Progression of surfboard; tech/innovations

Do you folks feel that we are right “on schedule” with respect to the research and development (the evolution) of our surfcraft, OR are we seriously lagging behind?! Your thoughts, please! (when I think about how something like the tucked under rail revolutionized [yet again] the advancement of our boards, it amazes me how certain alterations to age-old “proven” craft radically changed the way we ride and what we are capable of). Time marches on!.. Thank-you, in advance… T.

We are probably behind where we could be because of two factors: money and waves. Money allows rapid advancement and waves to test new ideas. That said. If I had consistant waves I’d be happy riding anything. Perhaps those perfect days have held us back too! How do we move ahead without losing the soul of surfing? Rob Olliges

Every one of our sister sports has passed us. That’s windsurfing - they go faster and jump higher than we ever dreamed. That’s skateboarding - they do the tricks our pro’s are aspiring to do. That’s wakeboarding - they have advanced by us so fast… like they’ve got two 200 hp Mercs driving them. That’s snowboarding - #1 ticket in the Winter Olympics. That’s Tow In - rapidly advancing with new shapes and technology. And here we are with our 50 year old technology and 10 year old high perfomance shapes, watching as our market gets taken away by the Chinese. Everyone wants to scream that it’s because there’s no money. In my veiw it’s about ceativity, vision, and passion. Not MONEY.


Perhaps it’s us. Our sister sports do not use hand crafted products. Large amounts of money created the machines that make the products, created advertising campaigns, and marketed surfing’s sister “sports” to the masses. This is an even better argument that surfing is and should remain an artform both in practice and design. Do we want to be like those sports? (I’ve heard that lineups can get crowded in California). Money rapidly advanced those other sports. It’s trying to change ours but in a way that does not innovate. (My previous statement about money was not well crafted). I could argue that we also need another Cheyne Horan-type professional who is willing to put his competitive career on the line and mess around with hull bottoms and crazy fins. K. Slater talks about Nicola Tesla and designing fins all night long. Just to make one model of FCS fins and ugly shoes? We need even more innovative people to step forward with innovative products and insist that the surf media report them. (Surfer’s Journal are you listening)? For example, Kechle gets more media (two-page ads) for selling out to the pop-out manufacturers than Loehr does for creating workable (and safer) epoxy that suprises everyone that it works with all blanks and glass. This advancement alone has opened a lot of minds around here. Dale toils for years to create the fastest surfing vehicle around. I’d love to see some pro’s picture getting barreled out of his/her mind at Pipe on a mat. I think Glen Gould said that he got more output from more input. We need people testing EVERYTHING in order to get better output, then select what works. Nat Young/Joel Tudor quote: “ride everything.” Well we need to build everything and not dismiss equipment without trying it. What we need is thousands of backyard/garage builders, cheap materials, Swaylocks to spread the knowledge, innovative people who borrow advancements from the automotive/yacht/aerospace/other industries, and tons of waves to test ideas. I hope I’ve made my position more clear. Rob Olliges

Rob Olliges made a good point about waves, I’m not sure about sailboarding, But all the other sports mentionaed above can pretty much go out and test their designs whenever they want. Shapers have to wait for waves or travel far from their workshops to test designs. Maybe if you could charter a boat to the Mentawais that was bigger enough for a small factory on board, you could speed the development cycle up a bit (ah but there’s money again) Don’t beat yourselves up too much - it took skiing about 40 yrs to come up with those short skis with the big side cuts - I don’t know what they’re called (parabolic?)but they make it a lot easier to ski. As a design they aren’t that much different from the long skis everyone had been using for 40 yrs (or longer) With all the money spent on R&D it’s amazing nobody had thought of it sooner.

Do the majority of surfers really want change? What would a sudden, sweeping shift in design and/or material do to the surf world? If something exponentially better came along that could potentially make all of your current tools, materials and knowledge useless, would you welcome it? How would surfers at your beach react to a faster, more maneuverable form of surfcraft, the catch being that they must first unlearn everything they know about board surfing in order to ride it?

