts like 'Pulse Surf' and footage of Margo resurfacing from that era is also feeding into it as well?
Yeah, and like I said, I started this 18 months or almost two years ago, and it’s just the timing of it, everyone’s not reminiscing, but you’re trying to learn from your past so people are looking back and looking back at Margo, and Powelly. I dunno, it’d be a good experiment to look at guys like Slater who’s been through the whole eighties, nineties, and noughties and see where you think he was surfing the best [laughs].
That’s a good point. I think a lot of people would argue he surfed better when he was on the longer CIs when he was on his world title runs.
Hats off to him. He always pushes the boundary. He almost went too narrow and too rockered and then he went to the other extreme. So I haven’t done anything new, I guess. I dunno, in my eyes, there’s nothing better than just seeing that power and glide and that critical surfing all come together.
You’ve got the shortboard version in the works, but I’ve also noticed you’ve made a couple of eight footers for Noa. Tell me about those.
I think he knew we were going to be locked in Australia for a while, so he’s looking at surfing some big paddle-in waves and just wants to have boards ready.
Do you think after almost two years of development you’ve hit the sweet spot with this design, or will the boards continue to get narrower and longer?
I guess they will always keep evolving. I call it The Hammer model – the nineties one, so I’ve been doing those and his contemporary shortboards. But it’s funny, his shortboards have gone from 6’0 and 6’1 to the last few months 6’2 is sort of his standard board now and he’s liking the nineties model in the 6’2 and 6’3. So I guess it has influenced what he has been riding and he’s liking the longer rail lines.
Even for airs, I think just having more of a stable platform for landing, I could be wrong, but getting the lift as well and maybe he’s getting bigger and stronger as well. I think bigger boards, off the mark they are slower, but then you can generate more speed on a bigger board I reckon so that’s what Noa’s liking.
How has the input from Noa influenced you, and what’s it like having one of the best freesurfers in the world as your test pilot?
Yeah well, sometimes I hear, "These are all awesome," [laughs] and I think that he’s saying it just to be nice but he means it.