A few thoughts on evolution and surfboard design

blindboy
Surfpolitik

977019-evolution-metal-sign_1.jpgIn the past, when we thought about the surfboard design process, we imagined a shaper, perhaps with a surfer standing alongside, confronting a block-like foam blank with nothing more than a few plywood templates, some basic tools, imagination and experience. These days we probably imagine the same shaper, slightly greyer and longer in the tooth, bent over a computer design program carefully adjusting the various parameters to achieve, let's be honest here, a superior result.

At this stage of development that cannot really be considered in any way controversial. Computer design, linked to modern shaping machines, produces boards that are not only more accurate and consistent with the designer's original intentions, but boards with a degree of sophistication in every curve that few, if any, hand shapers could consistently achieve. Yet it is worth remembering that the computer, beyond smoothing some curves, plays no real role in the design process.

Surfboards are complex objects that have to function in a wide variety of conditions. Boards may be designed for a particular range of wave sizes and shapes but, at the consumer end of the market, that range can be quite broad. The hydrodynamics, beyond a basic analysis, quickly become far too complex to be of much practical use and if anyone has developed software that can be used to design boards or model surfboard performance, they are keeping quiet about it.

Historically ordinary surfers often had direct contact with a shaper and so could directly contribute to the design of their own board. Some shapers still offer this service but the vast majority of boards sold these days are standardised products from which the consumer, with expert advice if they are lucky, simply selects from the several hundred ranked along the rack in the showroom. It would be easy to conclude from this that we mere consumers are now almost totally excluded from the design process, but this is not true.

If we think back to those images of surfboard designers at work they represent only one part of the process. The second part is carried out by us, the consumers. To understand how this occurs we can draw a parallel with the evolutionary process of natural selection. Natural selection is the process by which the different reproductive rates of individuals in a population shape the genetic composition of that population. Those best suited to the environment leave more offspring so that their characteristics become more widespread. New characteristics constantly arise by mutation to feed this process and changing environments, from time to time, shift the selective pressures. 

If this seems a long way from surfboard design, it is only because historically we have tended to over-emphasise the theoretical aspects of design, the thought processes of the surfers and shapers, the "mutations" if you like, and under-estimate the selective process that follows their ideas. For example, there were numerous versions of surfboards with three fins before the thruster, but they did not survive. Surfers tried them, some perhaps made several versions but ultimately they failed to "breed" in the sense of instigating numerous copies with variations.

The thruster, on the other hand, almost immediately spawned a wide variety of copies with slight modifications as different shapers and surfers developed their own variations on the basic design. The selective pressure of performance then could act on this wide variety to select the most successful. Surfers and designers could see which variants performed best and made more boards like them. So successful surfboards, like successful organisms, leave more "offspring" in the following generation and the characteristics that made them successful, become more widespread. The new design ideas that constantly emerge act like "mutations" and are immediately subject to the same selective pressure. Each generation of surfboards has been exposed to the same process so that the designs have become more and more refined over time.

The shapers responsible for the more successful variations in each generation may claim that it it was their clever theoretical analysis that created the improvement and, in any individual case that may or may not be so, but from the overall perspective it simply doesn't matter. The results are the same whether the designer's logic was sound or it was pure luck. All that matters is that some favourable variations arise. The critical difference between successful designers and the others then is much more likely to rest in their close attention to the feedback they receive, either by surfing their own boards, watching others surf them or listening closely to their team riders. In this way they become part of the selective process. 

This process of consumer selection then is every bit as important as the initial design process. It operates, not only at the cutting edge, but in every segment of the market. The boards we surf now are the product of decades of these processes constantly improving their performance and there is, no doubt, much further improvement to come. So choose your boards carefully. You have a role to play in that process. //blindboy

Comments

cory's picture
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cory Tuesday, 28 Apr 2015 at 4:29pm

Great story Blindboy. Unfortunately the majority of surfers know less about their equipment now than when I started shaping nearly 25 years ago. Many surf shops stock surfboards to try and gain credibility but fail to employ knowledgeable staff that can clearly communicate to customers, understand their needs and confidently recommend the right board. There are so many good shapers in Australia doing great work I am always disappointed when I see surfers on the wrong board because they like the logo or their favorite surfer rides it. Begin a relationship with a shaper and you will learn so much about your board as well as improve your surfing!

Blowin's picture
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Blowin Tuesday, 28 Apr 2015 at 6:54pm

Nice work Blindboy.

Jenoh's picture
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Jenoh Saturday, 21 Jul 2018 at 11:09am

Yeah nice work! So true that new surfers just grab a board off the rack because of the name. But that board will go on craigslist and they will be off to buy another board that is wrong for them.

freeride76's picture
freeride76's picture
freeride76 Tuesday, 28 Apr 2015 at 7:42pm

A paragraph about the role of the media and advertising in terms of manufacturing consent and determining what designs got mass exposure would have been appropriate, even if it did dilute the purity of your premise.

Easy to argue that the role of advertising in determining what are the acceptable designs has been a far greater selective pressure than consumer feedback. Even to this day.
Anyone remember Slater and the Potato chips?

blindboy's picture
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blindboy Tuesday, 28 Apr 2015 at 7:45pm

I think you are right freeride. Progress is not uniform and can be influenced by other factors such as advertising but in the long run the trend is clearly to more sophisticated equipment and I would still maintain that consumer feedback is integral to progress.

spidermonkey's picture
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spidermonkey Tuesday, 28 Apr 2015 at 8:12pm

Surfboards made for the individual surfer and specific conditions/wave.generic models will always be a compromise.Surfboards are or should be as diverse as the individual and the wave.Amasing possibilities.computer design i think wil be huge advance.