Why does the development of surfing have to be on a schedule ? I think that were doing just fine.Slow & steady.I think that if we proceed at to quick of a pace we could skip, or, over look things or designs that could be important to the evolution of surfing.I think that we made to fast of a change from the end of the longboard board era to the modern day short board (thruster).We should have spent more time tweking the single & twin fin designs til we exhusted all possibilits.Who knows where that could have led.Just my opinion for what it’s worth.

Rob, As with riding waves, designing and creating surfcraft is at its best an unfolding process of discovery. Although its very satisfying to achieve a level of mastery, remaining a student at heart also has its advantages. A persons mistakes are often far better teachers, yielding unexpected knowledge that might not have been anticipated and learned by any other means. Of necessity, mass-produced surfboards attempt to circumvent this messy, inefficient, two-edged pathway. Therein lies one of the molded boards greatest strengths, but also one of its greatest weaknesses. For any given design, the freedom to evolve at a faster pace is not necessarily a bad thing. Unfortunately, a number of factors, not the least of which are attitudes (corporate and personal) as well as the chosen mediums (waves and materials), often serve to inhibit that process. The more time goes by, the harder I try to "get it right the first time"... but the older I get, the more Im also faced with the realization that Ive probably gained more from all my mistakes than from my few successes. Its all about how a person chooses to understand and react to a given situation. Removing the possibility of mistakes may be a formula for profit, but it`s also a bad prescription for raw, open experimentation. In reality, both sides of this issue are important parts of the whole.

I feel from the posts above some desire for, yet fear of, change. There is nothing wrong with change. And the fact is it’s inevitable. I’ve seen surfing in the past 10-12 years in a somewhat stagnant place, especially when it comes to board design. If you consider the last great step forward was the Hartley Chip (that was actually done in the mid 80’s although it didn’t see acceptance until 93’), that is the longest period without major change in the post foam history of the sport. What we see today is a regurgitating of the past and little progress towards a future. My point above is, how many of you have tried carbon? How many have tried veneers or aluminum? How many have tried epoxy, spectra, Kevlar, sandwich construction, vacuum bagging, etc. How about hyperbolic curves? Or new and different channel contours? Or radically different thickness and rocker profiles? I have worked on many of these but I’m one guy. We need a concerted industry wide effort to create a future and if we don’t we are inviting the end of the craft. The imports are here. They’re well funded. They have the attention of both the media and the public. Understand that strolling through the past is no defense. Pretty air brush and resin tints are not going keep them at bay. They can do that too. It’s creative thought by the best designers and craftsmen in the world (ours) that will win out and allow us to keep, at least a part of, our domestic market. We are being pressed at both the bottom end (Chinese Polyesters) and at the top (molded epoxy). That leaves a precarious middle ground for us to survive in. It’s doubtful that we can be competeive with the bottom but the top isn’t doing anything we can’t do. At competive prices. In fact with our experience and know how I dare say they can’t compete with us. It’s time for us to LEAD surfing in new directions. To show the sport how good we are. But this requires change and I think you all see this. And as much as you all talk about money, again, it’s about creativity, vision and passion.

Well said, Greg, and AMEN to your first response - especially! I agree! Incidentally, as timing would have it, I just came across the new issue of “Surfer’s Path” (the Brit surf mag), that has an article - in there - entitled, “Made in Thailand”, which you all ought to read. Timely to this thread, and where we’re at today. Laters, …T.

hey Greg your name is used in the article about the tai surftechs. They compare your epoxy techno with the surftech stuff.

