Joshua James: A newer kind of balance

Laurie McGinness
Talking Heads

Joshua James has been around.

It's been a journey from grommethood on the Gold Coast, to part of an extended surfing family in Yamba, to being a sponsored surfer living on the Northern Beaches and finally to the NSW south coast where he has established a reputation as an innovative and imaginative shaper specialising in asymmetricals. 

The changes in geography have been matched by changes in focus. After loving art and wood work at school he felt the traditional pressures to study so he enrolled in an architecture degree. After realising it wasn’t for him, he switched to film school where he had a similar experience. He then worked as a cabinet maker for several years. Along the way he pursued the junior competition trail before realising that, for him, surfing was about the fun. Coming home after a day of competition unhappy with the result, did not fit that vision.

Yet he was still inspired by the high performance surfing he witnessed from competitive surfers like Richie Lovett who was on the Championship Tour at the time. While Joshua was still struggling with his own surfing, he witnessed Richie ripping Queenscliff on a big overcast day with power and flow. It was a reminder of his own ambition to surf at that standard.

An important aspect of the contest and sponsored surfer experience though was the realisation that he could not understand why, out of a quiver of twenty or thirty surfboards, there were only one or two that he really loved. Allied to that, and deepening the design confusion, was the fact that he had been experimenting, unsuccesfully, with his own shapes. His initial efforts were so bad that he would often only surf them for a couple of days and then would be too embarrassed to even sell them.

The turning point was a serious leg injury that occurred jumping, with youthful abandon, from a rock into the ocean. It kept him out of the water for a year. When he was ready to try to surf again, he thought he would progress more quickly on a twin fin, which he considered a beginner’s board. This led him to get a Mick Mackie keel fish. It changed everything and ultimately caused him to abandon all career ambition and take a job that would allow him to spend as much time as possible in the water while tinkering with his boards at night.

He worked managing a couple of different surf shops around the Manly area and focused his creativity on his designs. The vision was boards that would flow from rail to rail with power and speed. Already aware of the work of Derek Hynd and Ryan Burch in that area, asymmetricals became something of an obsession. He realised that he had a favourite toe side board and a favourite heel side board. This was fine as long as the waves were breaking in one direction only but was a source of difficulty when there were both lefts and rights.  

The solution was asymmetry, with the features of his favourite toe side board matched to the features of his favourite heel side board in a single design. He observed that surfers did not stand with their feet parallel and most of the time the section of board in contact with the water was asymmetrical. From that he deduced that symmetry was unnecessary. The theory was simple but turning it into high performing designs was much more complex. By his own admission there were years when he sacrificed his surfing to the pursuit. A design that had performed well on Australia’s east coast could leave him spinning out in a bottom turn under 8 foot of heavy water on a shallow reef in Sumatra.  

It was not until he had ridden sixty of his own shapes that he became confident. He could feel that they were now giving him that constant, flowing rail to rail surfing that had always been his goal. Although he had never had any shapers as mentors, he was fortunate in having some high-performing surfers as friends. Not trusting his own judgement, he asked them to try a couple of his designs. They were so impressed they suggested that he take up board making full time. He decided he had little to lose and went for it.

By this time his ideas had developed. His core idea was that the extra leverage provided by the toes enables that side of the board to have a straighter rail and a larger fin as they can be easily overpowered, enabling projection and flow, while the heel side can have a more traditional outline allowing critical smooth turns. Experiments with thickness had led him to add asymmetrical foil to some boards. So he had a range of functional high performance designs ranging from those whose asymmetry was barely visible to the casual onlooker to more extreme skewed designs with radical fin set ups. 

He found, for example, that he could match a toe side twin fin to a heel side quad to create a three finned board that was nothing like a thruster. The fins had to be totally redesigned and their placement adjusted and this turned out to a long trial and error process which is continuing today as he has just worked with Greg Trotter to redesign his entire fin catalogue. 

Allied to this whole process was his concept of craftsmanship. He wanted to shape by hand and was keen to demonstrate that hand shapes could not only be just as accurate as machine shapes but also that they could provide a degree of customisation difficult for digital designs to match. He remembered his own experiences standing in the shaping bay as craftsmen like Greg Clough shaped his boards and realised that being able to look at a surfer’s exact physical build could contribute significantly to the final design.