Halfscousehalfcockneyfullaussie's picture
Halfscousehalfcockneyfullaussie's picture
Halfscousehalfc... Tuesday, 28 Apr 2015 at 8:24pm

Ok blind boy, I want a quad bat tail or am I succombing to trend..... And can anybody in swellnet land tell me if bat tails are any good?

blindboy's picture
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blindboy Tuesday, 28 Apr 2015 at 8:29pm

Never tried one scouser but Stu may have some insight.

black-duck's picture
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black-duck Tuesday, 28 Apr 2015 at 11:19pm

Darwin would be boning up blindboy.

brutus's picture
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brutus Wednesday, 29 Apr 2015 at 9:34am

good article BB....but do have a few comments.

firstly there is a big difference between a shaper and a shaper/designer. Shapers just replicate and tinker with the Status Quo...designers actually work outside the Status Quo looking for design break thrus.......as Cory said...there are a lot of good shapers in Australia....I agree,but very few designers.

A shaper who is not a designer , is very limited in what he can deliver to a customer from a design perspective....can deliver slight variations on the Staus Quo....

BB when you talk about the thruster as a design.....I see 3 fins being popularized by Simon but were the design break thrus in the hull shape???

there is a big difference in Hull design and what the Hull is made of...or what fins go where!

Designers logic or pure luck....there is no logic...but a lot of design myths and standard formulas that are accepted by the market......

every now and then a shaper /designer makes a happy design mistake......or goes completely outside the current design parameters and finds a quantum leap in performance.....and then spends a lifetime trying to work it out.....why it works as it does not fit into any current design formulas.......

Just because a guy is a good shaper.....does not mean he can make a better designed board than a reputable shapers model out of Asia ......or models made by other shapers...

wingnut2443's picture
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wingnut2443 Wednesday, 29 Apr 2015 at 12:01pm

Interesting take on things BB.

While advertising, and well let's go further and say "marketing" (i.e. professional endorsement, winning events on board X or Y, social media, fluff and hype, etc.) does influence consumers, the reality is poor design fades away as the next "best thing" comes along ... only functional design remains. The example of the 90's potato chip boards is a great example of this "process" of ah ... evolution :)

The 'gap' for my mind, is between the performance level of the professional surfer and the every day joe. The design that works at the top end, rarely converts to a useable function for the average joe due to his or her ability and experience.

Brutus, I like your analysis of the shaper vs designer. I lost faith in the shaper / surfer relationship many years ago after having custom board after board that was not made with the design elements we had discussed. I tried several shapers, tried building the relationship, including some well known industry veterans. I went down the "off the rack" path and scoured the shops for what I wanted, stumbled onto a gem, others filled the gaps in the quiver. I then discovered the DIY option and have since designed my own using technology, and have now been able to feel for myself the outcome of my design.

How does someone like me fit into your "evolution" model BB? I'd guess I am a very small minority? Having said that, I have been asked by several people to make boards for them ... I decline, because quite frankly I struggle to make and keep up with my own needs. That said, I have offered to all of them and then some to show them the design software, the process and to take them through designing their own, and in each case the response echoes a familiar tone of "it's too hard, I don't know or how, I just want to pay you to do it" ...

I wonder therefore if the "evolution" is being held back by a lack of interest? A simple comfort in the status quo of picking a board of the rack and surf it, not knowing what how or why it does or does not work?

clif's picture
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clif Wednesday, 29 Apr 2015 at 12:11pm

"Yet it is worth remembering that the computer, beyond smoothing some curves, plays no real role in the design process."

Putting his repugnant affiliation with the Nazi party aside for a brief moment in time (pun intended; see what I did there with Being and Time?), I think you will find that Martin Heidegger had a point when he said technology is not simply an instrument/tool but becomes part of how we think and imagine and thus the world and associated possibilities (rather than others) comes forth to us- including surfboards and what they can do, body mechanics of riding waves, attitudes towards surfing, and the understanding of waves (all elements of design).

Given this, the shaping machine and computer and software have a very real role in the design process.

Ok ... I have had too many espressos this morning lol

brutus's picture
brutus's picture
brutus Wednesday, 29 Apr 2015 at 12:37pm

heres one for ya's...

Does a designer use technology to enhance design performance?

OR

Does a designer design first and use technology to enhance performance??

memlasurf's picture
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memlasurf Wednesday, 29 Apr 2015 at 1:05pm

Both without doubt.

Brodey Sheppard's picture
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Brodey Sheppard Thursday, 28 Jun 2018 at 9:33pm

Yes! Technology is 100% used in modern board design in CAD see: https://www.surfnation.com.au/blogs/news/surf-surfboard-history-1778-to-... right at the bottom of this article, it mentions it.

In my CAD class at school, we played around with boats in the water and emulating weight and buoyancy on water, and the flow of water around it. Surfboard design is done very similarly to this.

Hopefully, they don't mind me posting a link but explains a little more.

clif's picture
clif's picture
clif Wednesday, 29 Apr 2015 at 12:48pm

Does technology advance by using the humanity?

OR

Are design, designer, technology, and performance so woven together you cannot determine the cause and effect scenario?

My guess is that the planer made love to you during some of your shaping experiences, Brutus. To the point that you had an emotional connection to one or two planers :-)

brutus's picture
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brutus Wednesday, 29 Apr 2015 at 2:54pm

haha...I hated those planers...blew my arm out and basically was and still am a shitty shaper....design OK...

as for did the technology come first or the design........I now believe after having done both.....I design and use the tech to enhance design.....hehe

wellymon's picture
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wellymon Wednesday, 29 Apr 2015 at 6:08pm

"blew my arm out and basically was and still am a shitty shaper"

Classic call Brutus, hey at least your honest.
A good mate of mine shaped and worked with you France awhile back, he said the same thing...;)

cory's picture
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cory Saturday, 2 May 2015 at 9:36am

i think your greatest attribute Brutus is believing in your designs and not being scared to follow your own path.... Not many shapers or designers can say that! At some point in time shapers/designers have to make a call to either commit or jump back on the bandwagon which is a shame.

blindboy's picture
blindboy's picture
blindboy Wednesday, 29 Apr 2015 at 4:09pm

As I said in the piece as far as I am aware the current software has no design capability. Yes clif it's availability influences design by creating more options but it cannot help the designer decide which is better.
wingnut, design progresses in many directions, not just at the elite edge. Your choice of board influences the design process of THAT type of board. For example, there is a wide range of designs aimed at the older, less fit surfer.

brutus you would probably have to ask Simon exactly what else he changed in that initial thruster design. I suspect you are right and the hull changed. Obviously one of the design features was that the three fins allowed a wider tail than a single fin, so there were multiple changes. What is important from my perspective though is what happened next when dozens of shapers and designers started making their own versions with slight alterations which created the opportunity for the selective pressure of performance to act on them.

freeride76's picture
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freeride76 Wednesday, 29 Apr 2015 at 4:24pm

"As I said in the piece as far as I am aware the current software has no design capability. Yes clif it's availability influences design by creating more options but it cannot help the designer decide which is better."

