Water flowing over glass: A conversation with Phil Myers

Stu Nettle
Talking Heads

Lennox Head's Phil Myers has been shaping for more than forty years, and like most guys of his vintage he's got a particular kink - an area of specialty that marks his work.

For Phil it's channel bottoms and variations of the form. He's well known for the dramatic multi channel versions, six, eight, and ten channel boards, but Phil's also got some lesser known models in his armoury.

Swellnet chatted to Phil about his concept of water flowing over fibreglass.

Swellnet: I want to talk about performance differences between four, six, eight and ten channel bottoms? Is there much of a difference..?
Phil Myers: Not between, say, the eight and the six, but between a ten channel and a six there definitely is. With a ten channel you’re getting a flightier, freer type of board. I just shaped one for a guy who’d never ridden one before. He’s a bigger guy so I gave him the dimensions and he thought it may be a bit big and a bit stiff with all the channels, and I told him “No, just forget about all that.”

He rang me back this morning and said the board doesn't feel anywhere near as long or as big as he thought it would. He was surprised at how loose it was, how it could go rail to rail.

Is that a common response? The surprise I mean...
You know how it is, the old thinking that channels lock in like train tracks. It’s always been an obstacle; people who’ve never surfed them get an idea in their head about how these boards will go and they fix on it.

It annoys the living daylights out of me when people look at channel bottoms and go, “That’ll be like putting a board in a train track.” Well it’s nothing like that. I’m forever telling people that these boards don't surf how they look but it’s hard to shift that perception.

What are the limitations on channel bottoms? Like, if I want a Thruster, what are the most channels they could be combined with?
You might get away with a Thruster on an eight channel.

Though Richo whacked one on a twelve channel.
Yeah, but he ended up taking the fins out. He asked me what I’d do and I said, “Take ‘em off. You’ve got fins running across and blocking a channel.” Water flow is everything.

With the six channels that I drop into Thrusters, I use a forward vee with a spine running into single-to-double concave, so they’ve got all that extra squirt anyway. Six channels with a Thruster is a good combination.

Many of your boards have the ‘Col Smith Channel Design’ decal. Which boards do they go on?
The Col Smith design is mainly just the single fin. They were my boards though Col originally showed me how to drop the channels in. They’re a cross between a clinker hull and Jim Pollard channels - which were more corrugations.

Gerr with his ten channel Col Smith Channel Design. Phil has recently shaped similar boards for Hoyo, Nick Carroll, and Glen Casey.

Your channel bottoms are eye-catching, all those angles and spines, yet you don’t like sharp edges, right?
Yeah, I don't really like hard-edged channels. I did a board years back and I resined up the edges and everything to see what the difference was and I didn’t like it. These days, when you run your hand over one of my channel bottoms it’s not hard and sharp anywhere, it’s not like a simple concave of course, but the channels rolls from one to the other, and for me that’s the secret. Nothing dominates the board. The channels create lift and drive, speed and all the rest of it, and they can feel flighty through the lip, but there’s no catch.

You started making channels in ‘78, and evolved the design through the late-70s and early-80s, by which time Simon brought his Thruster out. Was your Hydro Channel a response to the Thruster?
Yes. Everyone was hopping onto Thrusters so I needed to make channels work on them.

So you brought the channels forward, often in front of the fin cluster to loosen up the tail.
Yeah. It creates a flat spot which is like an engine room set in the bottom of your board. The channels don’t run out through any flyers, they run out through the step and it creates a very loose tail while still having all the Thruster benefits.

Hydro Channel set up on a single fin

How did they ride?
Excellent. We found we could shorten our boards right up because of that flatter planing area. We rode some pretty damn short boards. My brother rode a 5’8 at eight foot Lennox which was real short in those years.

Do you have much demand for Hydro Channels these days?
A bit. The thing is, a lot of people haven’t seen them, so they don’t know much about them. The people that have got the new ones, they’ve often got back to me and said, “Fuck, I like them. They fly!”