One of the most satisfying aspects of all this progress has been that, with years of Indonesian experience thrown into the design process, his boards now deliver high performance in the demanding quality waves of a major Indonesian swell. The cost was numerous coral cuts and bouts of fever, but the pay off has been substantial, not only in personal satisfaction but in a steadily increasing order book.

One of Joshua’s current concerns is durability. He wants his boards to last and hopes that customers will use that durability to build quivers that add variety to their surfing experience. The idea of surfing the same board everyday has never appealed to him and his concept of a quiver is as much about having boards to suit the mood as much as to suit the waves, be they performance twins or any of his asymmetrical designs.

// LAURIE MCGINNESS

Follow Joshua James Surfboards on Instagram
Or contact him at: [email protected]

Comments

Island Bay's picture
Island Bay's picture
Island Bay commented Monday, 15 Jul 2019 at 11:15am

Good stuff, Laurie. And Joshua!

crg's picture
crg's picture
crg commented Monday, 15 Jul 2019 at 11:32am

I like the sound of his vision. Would love to have a go on one. His decal and script reminds me of Eric Arakawa.

I'm not cheap,
But I'm free.

Fatso's picture
Fatso's picture
Fatso commented Monday, 15 Jul 2019 at 12:13pm

Awesome stuff. Looking at the boards (assuming they are the ones Josh surfs) I picked him for a goofy. The theory is logical, and thinking about the differences between forehand stance and leverage compared to backhand, they should work. It seems the issues, and the design genius, would lie in getting the two symmetries to flow.

Its really enjoyable to see outside the box thinking being put into practice

memlasurf's picture
memlasurf's picture
memlasurf commented Monday, 15 Jul 2019 at 2:09pm

You got one Stu as I know you are keen on asymmetry?

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet commented Monday, 15 Jul 2019 at 4:52pm

One? I got about six, every shortboard for the last three or so years has been an asymm. Haven't got an asymm fish, but last summer I got a little summer groveller all bent out of shape, put a cut off Dumpster Diver-style tail on a squat 20" wide blitzer and angled the tail to lengthen the toe side rail, then offset the fin clusters (quad) the same angle as the tail.

The whole offset gig has been a revelation to me. When he submitted this article, Laurie said writing it had caused him to look at his boards anew, which is what happened to me after my first asymm board: I learnt more about body mechanics and board performance in a one month spell than thirty years previous.

Exaggerating for effect, but you get the point. It's not till you break away from the norms that you realise what the norms actually do, and how an absence of them opens up a whole new world.

For shortboards I cant see myself ever going back, and I get a real kick out of listening to guys like Joshua discover asymm.

memlasurf's picture
memlasurf's picture
memlasurf commented Monday, 15 Jul 2019 at 5:03pm

Cool I thought it might have been a flash in the pan. I will have to get one in my twilight years to add a bit of spice after reading the article and your big rap as it makes a lot of sense and I remember reading somewhere Dane was on the same wave length (no pun intended).

Laurie McGinness's picture
Laurie McGinness's picture
Laurie McGinness commented Tuesday, 16 Jul 2019 at 8:07am

The thing that struck me was that I had a series of boards about 10 years ago that were great forehand but really difficult to crank off the bottom backhand. They wanted to drive down the line not climb the face. I played around with fins and the shaper I was working with at the time made a few adjustments but I never quite overcame the problem. I really like my current boards but they probably go a bit the other way. Great off the bottom backhand but don't drive down the line out of a forehand bottom turn as well as they might ............ of course my slowing movements also probably play a part in that.

memlasurf's picture
memlasurf's picture
memlasurf commented Tuesday, 16 Jul 2019 at 10:13am

So you haven't gone the assym route yet?

Spuddups's picture
Spuddups's picture
Spuddups commented Tuesday, 16 Jul 2019 at 5:09am

Asymmetrical boards are probably the most untapped aspect of surfboard design in my opinion. The average punter is unlikely to want to take the chance on them as there are so many variables involved. I guess this is why only a few dedicated and open-minded shapers are experimenting with them.
As for me, I'm still nowhere near mastering symmetrical boards so I'll probably need to make quite a few more before I start experimenting with anything asymmetrical!

Island Bay's picture
Island Bay's picture
Island Bay commented Tuesday, 16 Jul 2019 at 8:29am

Just give it a go, Spud.
You know how fcuken good a keel fish goes on a frontside bottom turn, and how shit it is on your backhand. A pulled in quad takes care of some of the issues, but you lose some forehand magic. Combine the two boards. Bingo.

