Water flowing over glass: A conversation with Phil Myers
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?
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.