I think I agree with Clif in that the very fact of the technology changes the way the process is imagined and performed. It's not a neutral/agnostic process at all.

blindboy's picture
blindboy's picture
blindboy Wednesday, 29 Apr 2015 at 4:40pm

Not sure what you are getting at there freeride. My point is that no software will design a board from performance specifications. You cannot enter data about the waves to be ridden or the surfer who will be riding them and get a design.....unless it has already been created by a human and stored in memory. I am happy to be corrected on this if you know of such software.

clif's picture
clif's picture
clif Wednesday, 29 Apr 2015 at 7:21pm

No bb, missing the point. Technology is a way of thinking and doing and happening not just a tool used by humans nor necessarily independent of them (although this is happening).

E.g. a hammer brings forth trees and wood in a particular way as "timber" to build with and thus shaping the world influencing design of dwellings, cities, social life, etc.

blindboy's picture
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blindboy Wednesday, 29 Apr 2015 at 7:23pm

Sorry clif I acknowledged that technology influences the way humans design surfboards. I am not clear how what you are saying differs in any substantial way from that.

wingnut2443's picture
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wingnut2443 Friday, 1 May 2015 at 8:33am

Design and technology and their inter related nature, from a novice designer ...

When I started using computer design software (AKU Shaper) I found it interesting that putting concave into a design actually increased the volume of the board. Yeah, get ya head around that!

Obviously, a manual process would be removing foam, and hence lowers volume. But, with the software, you pull down the rail edge to create the concave (i.e. rail edge lower than the stringer, hence concave) and in doing so, it added foam to the rail and thus increased volume. Not substantial, but, the converse of how my mind thought about it up until that point.

I then went back and reviewed a couple of previous boards I had made. At the time of putting those boards into the software, I was unsure of how accurate the cutting process would be, and so had left out any bottom contours (i.e. design and cut as flat), so I had to manually shape them in myself from the cut blank. It then dawned on me, by doing that, I had actually flattened the rocker of those first couple of boards, and hence have altered the design from the computer cut rocker. Sure, rail rocker was the same, but at the stringer, it was changed, essentially by the depth of the concave at the various points along the stringer.

This then got me thinking about the design process and how at the computer I needed to be thinking about the end outcome. Now, having total confidence in the amazing accuracy of the computer design and cut process, I can design within a bees dick of what I want in terms of all elements (i.e. concave location, depth, shape, and well all other aspect too like rail shape, foil, etc.) ... I am then very aware of finishing off the cut blank so as to minimise any changes.

This has lead me to find nuisances in achieving consistency when finishing the blank say around the tail, and in turn, the 12" off tail width, impact on fin placement, etc.

I would therefore say design and technology for me are symbiotic.

memlasurf's picture
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memlasurf Saturday, 2 May 2015 at 11:21am

Love this Wingnut. In my profession I was originally (back in the early 90's) against computers as it was all command line geek stuff (I failed computer Fortan programming 4 times in the early 80's- they passed me in the end to get rid of me) however once Apple got the GUI up and running and Windoz followed I was all over it. Revolutionised the industry to extent that no one draws by hand now. I still love sketching and drawing but not technical drafting or model making by hand (laborious and boring). The computer is amazing even more so in the 3D realm as you have described. Probably for surfboards the next frontier would be Hydrodynamics and flow which is well out of my league (I failed form 4 maths, sorry year 10) however I am sure there are some really smart hydro engineers out there who have the programs to do it. My shaper is with you on trying to do as much on the computer as possible as he tells me it takes a while to set up so you might as well get as much out of it as possible while it is all in the jig.

brutus's picture
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brutus Saturday, 2 May 2015 at 10:01am

I don't design on a computer...can't even open a program...I use programmers that are really good surfers and shapers and have the 3DS down to an art form.......

I like to take a magic board...copy it....then cut the bd and I still use my gut (very big these days!) feeling to look at the preshape and then tinker with the shape until I am happy with it....then make the adjustments after spending an hour or so scratching away to the shape that I am happy with.

I have noticed that having kept my eye on the actually shaping and not the 3DS virtual shaping room.......other shapers have now lost their eye......and are now programmers...hmmmm...different strokes for different folks...hehe

mick63's picture
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mick63 Saturday, 2 May 2015 at 12:21pm

Blindboy said " brutus you would probably have to ask Simon exactly what else he changed in that initial thruster design. I suspect you are right and the hull changed. Obviously one of the design features was that the three fins allowed a wider tail than a single fin"

It's interesting that when ever the discussion of the thruster comes up, often the only thing mentioned is that Simon Anderson put three fins on and that changed everything. What is less often mentioned is that he put three fins on a template similar to Geoff McCoys no nose design. That was the first design change around the time, before that the norm was wide point forward which could be why the original 3 fin designs didn't really work or become popular. I vaguely remember an article in which Simon Anderson said that was the template he used. Similarly with channels the idea is that it flattens out the rocker through the channels = faster bottom shape, how about they also act as a corrugation and may have an affect of stiffening the rocker so that it doesn't flex as much on a bottom turn. I don't know if this is the case, but I have often heard others say that a board flexes through a turn so by reducing that flex that might give a bit more projection through a turn and as a result a bit more down the line speed.

d3ssy's picture
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d3ssy Sunday, 3 May 2015 at 4:53pm

I'd like to make an observation on the state of board design in the surf industry. The premise to my comment is that I am a computational designer and digital fabrication consultant for the design, architecture and construction industry working very closely with fabricators and machines ranging from laser, plasma and water jet cutters to 5-axis routers and 6-axis CNC robotic arms for the production and fabrication of complex custom components.