I built quite a few asym windsurf boards in the 80s, and they went like a dream. Sweetest deep bottom turns ever.

Spuddups's picture
Spuddups's picture
Spuddups commented Tuesday, 16 Jul 2019 at 6:40pm

Okay, I’m keen to do it. Let’s meet over a beer soon and see what we can come up with. I wouldn’t know where to start!

Island Bay's picture
Island Bay's picture
Island Bay commented Wednesday, 17 Jul 2019 at 11:15am

Deal!

Gee Sea's picture
Gee Sea's picture
Gee Sea commented Tuesday, 16 Jul 2019 at 8:43am

I have a 5’11 swallow tail quad/twin from Joshua James. So balanced, smooth and fast. I was looking for a twin but his boards looked so nice I got one instead. I think this asym has more drive and flow. I don’t think it required any technique adjustment to surf, like say a Retro Keel Fish does. It just went great.
Super fun to be excited by a board!

Finnbob the terror's picture
Finnbob the terror's picture
Finnbob the terror commented Tuesday, 16 Jul 2019 at 9:47am

I've been riding a board from Dean kennedy (cosmos) for the past 2 to 3 years,
he calls it the scoop I call it the weirdo. I have had 2 now first was a sample board with shovelnose, couldn't stop riding it no matter what the conditions, I just found it a bit slow on the paddle, so got one made the same with a more drawn out nose, goes well in small surf and solid surf.
All his stuff is really experimental and out there.
He's from the mornington peninsula and phillip island but has spent time in the reunion islands and Madagascar. If any one is keen on experimental boards check him out.
Any way before I tried the weirdo I tried one of his asymmetric boards, I think he called it the top end or the ausie, basicly the tail shape resembles the top end of australia,
I used it in solid 5 ft double ups at one of our consistent right-hand rip banks on the mornington penisula, I was amazed how good it was probably the best surf I have had at this place. The board was just a bit too small for me.
I was in the market for 1 board only, I tried it on lefts and was no good, at the time I was surfing with my 11-year-old son a lot and he is a goofy footer so being a typical goofy footer he was chasing lefts all the time. In short, I opted out and ended up with the weirdo twinzer. But I still think of that board most days if I'm surfing a cracking right.
Also we have no real points here on the peninsula so having a board that really only went well in one direction is hard to come to terms with. This article has got me keen again.
I think Dean Kennedys boards are now called DK surfboards, he's on facebook and insta gram I think.
try this link
https://www.facebook.com/pages/category/Sports-Team/DK-Surfboards-Int-66...

hamishbro's picture
hamishbro's picture
hamishbro commented Thursday, 18 Jul 2019 at 11:39am

So glad you commented here Finbob, I have an old Dean Kennedy keel fish I bought from someone who won it in a comp years ago and have been dying to get another one, just couldn’t find him online. Great fun board. Can paddle into anything big or small.

spuddyjack's picture
spuddyjack's picture
spuddyjack commented Tuesday, 16 Jul 2019 at 1:02pm

Some great insights here . . . some non lateral-lateral thinking
Thanks Laurie and Joshua.

Stay salty

Reefeater's picture
Reefeater's picture
Reefeater commented Tuesday, 16 Jul 2019 at 4:04pm

Hey Stu, who shapes your asyms ? Who are some other shapers who have some experience and good track record in asym shapes on the east coast ?

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet commented Tuesday, 16 Jul 2019 at 7:06pm

I've had asymms shaped by Chris Garrett at Phantom and Stuart Paterson at PCC, all of them have been very similar theory - tail offset by 1.5 - 2 inches and the quad fin clusters offset by the same amount, which is pretty tame considering what's out there - and all of them have worked unreal.

Shouldn't be too hard to find shapers out there, check websites and IG feeds for who's doing what. My advice: keep it simple to begin with. If you've got a favourite model or shape then get someone to copy that but with asymm features.

Also, I only use them on shortboards as I really like the quick-shift heelside turns my ones can do, however in bigger waves your turns are placed further apart so that quality is nullified.

No doubt there'd still be some qualities in big wave asymms, but I haven't gone there.

Reefeater's picture
Reefeater's picture
Reefeater commented Wednesday, 17 Jul 2019 at 11:17am

Been a believer in the science behind asyms , but like everyone( most people ) to terrified to end go there for various reasons . This article has pushed me over the ledge.......now who to start the journey with......

spenda's picture
spenda's picture
spenda commented Tuesday, 16 Jul 2019 at 4:20pm

Thanks for posting this article. After reading this I am keen to give one a crack. What confuses me is the bit mentioned about longer rail for forehand because you can push harder on your toe side. But don't your heels exert far more force than your toes in a turn?