Another one of your lesser known creations is the vent system which had straight channels at the rear and curved channels forward. What was the idea there?
To my way of thinking, Thrusters….jeez, I shouldn’t say this...they won't go over on a rail like a single fin. Do I sound old? Ha ha…

This was especially so at Lennox, but it’s the same at any other wave where you have to drop down, give yourself some space, then do a big turn off the bottom. It’s old school but if feels good, you know. So the thing with vents was, I’d inadvertently put forward vee, or reverse vee, under the front foot in a board and I’d flattened the tail out with deep double concaves running through it.

I thought at the time it may be a bit sticky with the double concaves, they were really deep, so I added the forward channels and also the tail channel. I was trying to balance how a surfer would work off their front and back foot.

I worked through the vent system in many stages, and one of the best ones I ever rode had really long outside channels running right along it. The first time I took off on a wave I was out of control, yet within half an hour that board was just flying. It was under control and it became one of my favourite boards. I had a photo of that board at the point and it looked like one of those Plastic Machine shots of the vee bottom, just laid right over, and that’s exactly what I was trying to achieve.

You had a few guys on vent systems: Barton, Danny Wills, Rob Cribb…
Jay Phillips, Shane Bevan, too.

How did Barton find them?
Well he was on the tour then, and the tour was a bit different, so we were making more boards for small waves. Barton always said the vents got better the bigger it got. So once it got four foot and up he rode those, although some guys rode them in all conditions.

It was a promising design and it just disappeared. Would it be correct to say the vent bottom never realised its potential?
Yeah, definitely. For me, it’s unfinished work. I’ve just started doing them again. I’ve got my son on one but there’s been no waves. So I'm waiting, but I definitely think there’s some unfinished business to attend to. Keep the concept but fiddle with the rockers and stuff.

Jamie Myers vent system. A design that was hastily pushed aside in the early-90s rush to deep concaves.

You’ve been having some fun with Greenough-style edge boards. What’s the thinking behind that design?
Basically it makes a wider board surf like it’s a lot narrower. That’s what George [Greenough] has told me and it’s how I think of it. That’s my first impression of the one I've got: you get the benefits of a wider board but it feels narrower.

Phil puts his own spin on the Greenough edge board.

You doing it exactly to George’s specs or putting your own twist on it?
Well I've done mine with a step in it. The only thing I’ve really taken from George is the outside edge. I took the board up to his place to show him and he was quite lit up about it.

In a good way you mean?
Oh yeah. While I was there I asked his advice about the finless board I’m working on. I said, “What would you do if you had to do a finless board?” He told me to think about his mat, how everything is soft and it’s round, yet it holds a line at high speed and it doesn’t go sideways.

He said, "If you hold a mat in the water and try and push it sideways, it’s very difficult. But if you try to hold anything that’s got a hard edge and push it sideways, it releases.”

That’s why I’ve protruded those things in the bottom that are round.

Phil's finless design, shaped at left, and glassed, a design that meshes the thinking of Greenough and Pollard with Phil's own theories, combining fifty years of North Coast surfboard design.

Do they work like channels?
Well, not really. They protrude out. They don’t go into the board. They’re higher, not lower than the board.

They’re more mounds than channels?
Yeah.

Do they reduce surface area?
It’s more to pick up water flow without creating lift because then the thing will want to drift sideways. I’m hoping the board can be surfed standing up rather than squatting down as most finless boards are ridden. The guy that’s gonna get that board can really surf so I can't wait to hear how that goes.

Check out more of Phil's designs on his Instagram feed or in person at Sideways Surf and Surfection.

Comments

50young's picture
50young's picture
50young commented Thursday, 19 Oct 2017 at 12:19pm

I just love my 10 channel and can attest to how loose and free it feels, and speed! I'm totally in love. Great article Stu

Mort's picture
Mort's picture
Mort commented Saturday, 21 Oct 2017 at 12:13am

There is something beautiful about a channelled board, Look Out, I feel a poem coming on.

It is all about water and it's flow...... ...
Like a set of Venetian Blinds, that is permanently open
Letting in the light of water, the power
It will make you grow, make no doubt

Make no doubt.

Mort's picture
Mort's picture
Mort commented Saturday, 21 Oct 2017 at 12:18am

That is one of my better poems.

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet commented Thursday, 19 Oct 2017 at 12:50pm

Cheers 50Y. I'm taking my ten channel to Hawaii this year - packed with anticipation.