There is an interesting point you make Blindboy, which is to do with the influence of computer controlled machines (mainly 3 and 5 axis CNC routers) and the complexity of hydrodynamic simulation.

The shaper is an artisan. As such, the profession is passed down the generations by apprenticeship and on-the-job experience with little technical aspects being documented along the way in order to preserve the creative secrets which have taken years to evolve through, as you point out, a process of mutation and natural selection within the consumer market.

Today, however, it is evident that there is an ever increasing role played by the computer and computer controlled industrial processes in the manufacturing industries (the most advanced being aerospace, and on a consumer level car manufacturing industry).

Slowly, but inevitably, the computer, the designer, the machine and the industrial process are being merged into a fluid feedback loop involving creativity and industrial efficiency that augments the possibilities of design in many industries.

There are very accessible tools that would allow a "modern" shaper to integrate his/her formal and geometric vocabulary, evolved through years of hands on experience, into a computational design process that would feed back into the form finding process itself. An example could be a feedback loop of input shape - hydrodynamic simulation - shape refinement - output to machine - field testing - refinement - etc.. Such tools are not too complex or inaccessible. They simply have not been adopted in the boutique surf shaping industry perhaps due to lack of formal education, but also because of the persistent idea that machines and computers do not belong in artisanal manufacturing processes.

What computational design processes offer is not simply the time savings of an accurate machine shaping a piece of foam more quickly. Rather, they offer designers access to an iterative design process through which to explore and evaluate numerous design iterations quickly and efficiently as well as being able to navigate an otherwise impossibly vast field of potential design solutions. To speak of a more advanced example, even genetic algorithms could be employed in order to explore virtual evolutionary simulations of different board shapes in relation to their hydrodynamic performance.

This is what I imagine to be the potential future of surf board shaping as the new generation of computer savvy designers grows up in an evermore computationally creative society in a manufacturing context where industrial processes undergo a paradigm shift from mass production to mass customisation.

This is not sci-fi. It is the now of industrial manufacturing. To quote Stewart Brand, "Once a new technology starts rolling, if you’re not part of the steamroller, you’re part of the road”. It is up to the surf shaping industry as a whole and new shapers as individuals to evolve and embrace the potentials of new technology or risk becoming that road!

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blindboy Sunday, 3 May 2015 at 7:24pm

Interesting d3ssy but I am not sure that the hydrodynamic simulations are sophisticated enough just yet to be of assistance. This might be able to be achieved by an evolutionary process but it would be the reverse of the process I have described where the variety was in the hydrodynamic models and the selective pressure was the agreement between their predictions and the actual board performance.

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d3ssy Monday, 4 May 2015 at 10:46am

blindboy, perhaps this is true within the surf board shaping industry itself. But fluid dynamic simulations are extremely sophisticated. Essentially, surfboards are complex aerofoils as are the fins (which themselves contribute to performance perhaps even more so than the over all shape of the board). Therefore, a parallel could be drawn to high performance aircraft and race boat design and manufacturing. The simulation tools and engineering used in one industry are totally applicable to the surf board shaping industry---if you can evaluate the design and performance of a Lockheed Martin F-35 before taking off in one, you can do the same before catching the first wave with a new board design (of course there are scales of economy involved! but I only mean this from a scientific and theoretical standpoint).

Again, I believe these techniques are currently not applied in the shaping industry due to the distance between the surf board shaping industry from the formal education fields of material science and engineering. However, the gap is slowly closing due to the exponential increase in computing power and the accessibility of advanced software. It's only a matter of time! ;)

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blindboy Monday, 4 May 2015 at 1:48pm

Quite possibly d3ssy though the medium a surfboard is moving on is more complex and dynamic than the examples you give. Even if the software can simulate the performance of a design there is still a further step to being able to come up with the design in the first place.

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d3ssy Monday, 4 May 2015 at 2:53pm

Totally agree! It needs to be a fully integrated process of artisanal experience and technological innovation. Digital craft at it's best! ;)

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brutus Monday, 4 May 2015 at 6:20pm

Ok that's the best explanation I've ever read...d3ssy,you have changed the way I look at design programs and what the future holds......I am searching for a Uni that contacted me to work on getting the artisan info into a program where they ccould do wave simulations...to be honest I thought it was seppo wank.....having read your post.....I am in and really want to work on the next generation of design tools......

the trialing and erroring that we currently do needs to be channeled ...thanx

d3ssy's picture
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d3ssy Tuesday, 5 May 2015 at 11:32am

That's great to hear, brutus.

Good luck in your research! I would definitely be interested in hearing more about it once you get some experimentation going! Take a look at the parametric design tools that are already out there. The most accessible of which is Rhinoceros and Grasshopper in my opinion. Albeit not the most advanced, it is definitely the most flexible and very appropriate for design research, experimentation, prototyping and developing so called parametric design-to-production pipelines.

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blindboy Monday, 4 May 2015 at 6:32pm

Pretty exciting stuff brutus if you can get in on the first wave of the technology!

woohcs's picture
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woohcs Monday, 4 May 2015 at 7:04pm

d3essy, i know very little of the computing power of such programs, but, with enough early research and data from shapers could you forsee a time where a shaper is literally no longer involved??
e.g. enter the correct data-(more than just basic height and weight)- ageing surfer slightly overweight for height/young fit grom, a skill level factor from 0 to 100(0 being never surfed, 100 being kelly) type and size of waves(maybe even being coast and beach specific), regular or goofy stance, degree of front to back footedness...

and hey presto! a board is spat out ready to be finished by someone in thailand/china/Aus/US,that is even more custom than could/would be available now.

cory's picture
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cory Monday, 4 May 2015 at 9:17pm

Unfortunately Woohcs that is what a lot of the surfing population want and more specifically surf shops. As the surfboard trade is only ever a glorified hobby business people often show little respect to those that work in it. Contrary to popular belief all the skilled craftsman working on boards are just making ends meat to pay the bills while their craftsmanship provides endless joy to so many people. surfboards are a complex piece of equipment and is best sourced from passionate craftsmen who dedicate their life to the next board being the greatest they have created. If the future allows it I would like to see the assistance of computerised shaping machines remain in the hands of dedicated shapers NOT mass produced by faceless production workers in a cheap labour country. That is when you see surfboard design move forward.