Interesting discussion. Having been involved in the composite industry for over 25 years, and designing and making boards and fins for most of that, there seems to be a little hesitance to change on the part of some surfers and boardmakers. No-one loses the soul of surfing if they find a few waves on their own or with a few mates, it’s still an indescribable sensation that I have yet to find an alternative, and I have looked and tried many things. Yet that fantasic feeling of our gravity meeting the ocean waves is only enhanced by the board under our feet, and in my experience the best quality board does the best job. The best quality boards come in many shapes and forms as we are all as individual as they are. But as progession dictates, we generally don’t go backwards. And because we are all human, board design is heading the generic way it is today. Having several years experience in the aeronautical industry, I have to state that, although the foam and fibreglass method of boardmaking was way ahead of it’s time, we have to accept that better technology is here. Not only is manufacturing destined to change, design also will change with the new technology. That includes fins. Everyone should be bought up to date and understand that flat surfaces are not dynamic. I know this hits hard at virtually every thruster fin ever made, but there are scientifically designed, asymetrical, hydrofoil coordinates available. I know because I played with them, and not recently. And they work. Sadly though I have to dispute the long talked about phrase, by almost every magazine and forum worldwide, of change coming from some small ‘backyard’ experimenter. The big boys won’t let this happen as it seems to throw a dark cloud over their ability to develope the future. I approached a large and well respected fin manufacturer with these new fin concepts many years ago and, although showing some intrest, they wanted to change the concept for better public acceptance. Problem is the changes would jeopardise the integrity of the design. I would not accept that so the designs are still in my pocket (and on mine and some friends boards). Many years ago the snow ski industry was made up of small, local manufacturers who handcrafted their skills on local timbers with the best flex and strenght characteristics. Due to technology they do not exist any more. The top designers still have jobs and the top test pilots and technicians get to do the fine tuning, so in the end the consumer gets an amazing, easy to use, high performance product. Whether you want to accept this or not is not in the equation, it’s just the way it’s going to be in the future of surfboard design and manufacture. The people not willing to embrace this change will eventually fall by the wayside. How long this will take depends on the money thrown in by the forward thinkers. Till then I will, like many others, just grab my new board and go surfing, and it will still be an amazing sensation.

Hey G.W. I find myself making more and more custom fins these days and I would very much like to know if you’ll open a few doors for me when it comes to fin configuration. It sounds to me like you’ve a few things by being involved in composite construction and aerodynamics that would be very helpful to a fin innovator like myself. I know sometime we have to keep our secrets and if that’s what you choose to do I understand. I would enjoy exchanging a few emails with you. (mine’s ) I’d be glad to share some photos of my work. I with you agree that what is available over the counter is a far cry from what will provide the surfer with optimum performance. I still feel that the real discoveries are made by people who are willing to watch how nature gets things done and do some sculpting with that in mind a la George Greenough. Gone Surfin, Rich

Before I comment on the issue of whether or not we’re ‘on track or lagging behind’, I have something to get off my chest. I’ve only been surfing for 3 years now and as a result I have a slightly different perspective on the issue of surfboard (and fin) technology. While most people on this forum have seen firsthand many of the major innovations in surfboard technology, I feel fortune to have so much of surfing’s history to explore. So many of the surfers in my neck of the woods take for granted the process of evolution that brought them their 6’2" thrusters. I live on Canada’s east coast where surfing is a relatively new thing. Aside from a handful of guys, surfing is in it’s first generation here. Most guys want what they see in the magazines and to see a board more than three years old in the water is uncommon to say the least. I think that most surfers need to open up to the variety in equipment, old and new, that is available to them. I have a number of boards that I surf regularly, among them a new 6’4" thruster as well as a 5’10" Rick James, circa 1974. I don’t know if it holds true elsewhere, but around here I don’t think the average surfer (myself included) has the knowledge to appreciate significant innovations in surfboard technology. If you don’t know where you’re coming from, it’s a little hard to know where you’re going. But enough of that rant. The topic here is whether the surfboard is progressing at a reasonable rate or lagging behind (in comparison with other sports equipment). As far as design is concerned (shapes) I think the surfboard is pretty much on par with the skateboard. Both have seen radical development since the 50s or 60s. I think it’s even safe to say that surfboards are, more or less, on par with ski and snowboard technology as far as design is concerned. I think it’s in the construction where the major difference lies. Obviously the materials have not changed much for quite some time, but I wouldn’t say that surfboard technology is lagging behind. More like sticking with what works. It seems to me that the Surftech technology is what’s on everybody’s mind when a topic like this comes up. And while some would argue that the Surftech technology is superior in many ways, I think that overall it will slow the process of evolution. As more and more people begin to support a product like this, one that the average shaper can’t supply, that’s obviously going to limit the number of people that can be producing surfboards. Common sense tells me that the more guys there are out there making boards, the more we’ll be seeing major innovations in board design. There must be thousands of guys making boards out there, and there’s only two factories that can make these Surftechs. I’m pretty sure that if two heads are better than one, then 2000 heads must be better than two. I’m all for any improvements in the materials or in the method of construction, as long as they continue to be available to everyone. Personally, I won’t even buy a board off the rack at a surf shop. If everyone took the time to find a shaper and order their boards custom we’d all be better off. For me, working with a shaper has improved my understanding of surfboards and how they work. If the average surfer’s knowledge of their equipment were to increase, wouldn’t innovation logically follow?