After I had a chat with Phil I recalled a conversation I had with Barry Regan, wooden board builder originally from Cronulla but now residing on the North Coast. Barry was talking about how round rails on boards could be used for extra hold and in that regard I'm sure there'd be some measure of agreement between Barry, George, and Phil.

That's not the only connection, Barry is considered to be the first guy to surf Lennox Head, the testing ground for George and Phil.

Andrew P's picture
Andrew P's picture
Andrew P commented Thursday, 19 Oct 2017 at 3:07pm

Thanks for the cool article Stu. Great pics of some absolute weapons there! Geoff McCoy certainly subscribes to the rounder rail/soft edge theory holding better than sharp edges - I'm sure there are many others out there that do too!

Lanky Dean's picture
Lanky Dean's picture
Lanky Dean commented Friday, 20 Oct 2017 at 2:43pm

What's the fun set up on the ten channel Stu?

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet commented Friday, 20 Oct 2017 at 2:58pm

The fun is set to 10, LD.

And the fin set up is a single. There's a shot of it here, second photo down.

https://www.swellnet.com/news/swellnet-dispatch/2017/02/20/bloodlines-tracing-channel-history-phil-myers

Lanky Dean's picture
Lanky Dean's picture
Lanky Dean commented Friday, 20 Oct 2017 at 3:39pm

Board looks great Stu . There's a few out of the way spots it will work well for. Don't be afraid to jump on another plane once you get there ;)

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet commented Friday, 20 Oct 2017 at 3:49pm

Would be nice to island hop but I'm staying right near Sunset and keen to get reacquainted with it. That's the initial plan.

Mort's picture
Mort's picture
Mort commented Saturday, 21 Oct 2017 at 12:30am

Take me Man, I have two boards, one big, one small. I can write shit. I may win Cash Cow on Monday (Shane Fisher). If I do, I will come with you.

crg's picture
crg's picture
crg commented Thursday, 19 Oct 2017 at 12:53pm

Ditto...great interview Stu.
I think it's great that a lot of the experimental designs of the shortboard era are being revisited and explored with today's technology. It seemed a real pity that design and innovation became so closely tied into competition success - it narrowed the development into such a short and rigid parameter.
I've ridden quite a few different concept boards lately from that quite compressed era of transition from MP inspired singles, MR twins, Simon thrusters, Pollard/AB/Phil channels, twinzers, bonzers, finless etc.
I definitely feel there is enormous potential for designs suited to the everyday surfer.

Elliedog's picture
Elliedog's picture
Elliedog commented Thursday, 19 Oct 2017 at 1:07pm

Another good read on the topic guys.Wow!!!. I cannot believe the resurgence in the channel designs. So old and so tested but always overlooked by so many. I've been riding these things since day one. From Col Smith's,Pete Macabe's, Wayne Staddard's, Sam Egans but the majority Al Byrnes. Thats 30 years worth and i sware by em in all forms. Its not all i ride though. flat bottoms, vee bottoms and concaves all have their meritts as do the channels. AB said it best when he told me over and over..... "they just don't get it maaaaate"!!!!!!!!. God love him. Well done Phil. I may have to add you to my list and get a six from ya. Good luck with it.

Luba

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet commented Thursday, 19 Oct 2017 at 1:22pm

One more interconnected thread:

Phil shaped this board in the late-80s - a vent system twinny with radically raked fins - and it recently came into his possession again. A young local fella took it for a spin.

There's a few things going on here. First is the deep, raked fins that are very similar to the fins that Tom Curren has been using on his ultra-short boards lately. See below:

It's not the only idea Curren and Phil have both toyed with. In 1994 Curren famously rode a Tommy Peterson-shaped Fireball at big Bawa.

Word is that Tommy paid Phil a visit in the early-90s, dug the look of the Hydro and used it for inspiration. See Tommy P Fireball below and one of Phil's Hydro's below that for similarities.

MRsinglefin's picture
MRsinglefin's picture
MRsinglefin commented Thursday, 26 Oct 2017 at 8:21am

Best board ever was a Tommy Peterson Fireball Fish
Worst decision ever selling it 10 years later to a backpacker for $100

Blowin's picture
Blowin's picture
Blowin commented Thursday, 19 Oct 2017 at 1:53pm

Are Phil's rounded channels less prone to cracking than the clinkers ?