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d3ssy Tuesday, 5 May 2015 at 11:34am

cory wrote: computerised shaping machines remain in the hands of dedicated shapers...That is when you see surfboard design move forward.

cory, you hit the nail on the head there!

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blindboy Tuesday, 5 May 2015 at 7:18pm

woohcs I think there is the possibility down the track of design software that would take data directly from sensors in the board itself and use it to analyse its performance and.....big step......improve the design. If that happens then the traditional shaper/designer is out of the picture. I am not suggesting that this would be a good idea only that it might be possible.

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cory Tuesday, 5 May 2015 at 9:16pm

I like the idea Blindboy but in my experience sometimes dents or wear and tear is related to the negative aspects of the boards design. For example if the board is lacking enough rocker or release the surfer has to apply more pressure to try and get the board to go where he wants it to go. If a high tech company hard the money they could develop a body scanning machine, pressure pads to place on a persons surfboard to record pressure and a surfboard scanning machine (although there could be coppyright issues?). Then they could develop a computer program using a bunch of algorithms to process all of this information... OR... They could simply develop a relationship with a shaper! What makes more sense???

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blindboy Tuesday, 5 May 2015 at 9:32pm

I think we are a long way from this happening cory, one or two decades perhaps, but if you think about the Rip Curl watch which logs some data about the surfing of the person wearing it then it is clear people are already thinking along these lines. I think that a manufacturer would place sensors in their team riders boards and collect the data that way. The first phase would see human designers using the data to help analyse subtle design differences. The data could also be used to help develop the performance simulation software d3ssy was talking about. From there you could go to an automated design process.by generating random small variations in design and testing them with the simulation software. Expensive? Hard to say but I would be very surprised if this whole scenario hasn't already been considered by some of the larger players.

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cory Tuesday, 5 May 2015 at 10:27pm

Hey Blindboy... Sorry mate but I was being sarcastic. Why would you spend all of that money and kill a truly unique trade just to present it like a t shirt - S, M, L, XL. I have been making boards for nearly 25 years and I can watch a person surf and see the problems they are having with their craft. The next step is a conversation with the customer to breakdown that part of the board that needs attention and explain what changes I will make to their next board... What do people have to pay extra for this? Nothing, it's my job. So rather than keeping me and my glassers employed your proposal would have a bunch of engineers sitting around a table, another bunch of tradesmen as well as computer engineers and scientists to achieve the same result. See what I am getting at? Sorry for the sarcasm but I have had to so many people outside the surfboard industry think along the same lines. You know BASE employed a engineer from the car industry who was going to automate things and improve surfboards in every facet. My memory may be a little foggy but I know Brutus can shed some light on the story cause he spotted the guys lack of knowledge and extensive waste of money....

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blindboy Wednesday, 6 May 2015 at 3:16pm

cory I don't disagree with the value of what you do but the vast majority of boards, unless I am seriously mistaken, are no longer designed the way you describe. People go into a surf shop and buy straight off the rack. Most have no interest in the design process and rely on branding and the advice they receive in the shop. Sadly the custom board is increasingly a niche market. It will probably survive that way for a long time to come but it is hard to see it ever regaining its former position in the market.

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brutus Wednesday, 6 May 2015 at 3:43pm

hey BB...I think the opposite....that there is a huge increase in people wanting custom bds.

Yes there is still a lot of people buying the Big brands.....which you can only get stock designs and stock dimensions.......I think a lot of people who have never worked with a shaper to get the best bd of their life (magic)....and been part of the design process....is making a comeback....all shapers I know are flatout in Japan/France/USA ,and from what I see .....we grew up trying to get a magic s/bds...I still have to make myself the best bd of my life....or its in the S/H rack quick......

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blindboy Wednesday, 6 May 2015 at 5:24pm

Good to hear that brutus.

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cory Wednesday, 6 May 2015 at 6:58pm

Your description of the surfboard market is very accurate Blindboy and that is the problem. I see a lot of people riding the wrong equipment because they follow their idols, like the sticker or simply follow their mates. Don't get me wrong I am busy as I want to be but I am genuinely concerned for the majority of the surfing population that could be surfing a lot better if they took the time to communicate with the person responsible for making their board. The surfer then learns about what design elements he likes in his surfboard and he will rarely have another bad performing board. The message behind everything I have written is about encouraging surfers to talk to shapers... Shapers can talk about boards all day and night! I would also compliment Swellnet for providing stories like yours cause it creates discussion which is great.

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memlasurf Tuesday, 5 May 2015 at 9:06pm

Yes and I think we all have to agree surfing is only ever going to be a fringe sport compared to tennis, footy, etc. so the scales of economy need to be available to the dedicated shapers who develop and refine designs. Another related issue is the money in shaping; there isn't any. Shaping unfortunately was a far more lucrative business 20 years ago than today and I get the feeling real dedicated shaper numbers may dwindle into the future (why would you do it unless you absolutely loved it). Will shapers of the future be more designers working with the software particularly if is getting increasingly user friendly (compare the first version of ACAD to what is available today)? Improved education, easy access to easier to use software, cheaper more powerful computers, all contribute to the dissemination and use of the technology. Maybe this is the beginnings of a paradigm shift in the industry? Lets hope the people involved can make more money out of it and so attract lots of talent (as it used to once) to the industry and produce better designs and boards.

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velocityjohnno Tuesday, 5 May 2015 at 9:40pm

To take a slightly different tangent on it, as long as a shaper/glasser/sander/finisher has ownership of their means of production, they should endure. With technological change, this gives the craftsperson the ability to own a far more effective and productive 'means of production'. Ideally your factory is automated; perhaps you sit at a design desk on the mezzanine and watch the machines build your boards as you design them by CAD above. Or even use hydrodynamic programs to model changes... I would think as the technology filters down, each shaper will have their CAD, their CNC and ideally the cost of production can be filtered right down to the cost of materials and energy inputs.