There are similarities between the products we produce and Surftech. We have similarities in strength to weight ratio and floatation but this is a CUSTOM product. In the 20 years that I’ve been involved with this, custom product has always been my focus. I believe that custom surfboards are superior and that a production molded product has a built in inferiority that ad campaigns and slick marketing can’t maneuver around. At least not in the surf market. What they can use is superior technology which is exactly what they are attacking this industry with today. The early goals at Resin Research was to provide materials for the production of a new kind of surfboard, ones that had advantages over conventional urethane/polyester construction. The theory that superior materials would create a superior finished product opened a door. What we didn’t count on in opening that door was the unexpected resultant freedom to allow our creativity to soar where it’s never been before. Producing something from the ground (or blank) up showed us how much more vast the experience of board building could be. This is something we have tried to share. As far as the future, surfing is something we are all part of. Something we all share in. Something rare and special and precious and unique among mans endeavors. How many sports offer more intimacy with nature than ours does? None. How many lifestyles offer the freedom and beauty and challenge ours does? None. How many products built by man represent the kind of individuality and creativity that surfboard building does. Functional art on a scale unequaled by any other. Both simplicity and complexity wrapped in layers of fiberglass. I hear talk of soul. The soul of our sport is not the product. The soul doesn’t reside in a piece of plastic. The soul of the sport lies in the hearts and hands of its most ardent followers. The surfboard craftsman. It resides in those who produce this rarest of art forms. This is the soul and foundation of the sport/art/lifestyle. One need only to look at windsurfing to see the results of the loss of it’s purest advocates. In less than five years soulless corporate powers along with their media concubines snuffed out its soul, its life-force. Without that life-force it died. I don’t have all the answers. Those of us involved have only opened a door. Truthfully, my participation here is to enlist the creativity, experience and passion of YOU, the soul of our sport. “The writing is on the wall.” Like Jason said above, two thousand heads are better than two. Don’t let the same evils that destroyed windsurfing destroy us. Join me in ushering them out of OUR sport by producing the product they can’t.

To me the biggest slowdown in innovation has been the derire for clear white surfboards, or cosmetically fancy glass jobs. This is fine if this is what the market desires, but this will slow down use of a lot of other technologies and techniques for surfboard design or take more creativity to use them. Any time that a change in procedure at a glass shop, huge resistent will be met by the piece worker. The small shop definately has advantages for making change in technology and glassing techniques. Focus on custom and don’t get in a technology war with companies like Cobra/Surftech. They have more money than you do and they will give the media more money than you will. As the custom windsurf manufactures will tell you, you will lose this war. Hey Greg, I saw a moose while snowboarding in the backcountry yesterday, pretty intamate nature moment in my book. There are plenty of other lifestyles that are as good as a surfers. It matters where you live and how you want to live your life. I would certainly rather live in the mountains or the central coast of Cali than live to surf San Onofre every day. Sluggo

“…Dale toils for years to create the fastest surfing vehicle around. I’d love to see some pro’s picture getting barreled out of his/her mind at Pipe on a mat.” Thanks for the kind words, Rob. But most of my customers travel in the exact opposite direction of places like Pipeline to fully enjoy their surfcraft. The ultimate mat wave is more like 6’ to 8’ Jeffries Bay…