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet commented Tuesday, 16 Jul 2019 at 6:59pm

Power isn't the reason, range of movement is. It's far easier to find the right angle(s) on a toe side turn than it is heel side. Here's an article that covers it:

https://www.swellnet.com/news/design-outline/2016/04/13/history-asymmetry-and-pursuit-balance

FWIW: In the mid-80s, Allan Byrne used longer heel side rails for the reasons you mention but swapped over later on.

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet commented Tuesday, 16 Jul 2019 at 7:11pm

Coincidentally, I bumped into Laurie down the south coast today and showed him my asymm.

Laurie McGinness's picture
Laurie McGinness's picture
Laurie McGinness commented Wednesday, 17 Jul 2019 at 7:24am

I watched for a while after you went out Stu, the board looked really good.

jaunkemps's picture
jaunkemps's picture
jaunkemps commented Wednesday, 17 Jul 2019 at 9:53am

Micheal Anthony used to shape a few but they didn't really take off so to speak, I rode one years ago 85' ish, super nice but glassed super light also, maybe that had something to do with how it felt underfoot........

Ted from the moon's picture
Ted from the moon's picture
Ted from the moon commented Wednesday, 17 Jul 2019 at 10:48am

Weren't all boards asymms before machines ......... lol.

Nice article. I have been seeing a few more around the traps recently. Will give one a go soon. Just where to start.

old man of the sea's picture
old man of the sea's picture
old man of the sea commented Wednesday, 17 Jul 2019 at 9:42pm

Given the prevalence of 'stock boards' with (near) identical dimensions these days, I feel the only way the Asymm thing will get going is if the average Joe can 'try before he buys'. I am very interested in this as a concept, but as an average surfer, I am going to play it safe when I buy my primary board. I don't have the coin to have 4 short boards or many hundreds of dollars more for a bit of experimentation. Guess it pays to have similar sized mates who do though.

Nigeisblessed's picture
Nigeisblessed's picture
Nigeisblessed commented Thursday, 18 Jul 2019 at 10:53am

Yep, know what you mean. Ex wife, 3 kids, rent etc etc. I only get to buy a board each time one dies, I'd love to try some of these new things that keep coming up, but when I spend my bucks I need to know I'm not gonna climb outa the water pissed because the board was crap. It's a shame, I'd love to support some of these innovators, local shapers etc.

Lovin' all these board tech articles btw, so interesting.

garry-weed's picture
garry-weed's picture
garry-weed commented Thursday, 18 Jul 2019 at 8:30am

Mayhems?

gary weed

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet commented Thursday, 18 Jul 2019 at 8:40am

Yeah, he's the first of the big makers to dive in. Check those out, Old Man.

Joshua James's picture
Joshua James's picture
Joshua James commented Friday, 19 Jul 2019 at 10:35am

Thank you to everyone who read the article and also to those who commented.

I just thought I would answer a few statements about asymmetry.

Anyone who is looking for boards should consider a dedicated asymmetrical shaper. I completely understand the comments about being scared and dropping allot of money and being unsure. As aymmetricals have become more popular in the last 8 years it is very easy to tell the people who are jumping on the bandwagon and those that are true believers. Apart from myself in Australia there are a few shapers making asymms but only part time that I know of. Apologies if I have offended an underground full time asymm shaper. Maurice Cole in VIC has been making them for a very long time. In USA I would recommend Matt Parker (Album) and Ryan Burch. Look at what the shaper surfs everyday, if it's not an asymm then...

The main reasons people aren't making them is because nobody on the World tour is riding them and making stock is expensive because you have to make twice as much (goofy and natural). They are very hard to sell second hand. Also consider that many of the top surfers in the world ride one model on back hand waves and another on forehand during competition.

The bio-mechanics of our stance and asymmetry are simple. Stand on your toes and try to balance, now shift to your heels, even have someone push you to see the extreme difference. Walk up a steep hill on your toes then try on your heels. You will now understand how we need help with our heels but our toes are very strong and coordinated.