It is then up to the market to reward designs on their merit and applicability. It is the creative control of individual design, and tailoring that to surfers, that make the role. This raw IP becomes one's stock-in-trade. (Liable to rip-off, I am sure).

In this way, Australian based shapers would be able to compete with the mass manufacturing overseas, so long as the raw materials can be created for a similar price. (The bottleneck being laminating and finishing, which still require deft craftsman's hands). And here, a model like that of Henry Ford (vertical ownership of production: ie, you make your own blanks, glass, plugs, resins, fins then refine them) would guarantee the most independence, and the most competitiveness. It's the opposite of today's JIT world.

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freeride76 Wednesday, 6 May 2015 at 7:07pm

I've spent the last week talking to shaper/designers all over Byron Bay. All this is happening as we speak.

Big uptick in demand for custom boards is a reality in the marketplace.

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brutus Thursday, 7 May 2015 at 1:15pm

FR76...yeah its a world wide reality for the s/bd makers....I think a lot of backyarders who used to do average bds at cost plus the Asian popouts....

I think now any good established shaper/designer ....who has had a reality check with his business model of 10 years or more......is now in a great position to make smaller amounts of bds...no teams...no marketing expenditure....do 10 pw service ya customer to da max.....and its all good!

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surfingbymyself Thursday, 7 May 2015 at 12:19pm

I'm a little confused about my experience with new technology, 'new' shapes and shaper interaction so I'm not sure it'll add anything to the worthwhile posts above, but it may be grist to someone's mill so I'll throw it out there anyway. Firstly, I'm an aeronautical engineer and have always thought that fins were a woefully underdone area of surfboard design, given that they were generally, until semi-recently, based on/or similar to aerofoils that were developed in the 30s and significantly less efficient than later generation aerofoils. Added to that was knowledge that FCS employ industrial designers (perhaps not exclusively) to create new fins, since colour is much more important than shape for sales and I have long held skepticism that surfboard design was as advanced as it could be given all we know about fluid flow.
Anyway, that tangent aside, here's my experience with design and shaper interaction, I think the ideal of having a local shaper who you build a relationship with is worthy, but somewhat idealistic for many of us and probably won't contribute to 'advances' in board design since not every shaper wants to or is able to try 'new' shapes or technologies. I'm 6'5 and around 100kgs. I paddle very well (so can get away with less volume than it would appear) and crease/snap boards at a rate that is not sustainable. This has been the case with heavy glass PU customs from a local 4x world champ, PU boards off the rack from big established shapers on the gold coast and with fibre flex boards from a northern beaches shaper, (both custom and off the rack).
3 years ago, I came across an 'integrated epoxy' technology from a shaper at the south end of the goldy (last I saw, I think he has actually been experimenting with inbuilt sensors for data collection). These boards were described as stronger and more durable than PU and in terms of resistance to bumps and knocks, they certainly seemed to be. Over about 2.5 years, I owned 6 of these boards in 3 shapes and creased 4 of them. My initial engagement with the shaper was limited to email, but very positive (he replaced a creased board that happened after 6 surfs and in 2ft slop), but in terms of 'building a relationship', well maybe I'm socially r-tarded cause I struggled, I tried to discuss some of the less standard shapes (tomo like) he had avail and really got very little useful insight or info from him. That said, I enjoyed the boards, particularly the tomo-like ones so persisted, however after creasing the fourth one, which was the third in 4 months and asking questions that didn't yield convincing answers, I've ended up on firewire tomos and am surfing better than I ever have and having more fun in the water. I know that was my experience only, but so much for engaging with a shaper.
From here, for me to contribute to what I consider to be 'advances' in board design, I really need to keep getting firewires off the rack, sure I could go on tomo's custom list, but I'm not convinced a custom based on a form and email interaction actually yields much in terms of the idealised custom experience or is all that different to buying a firewire from a local surf shop, maybe more revenue to shaper direct I guess?

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brutus Thursday, 7 May 2015 at 1:08pm

ahh surfingbymyself...you have just had a classic encounter with a shaper but not designer.

Shapers who rely on technology and that are very limited in their design understanding....will have problems when they have to design a custom for you ,as you are outside the parameters of most peoples design capabilities.....

I think I said it somewhere....that good surfer/shaper/designers......are usually the best to order a board off.....sonds like you still had gragile bds and not much design input.

Fins ...I agree a 100% that its very primitive era we are currently experiencing.....all flashy colors ,pro models (done by their respective shapers) glossy catalogues....no R&D........even the double foiled 70/30 side fins came from sailboarding.....

I use C-drives in all my bds and we use them in Tow bds ,shortboards and Noah J uses double foiled quad C-drives for his Jaws/Waimea......so much to do onthese designs especially for big guys!

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surfingbymyself Thursday, 7 May 2015 at 1:36pm

brutus, yes, in retrospect, shaper vs designer seems accurate.

wholeheartedly agree that more work needs to be done for the larger gents! as a small example, all of my fcs fins crack around the base of the tab (both fcs1 and 2) and the whole 85kg+ range seems like bullshit too, that a much bigger range than any of the others.

Double foil is a classic example of what I'm talking about. Dual camber aerofoil patterns with published and validated lift and drag characteristics have been avail since the 50s at least and known to be significantly more efficient than the single camber shapes of fins, yet to my knowledge, they've only made their way into mainstream fins in the last decade.

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blindboy Thursday, 7 May 2015 at 1:43pm

it is worth noting that the only real research on fin design for surfboards I am aware of was carried out at the instigation of Bill McCausland one of the founders of FCS....and a pretty damn good surfer in his day!

http://www.metropolismag.com/August-2006/The-Science-of-Surfing/

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surfingbymyself Thursday, 7 May 2015 at 2:02pm

thanks for the link bb, I rode h2s for a while, but was never sure how much of the marketing hype about 'hydrodynamic' research was real.