You'd assume so ?

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet commented Thursday, 19 Oct 2017 at 2:34pm

Not sure about that, haven't had mine long enough to know. Fibreglass matting has come a long way since the hey day of the clinkers. Might be a matter of better material?

daisy duke kahanamoku's picture
daisy duke kahanamoku's picture
daisy duke kaha... commented Thursday, 19 Oct 2017 at 4:30pm

Once in a lifetime, water flowing underground.
Thanks you Messrs Byrne and Myers.

simba's picture
simba's picture
simba commented Thursday, 19 Oct 2017 at 4:46pm

Had a few of Phils boards years ago and those round channels were so good ,never had a problem with them cracking Blowin.When the step tailed boards came out if you were away from the ballina area guys would look and do a double look as if what the fucks that but im glad hes bringing back ,they went real well.

simba

jános's picture
jános's picture
jános commented Thursday, 19 Oct 2017 at 6:20pm

Recently got a 6 channel 5 fin for an Indo trip. The most amazing board! It went wherever I could take it and it never got stuck anywhere. So smoooth! I'm sure it could go a whole heap further than I'm able to take it. Friends commented on a dramatic improvement in my surfing. Will be calling you again shortly for another one Phil.

udo's picture
udo's picture
udo commented Thursday, 19 Oct 2017 at 7:52pm

Crows Garage - Channel Bottom Surfboards
Col Smith 1977 quiver pics and info.

Clive Rodell's picture
Clive Rodell's picture
Clive Rodell commented Thursday, 19 Oct 2017 at 7:55pm

I rode the yellow twin fin Vent System pictured in the 90s. I hate twin fins... this board was magic to ride!!! It had an amazing feel. I contacted Phil when this board 'resurfaced'. I have now got a new 6 channel thruster... I can confirm it will handle ANY type of surf, unless a longer board is called for... then a longer 6 channel would be the go! It holds on late take offs, is loose through turns and Very fast! It just proves; the Masters... are still the Masters! Experience counts, whilst media hype sells.... I cannot ride a shaping machine replica. The Worlds best Surfers are sensational... but I cannot ride what they ride! I'm back to a custom!

freddieffer's picture
freddieffer's picture
freddieffer commented Friday, 20 Oct 2017 at 8:46am

A great read Stu. Had a Free Flight 5'10" Hydro tail and a 6'4" Col Smith 6 channel from '81. Still got the 6'4". Both were amazing boards, but I would have to say of all the boards I've had, and that's about 30, the Hydro tail comes in at #1. I've regretted selling it ever since.
Simon's '81 Bells was an emphatic fork in the road for board design. Everyone threw the baby out with the bathwater to get a thruster after that, as they instantly became de rigueur.

My surfing spent years in the doldrums after letting that Hydro tail go, as I never found the same feel under my feet - literally by a country mile, as I pursued many different thruster designs, trying to find in 3 fins what I had lost with 1. I reckon it took me 10 years to finally find a thruster that worked for me. Mind you there were a lot of design changes, adjustments, fin design and placement changes etc in that time as well.

It's great to see renewed interest in these designs, particularly as single fins. Singles got harshly discredited for a long time there. As the old saying goes, "when you're on a good thing; stick to it". Once you've tasted pure magic under your feet on every wave you ride, nothing beats it. For me, that was my Hydro, and that's saying something as my 6'4" was/is pretty special and memorable, and is also up there in my top 3.

Stu, I bet you will be blown away with how good your 10 channel goes in Hawaii. The juicier and rounder the waves, the better they go. You'll be like Aladdin on your magic carpet over there.

velocityjohnno's picture
velocityjohnno's picture
velocityjohnno commented Friday, 20 Oct 2017 at 9:06pm

I agree with you, I've recently gone back to the single fins, this time for life I reckon, and it's like coming home. Like what Phil said in the interview, that laying on rail, torque and speed through this move, can't be beat.

I've tried to replicate the full vertical and full rail turns of my youth on multifins over the years, but without satisfaction. Recently, back on the single that magic speed and power has returned, it's like being 20 again! (And I was weird, riding singles at 20 in the mid 90s)

The only thruster that came close was a 6 channel Byrning Spears.