Asymmetrical boards and bigger surf kick into another gear. Consider when the surf gets really big. Half the crowd takes out really long boards to get in early and drive off the bottom but when it comes time to turn they are forced into a long arc out on the face. Then there is the other side (small shortboards) where it is difficult to paddle in and more critical finding speed off the bottom but if they are offered a turn section they are superior. Enter asymmetry and enjoying the best of both worlds.A design feature that is becoming more popular on huge wave paddle in boards.

I hope this has helped.

J

morg's picture
morg's picture
morg commented Friday, 19 Jul 2019 at 2:04pm

Hey this article and comment are very interesting. Thank you to all for arousing my curiosity. I had always assumed that an asymmetrical board would be advantageous to the high performance surfer rather than the average surfer. Now I'm thinking I was way off base.

Josh and Stu what sort of asymmetrical shortboard would you suggest for an asym first timer: a groveler, an alternative to your go to, or something for better waves?

Joshua James's picture
Joshua James's picture
Joshua James commented Friday, 19 Jul 2019 at 6:29pm

Hi Morg
Asymmetricals can really help intermediate surfers. They are fast and responsive.

In regards to what kind of asymm I would go with an equivalent of whatever you ride most of the year. eg. if you live at snapper and ride a 6'2 most of the year then grab a good wave 6'2 asymm. They look allot more radical than they feel. Enjoy!

J

Joshua James's picture
Joshua James's picture
Joshua James commented Friday, 19 Jul 2019 at 6:29pm

Hi Morg
Asymmetricals can really help intermediate surfers. They are fast and responsive.

In regards to what kind of asymm I would go with an equivalent of whatever you ride most of the year. eg. if you live at snapper and ride a 6'2 most of the year then grab a good wave 6'2 asymm. They look allot more radical than they feel. Enjoy!

J

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet commented Friday, 19 Jul 2019 at 5:04pm

Hey Morg, here's a few pics, the first is the very first asymm I bought, from Chris Garrett. The second is a shorter, wider, summer groveller with a Dumpster Diver tail from Stuart Paterson.

They both work on the same principle: offset tail and similarly offset fins.

Neither shaper has an asymm in their range, I went to both of them with requests. I'd suggest talking to a shaper you know first, or speaking to someone like Joshua who's actively experimenting in the field. In fact, I think someone who's hands on engaged would be better than a shaper who only understands it theoretically.

morg's picture
morg's picture
morg commented Friday, 19 Jul 2019 at 8:55pm

Thanks gents. Your enthusiasm has already got me trying to figure out how many fins and what colours my new asymm will have :)

mbl88's picture
mbl88's picture
mbl88 commented Saturday, 20 Jul 2019 at 12:13am

Album surf just started up on the goldy. From the US is big on the Asyms. Listen to the surf splendor podcast with donald brink he shapes alot of asyms explains them very well.

mbl88's picture
mbl88's picture
mbl88 commented Saturday, 20 Jul 2019 at 12:15am
morg's picture
morg's picture
morg commented Saturday, 20 Jul 2019 at 10:11am

The Album Surf website has some nice looking boards and interesting asymms but they’re all lots of hundreds of dollars more expensive than you’re used to paying.

dangerouskook2000's picture
dangerouskook2000's picture
dangerouskook2000 commented Sunday, 21 Jul 2019 at 7:16pm

Doesn't make sense to me. He's saying the toes provide more leverage. I beg to differ. You have less leverage thru the toes as you have that pivot point called the ankle to contend with. The most powerful turn you can do is a backhand turn because all your weight is being directed to the heel. Therefore wouldn't the long side with the bigger fin be on the heel side? As I said doesn't make sense. I might have to listen to that podcast

Addendum: Listened to the podcast. Either they've edited it down to 3 minutes and I've missed something or it's a shit podcast.

Joshua James's picture
Joshua James's picture
Joshua James commented Monday, 22 Jul 2019 at 4:23pm

There are 12 muscles that originate in the leg and insert into the foot that basically control dorsiflexion and plantarflexion or the the toes moving up and down.

Measure a jump test off your heels then off your toes.

I agree with what you say about weight in your heels but the toes extend this power with force.

morg's picture
morg's picture
morg commented Monday, 22 Jul 2019 at 6:44pm

I found this review Of Lost "Maysym" Asymmetrical Surfboard Review by Noel Salas Ep 77 interesting. He explains the theory, shows him riding it, compares it with tri or quad fins, and at around the 14 minute mark you can watch him ride and listen to him talk about how different it was riding the goofy foot version as a natural footer.

https://youtu.be/zV28_ECznUQ