Given that fins are just foils moving through fluid though, I've always been surprised that more of the available understanding of aerofoils hasn't 'flowed' into fin design, it's nice that fcs have been doing some research but it seems to me that there's a whole lot of fluid/foil interaction knowledge out there that hasn't made its way into fin design. maybe it has and I'm not aware, I'm much much less exposed to the industry than people like yourself or brutus, and often accused of excess pessimism and skepticism. Maybe also, like h2s, any fin that deviates even slightly from established outlines will fail to sell to the conservative (and often science-skeptic) typical consumer. Maybe sometimes too, improved performance equals a feel that people are not used to and so gets rejected. Raises an interesting (to my mind anyway) question about what 'better/improved' means?

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memlasurf Thursday, 7 May 2015 at 2:27pm

SBM try the C drives as Brutus mentioned, amazingly fast and ultra drivey great for long walls like Bells, Winki and those on the Bukit in Bali. Not as fluid top to bottom on shorter sharper beachies where the standard style fins are better in my opinion (more predicable in rapid direction changes). I have both and use both depending on the wave and board I am riding. The guys are super helpful and they are worth every cent. Make sure you get the right size for you as they can be either stiff if too big or not drive enough if too small.

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surfingbymyself Thursday, 7 May 2015 at 2:31pm

Thanks memlasurf, I sent them an email earlier actually with questions re sizing, keen to try them. Based on your comments though and my local conditions, which are mostly single turn closeouts, they may not be my daily fin. Nonetheless, keen to try so I'll see what the c-drive guys recommend.

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memlasurf Thursday, 7 May 2015 at 2:40pm

No worries the do returns if they are too big or small as well. Great guys.

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blindboy Thursday, 7 May 2015 at 5:10pm

Going back to your original post, the issue of boards breaking and being damaged is one which interests me. I find it hard to think of another consumer product which is likely to completely fail in a short period of time under conditions of normal use without any obligation on the manufacturer. This is not to suggest, as someone even more cynical than me might, that manufacturers have no incentive to solve the problem since it adds to their business. A good step forward would be the development of common guidelines so that boards could be graded and labelled for their durability. From ONE being pro biscuit, will dent at a glance and break at a hard word to FIVE glassed with multiple layers of chop strand will withstand being run over by small vehicle.......or something like that

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memlasurf Thursday, 7 May 2015 at 5:24pm

Be careful what you wish for BB as you would then get Standards Australia involved and could end up with Tactile Indicator buttons for the visually impaired to surf down 1:14 sloped waves with .9m high handrails each side, ensuring the diameter of the handrail is no larger than 60mmø and no smaller than 40ø with a kick rail 150mm high and balustrades 100mm apart.

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blindboy Thursday, 7 May 2015 at 5:26pm

Hmmm not sure that kick rail is tall enough, I better check the manual!

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Halfscousehalfc... Friday, 8 May 2015 at 8:03pm

Off the subject, bat tail? Good or bad? Gimmick?

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blindboy Friday, 8 May 2015 at 8:12pm

Unknown quantity for me scouser. We will have to wait for King Kelly's verdict on that one. Until then YNWA and heres hoping the red scum sink so we can grab fourth.

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wingnut2443 Saturday, 9 May 2015 at 9:00am

what about these fins, and the science:

http://finsciences.com/surfboard-fin-science/

???

Anyone used those fins? I'm rather curious as to how they would work.

Brutus, your thoughts re tow boards and those fins?

surfingbymyself, does this help ease any of your "excess pessimism and skepticism"? :)

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memlasurf Saturday, 9 May 2015 at 9:05am

You go first.

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blindboy Saturday, 9 May 2015 at 10:07am

wingnut I did say "that I was aware of". The other point is that while I cannot be sure, it seems that they are designing fins from existing theories. FCS commissioned their own research including, I believe, tank testing. There is a big difference between using existing knowledge and researching to add to our knowledge base.

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brutus Saturday, 9 May 2015 at 12:20pm

really interesting to hear read about the Finsciences theorys and the product and "the winglets".......

A lot of what he say makes sense especially about lift and drag......but there is one variable that he has not taken into consideration...is the shape of the hull.....

The hull shape of a bd also contributes to lift and drag.......I have found in the tow bds......that by having a deep single concave with supa sharp edges ...allow you to surf smaller fins.....straight with no camber....

after FCS spent a $1m on test tanks in tassie...the H2O fin was developed which looks like the tail of a plane...very very similar to what....surfscience have produced...

I tried various combos of the H20....and found they were best in longboards that work at lower speeds....and spun out at speed......the winglets are new...but I am not sure how these fins got at speed.......but we have fins that handle..70Kph plus and they turn....

C-Drives are nearly opposite big base...small tip......there are new ones coming with less rake...and man do they go verticle...

I think I need to contact these guys and get a set of tow fins if they work in a tow bd , they work in a s/bd........

as for FCS ....where are their new fins.....?

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le-renard Saturday, 9 May 2015 at 5:04pm

If i could add my $0.02 re. the 'winglets'...what they say is true, for AEROdynamic principles. Applying them to hydrodynamic applications is a bit daft. The increased efficiency any winglets could theoretically provide via. reduced tip vortices is negated by the increased frontal area, which is exponentially more critical due to the density of water versus. air.

In regards to CFD analysis of surfboard performance...yes, CFD is very sophisticated these days, but its effectiveness decreases when environmental variables are increased. F1 teams, who spend mega-millions in simulations, still go out testing and spray the cars with fluoro paint (Flo-Viz) to see what the air is doing (or at least validate the CFD and wind tunnel analysis).

Geez just the location of a surfer's feet is a big enough variable for board performance. Perhaps basic design validation processes could be developed, but the idea of pressing some buttons and a 'perfect' surfboard pops out because of 'computers=magic' is a little far-fetched. What is a perfect board anyways? For what element of the wave-riding experience is it to be optimised?

The trial-and-error/evolutionary process described by BB has been effective (well, once the thruster came about) and is the only realistic development model now or in to the near future. Don't let that stop anyone from developing anything tho, it just gets reeeall tricky reeeall fast.

