THE EVOLUTION OF SURFBOARD DESIGN

Intuition and Reasoning in the Evolution of Surfboard Design
 

    Intuition - immediate apprehension, understanding, perception, or knowledge.

Intuitive design - using the imagination or general understanding without the conscious use of reasoning to solve a problem.

Reasoning - drawing conclusions from known or assumed facts.

Inductive design - using particular facts or individual circumstances to reach a general conclusion.

Deductive design - using logic or reasoning to conclude from known facts, existing data, or general principles.

The surfboard design process begins with identifying the desires, needs, or goals of the end user and his environment (the smorgasbord of surfers and the waves they ride); identifying the variables (dimensions, rockers, bottom contours, deck contours, foils, templates, rails, fins, and more) in a specific technology (surfboard shaping and construction); hypothesizing arrangements of these variables (6' 2" x 18 1/2" x 2 3/8", squash single to double concave, soft crown deck, moderate foil, soft thin round rail) through intuition and reasoning; testing the results of these arrangements (surfing and observation); and bringing new hypothesis into the process based on these tests and any new ideas that may develop (surfers / shapers / designers experiences with existing surfboards, imagination, and observations of events and circumstances outside of surfing.)

Surfing and surfboard design began with the imagination and desire of ancient Pacific islanders. Historically surfing was documented in polynesia as long ago as 300 AD. Man sees waves and wants to ride them. Perhaps the ancient Pacific islanders experienced the pleasure of their boats, canoes, or water craft planning on ocean swells while making passage from one island or one location to another. They observe that a long relatively flat and narrow piece of wood glides on swells with a man on its deck as their boats or a canoes did in the open ocean. Craftsmen were assigned the task of selecting wood and with stone ax, granulated coral, and a rough polishing stone shaped the islanders ancient surfboards. Thus surfing, the surfboard, and the shaping process were invented.

The islanders intuition led them to understand they could ride waves individually on a device similar to their canoes. Their reasoning led them to conclude that a surfboard could be configured similar to their canoes, built from the same trees, with the same tools they used to build their canoes.

Surfing remained the undisturbed passion of the islanders for 1500 years before their interaction with Western Civilization. Fortunately, a couple of hundred years of Puritan Ethics could do no more than reduce the passion before it's renaissance in the early 20th century. Ironically, it was three haoles, Jack London, George Freeth, and Alexander Hume Ford who led the campaign to restore surfing to Hawaii's culture. While London was writing about surfing and Freeth was surfing in front of astonished crowds, Alexander Hume Ford was campaigning on behalf of surfing. Ford presented a "surfing manifesto" to the trustees of Queen Emma's Estate. In 1905 the native Hawaiians began the informal Hui Nalu (surf club), revitalizing native Hawaiian interest in the sport. In 1908 they founded the Hawaiian Outrigger Canoe Club, the first modern club dedicated to the perpetuation of wave-riding. By 1911 when the Hui Nalu was formalized there were as many as one hundred surfboards on the beach at Waikiki.

Although World War II curtailed surfing activity, it exposed tens of thousands of men to Hawaii, the Pacific Ocean, and the Sport of Kings. Surfer / shaper / designers of the post World War II era (1945 - 1955) pioneered and explored an unspoiled California coastline rich with clean point and reef breaks. Perfect trim was surfing's ultimate maneuver. Bob Simmons, Phil Edwards, Reynolds Yater, Skip Frye, and Mike Hynson's intuition led them to emulate sea birds trimming on the updraft of wind from the face of groomed ocean swells as they jacked up and broke along these clean points and reefs. Their reasoning led them to design surfboards that trimmed on the upward flow of water in the face of these waves.

The foam sandwich surfboard (polyeruthane foam cores and fiberglass reinforced plastic skins) introduced to surfing in the 1950's opened the flood gates to incremental and quantum steps in surfboard design. The cores or "blanks" were extremely easy to tool or "shape." Wrapping the blanks with glass and resin and attaching a fin(s) could be done in a matter of days. Trimming qualities of surfboards improved dramatically. Across the long walls of Malibu and Rincon and the curving bowls of Windansea and Sunset Cliffs surfers found themselves adjusting and readjusting trim to maintain the best possible position in the waves. These adjustments opened the door to bottom turns, cutbacks, and floaters - the advent of "hot dog" surfing. Surfer / shaper / designers desire to combine these trimming and turning approaches to surfing and the simplicity and speed of surfboard construction led to identifying the significance of specific variables and modifying the arrangement of dimensions, outlines, rockers, bottoms, decks, rails, and fins in surfboard design to achieve that feeling surfers were looking for.

Design by reasoning (ever more efficient trimming surfboards) ushered in design by intuition (the desire to turn surfboards between positions of trim.) Unknown to the surfer / shaper / designers of the era the seed of the shortboard had been planted.

Germination would take another five or six years. Nat Young's performance on his Bob McTavish designed surfboard named "Sam" at the 1966 World Titles in San Diego was a fantastic display of powerful turns combined with tight trim and graceful nose riding. In Australia, California, and Hawaii George Greenough, Wayne Lynch, Mike Diffenderfer, Michael Peterson, Dick Brewer, Michael Cundith, Josh Bradbury and a whole crew of (r)evolutionary surfer / shaper / designers were visualizing and implementing new approaches to surfing and surfboard design.

By 1967 the idea of replacing the straight line trimming approach to surfing with high speed direction changes and awesome acceleration in and out of the most critical parts of waves was the new approach to surfing. This remains the primary goal of surfboard design to this day.

The inevitable growth of the surfing population in California and Hawaii and the development of surfing in Australia, South Africa, Japan, and South America and the increase in disposable income and leisure lifestyle of the affluent "industrialized" cultures of the world allowed this ever increasing surfing population to make surfing the priority in their lives. Day in and day out, season to season, year in and year out surfers were riding a greater variety of waves.

Greater numbers of surfers, riding an ever expanding variety of waves, on an evolving variety of surfboards are a feast for surfboard design. Intuition and reasoning join to fulfill the imagination and desire of surfers to improve their surfing and their surfboards and explore new realms of surfing. Arrangement after arrangement of the fundamental variables are tested, observed, and evaluated. Does it work ? Can it be improved ? Should it be modified ? What should be modified ? To what extent should it be modified ? Should it be completely redesigned ?

Certainly, variables of surfboard design were identified and applied to ancient surfboards. Dimensions, templates, bottom and top contours, and rails were designed to glide on waves. Additional variables were identified and applied in the 1930's as the surfer / shaper / designers of that era improved the ancient designs. Rocker and fins were applied and surfers turned and trimmed their boards across the open face of breaking waves. The relative ease in shaping balsa and foam boards of the 40's and 50's set the table for shapers to identify and modify the variables that existed in all surfboards - ancient to contemporary.

Today, surfer / shaper / designers depend on their intuition and reasoning to advance surfboard design. They design and shape by arranging dimensions, rockers, bottom contours, deck contours, foils, templates, rails, and fins to best suit individual surfers (their size, skill, and technique) and the specific conditions (size, power, and shape) of the waves they ride.

A surfboard is functional and relevant when it is designed for the surfer and the conditions in which it will be surfed.
 


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