For me, the wide tail in the single ramps up the performance and speed, I'd love to try a hydrotail... fascinating the bit about keeping the channels without edge, like Geoff McCoy would say about the single.

barreldogs's picture
barreldogs's picture
barreldogs commented Friday, 20 Oct 2017 at 12:55pm

I was working for Brothers Neilsen in the warehouse when Phil used to shape the vent system for Barton, Jay, Shane etc and I used to get to take all their boards for a play when they were done with them. Fell in love with the vent system and got a few off Phil for myself instead of stealing the pro leftovers. Seems you have still been modifying your art there Phil - bottom shape is completely different to the ones I used to play around on.

Got a mate down here in Tassie that has ordered one of the single fin channel bottoms, and can't wait to get my grubby mits on that one for a play!!

Mort's picture
Mort's picture
Mort commented Saturday, 21 Oct 2017 at 12:59am

The Vent System
It is venting, no poetic value there.

dylza's picture
dylza's picture
dylza commented Saturday, 21 Oct 2017 at 2:10pm

Any cool videos of guys surfing these boards?

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet commented Monday, 23 Oct 2017 at 12:29pm

None that I can find, though I knnow Danny Wills surfed a vent system in 'All Down The Line' and Barton Lynch rode various designs of Phil's through his pro career.

Here're some stills:

Brad Myers throwing spray on a vent

Rique Smith at Kalbarri on a ten channel concave to vee single fin

Terry 'Tappa' Teece at Burleigh on six channel single to double

Jamie Myers tail high on six channel Thruster, forward vee to double concave

lostdoggy's picture
lostdoggy's picture
lostdoggy commented Tuesday, 24 Oct 2017 at 8:16am

I know you wanted to put that photo of yourself at Sandon up. ;)

kavachi's picture
kavachi's picture
kavachi commented Saturday, 21 Oct 2017 at 2:41pm

.....i can feel an Erle P article coming on ;)

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet commented Monday, 23 Oct 2017 at 12:33pm

Tried so hard to talk to him while I was writing this article (https://www.swellnet.com/news/design-outline/2016/08/22/tricky-history-channel-bottom). Got through to Glen Cat but Erle eluded me.

kavachi's picture
kavachi's picture
kavachi commented Tuesday, 24 Oct 2017 at 9:56am

Hope you manage to hook up with Erle mate! try surfing the Cairns beachies one day, give you an idea why he was so driven to create speed/lift, ANYTHING to get going in that slop!

BTW, superb work with these articles Stu, esp the photos, have been saving em to PDF and archiving em, GOLD!

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet commented Tuesday, 24 Oct 2017 at 10:00am

Cheers...

Coaster's picture
Coaster's picture
Coaster commented Saturday, 21 Oct 2017 at 8:50pm
kavachi's picture
kavachi's picture
kavachi commented Tuesday, 24 Oct 2017 at 10:05am

sander's worst nightmare eh

Mort's picture
Mort's picture
Mort commented Tuesday, 24 Oct 2017 at 12:37am

Here's a Poem

I am Channelling, it is such a wonderful place.

Spuddups's picture
Spuddups's picture
Spuddups commented Tuesday, 24 Oct 2017 at 6:08am

Great poem man. You're on a winning run at the moment.

Mort's picture
Mort's picture
Mort commented Wednesday, 1 Nov 2017 at 10:58pm

Thankyou, I entered The Ipswich Poetry Feast three times and did not get an acknowledgement. And, no shit, one of my Poems was good.

I have always admired how you can get a blank, just rocker and thickness, planshape.

But what these guys do, is artistry. Nat talked about how music and surfing is really close. This is music, granted it is not the Michanangeol, but it is pretty close.

Mort's picture
Mort's picture
Mort commented Thursday, 2 Nov 2017 at 12:31am

Winning run? I win the next couple of comps I am lined up for. If I win, I will be on a running win.

simba's picture
simba's picture
simba commented Wednesday, 1 Nov 2017 at 7:19pm

Coming soon to Sideways surf! @philmyersfreeflight surfboards - Catch up with the man behind it all with over 40 years of shaping experience he chats with @swellnet about his concept of water flowing over fibreglass⠀

simba

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