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blindboy Saturday, 9 May 2015 at 5:27pm

renard the approach I described worked well before the thruster. If you look at the single fins from the early seventies there was tremendous variety and rapid shifts in design, by the mid/late seventies designs were much improved and somewhat more standardised.
I agree with what you say and remain skeptical about theoretical approaches imported into board design from other areas, even when they are based on sound hydrodynamics. There is no particular reason why a design optimised for a yacht's keel or a sailboard fin should work on a surfboard. If we want a more methodical approach to design it needs to be based on the kind of approach I outlined below. Real surfing, single variables and real data.
The ideal experiment would be to choose a single fin variable, say thickness, and compare it to maximum hull speed of pro surfers on a wave that required great speed to make.

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blindboy Saturday, 9 May 2015 at 12:28pm

Bill and the other two original owners sold the business long ago brutus so I don't know if the new owners have that kind of commitment. I would love to do some double blind tests on fins though as that could sort the real effects from placebo-type factors. Use pro surfers, fins that are different in only one variable. Add some sensors to the boards and you would have some very useful data to correlate perceived performance and measured performance against a range off variables. I am available at short notice to conduct the research for a very reasonable fee and a couple of weeks in the Ments, just to be sure of our data, should be enough.

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uplift Saturday, 9 May 2015 at 6:58pm

'Geez just the location of a surfer's feet is a big enough variable for board performance. '

Possibly worth mentioning what’s above those feet... might have some influence. Perhaps even venture up to wing nut level. Although in that case, perhaps too much drag. Mere ballast... so to speak.

Yes, the science, rears its...

Speaking of science. Good old one tooth Carl. Not to be confused with ‘The Kid’ on the rocks. Those that know them don’t... those that wanna do, or wanna be dem do . Go figure! Anyway, as blacks thundered playfully in the background, gleefully remembering the washawayed legends, the science, the thrashings, the beatings, the dismantlings. And the drubbings, the ruthless floggings, the highchairs, the calculations, the risks, the rewards... the burgeoning lists... not to mention the wrong turnoffs, chis, the islands, points, ‘the best layed‘, yet the blithering plans from as far away as evo surfers in Japan. Which, when summed up, are just nothing but tangled squwarkups.

One tooth just got back from streaky, somewhat the worse for wear. His head looked like a multi coloured golf ball. Something about borrowing some frozen chickens from the pub, and helping himself to someone’s herb garden. Then in an alcohol fuelled blur, even trying to sell said herbs back to the owner, of all people. Good ‘ol One Tooth.

‘Farkin cunts can’t even faaarkin surf’!!! Faaark em!!!

JB loved a bit of fun. He was still close to his prime then. He used to have fun everywhere. Any where he liked really. East, west, south , north. Didn’t really bother him in the slightest at all. Those that knew him then will vouch for that. Ballina Razz will love to. So he was going to have some fun with Carl.

‘No board eh, I’ll lend ya one. Grab one from up the back of the wood shed.’ (translation... ‘fuck off cunt’)

That fucking wood shed, enter at your own risk. Still beggars can’t be choosers. And One Tooth inherited the Keyo. A 7’ 6” lump of water logged snot, with half a fin. And a big chunk out of the tail. The top half of the fin was snapped off. Greasy, slimey wax, full of red gum saw dust. Late arvo Blacks thundering away in the back ground, started raising the decibel level. Phantom of the opera now showing.

Tracks cover proudly emblazoned with ‘board design, the era of refinement’... science. That was the talk of the surfing world. And the town, the whole peninsula in fact. Even that morning. Bombs were exploding everywhere. Plenty, more than plenty in fact, MIA. Only God knows where, or why.

‘Faaarrkin cunts!!!’

One Tooth had a ‘borrowed’ comb, and scratched up the snotty, slimey, ding riddled, half finned, chunked Keyo. He dragged his green, shredded, recycled tire, masquerading as a Rip Curl Polar, out from under the old nitre bush, gone now... camels got them.... and headed down the cliff. JB sneered. Touro’s were regularly terrified by that sneer. It wasn’t like a lot of squwarky sneers, it had a real depth to it. Ala Ballina Razz. As I stood on the beach next to Carl, I could smell the cheap wine from last night’s hangover.

Science. Tracks. Refinement. The phantom exploded. Not quite offshore. Lumpy, ugly, raw. Mean. Close to winter. New. Weird stuff happening in the bay. Science. Tracks. Refinement.

‘Who’s faaaarrrrkkkinn gggaaaaarrnnn this fffaaaaarrrrkkkinnn one!!!’

The Keyo went. Right through a phantom bomb from hell. Then the Keyo screamed into a full bore, top speed cutty after the end bowl, up/over/rebound model, then high speed out and over the back. Phantom bomb. It aint fuck’n Nias... or all the islands, points, bombies, washthroughs either. Fucking Keyo. Half a fin. JB went in spewing.

‘FFFFFFAAAAARRRRKKKKIIINN CCCCUUUNNNTTTSSS!!!!!’

Science. Tracks. Refinements. But, the Keyo, well, what was left of it, stole the show. Could’ve sworn there were some feet on it. Even something above the feet. Not ‘The Kid’s’ feet, just that some that don’t know (wanna knows) may make that mistake... but seen ‘The Kids’ feet do some heavy shit too. Toddler had the feet print though.
You had to be there. Or wanna be.

And, WTF, what's with brickie being built like a starving garfish... surfings doomed. Camslessless, could you verify that? Put the fucking nitres back... and pay back Herro!

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blindboy Saturday, 9 May 2015 at 8:18pm

Welcome back big guy!

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silicun Saturday, 9 May 2015 at 8:17pm

*puts on a cuppa, throws the feet up*…..........ahhhhhhhhh.
Yes, worth the wait.

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simba Saturday, 9 May 2015 at 9:13pm

About time uplift.

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backyard Friday, 29 Jun 2018 at 11:36am

Excellent piece. Have you read The Botany of Desire, if not, I'm sure you'd find it interesting.

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blindboy Saturday, 21 Jul 2018 at 11:40am

Thanks backyard, I will check it out.

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udo Sunday, 8 Sep 2019 at 7:27pm

Case Study 01 Marc Andreini - Vimeo

Andreini surfboards / V bottoms- Greenough- Fins- Edge boards- Templates

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ryder Monday, 9 Sep 2019 at 8:06am

Would it be too much to ask to provide a link?