The following is an except from our interview with Ventura based shaper Todd Proctor of Proctor Surfboards.
Q: Todd, what’s your take on board design for smaller crappier waves. I’d like to discuss bigger wave boards later but I think the majority of the surfing population surfs less than ideal waves but have it stuck in their heads that they need to ride what the pros ride (me included). What types of designs work best and maybe we can list some of his top choices after the article.
A: My take on board design for smaller, crappier waves is this: a bit of the old wider, flatter, thicker concepts from the past conjoined with progressive, futuristic bending of rockers and nuanced warping of bottom contours. A dreamy, technical sentence that means just what…..? Ok, well for you and I that don’t have the luxury of two week waiting periods at the perfect spot during the perfect time of year waiting for the ideal swell…..or the benefits of jetski assist, or unlimited time off work for that matter; here’s what it boils down to….when we get that daily, or weekly window of opportunity to block the world out and find the rhythm of pure flow in the water, we want something that’s gonna go….no matter what…..even if it is two feet and onshore; something that will give us some jets under our feet to dust off the cobwebs and let the rail run free. Today, more than ever, all the board designs that have come before us are allowing us to borrow from the past, change-it up, add to it, re-invent our boards so they take us to places in marginal conditions we were never able to go before.
By mixing and matching, blending and inventing….this design process has landed us into the most exciting time to NOT be a pro, and to NOT be surfing good waves. And here’s why…board design has brought us to this wonderful place. Following, I am going to break down what I see as the essential ingredients for small, lackluster wave surfing. I’ve numbered each step because it will coincide with a particular aspect of how I put together a small wave board design.
It all comes down to (1)quick paddle speed, (2)up and into the wave early, (3)the board has to fit into the wave (4)a burst of speed at take-off, (5)speed to burn from there on out (which has always been the essential in surfing), but very important; (6)you’ve got to have hold when you need it, with (7)controlled release on demand.
So, for steps 1 through 3, not much has changed from our Steve Lis fish roots. For this you go flatter, wider, shorter, thicker…..these ingredients are nothing new; flatter rockers go faster on flatter faced waves, they paddle quicker thus getting into waves easier. The shorter length fits better into a smaller wave face…..kind of like a canvas your gonna paint on; the smaller the canvas, the tighter the tool, the larger the canvas, the more rail line you should have to draw elegant lines. At times you’ll see this rule broken such as when guys ride exceptionally little boards in big hollow heavy waves…..(aside from tow-ins, or step-offs, this is more a test of skill and a desire for a change-up of feeling under the feet…..an exciting challenge more than a functional big wave design breakthrough). Anyway, back to it….thicker boards also are going to paddle you quicker and get you into waves earlier; thicker boards ride higher in the water which is nice to feel on top of things in small waves rather than that sinking feeling.
Step 4 is where things get interesting…..welcome to the future. Bottom contours control the water flow through the bottom of the board; a regulator of sorts that tells a board when to hold back, when to slingshot, when to release. I am finding that more and more, concaves are here to stay and will play even greater roles in the future of boards…..combined with rockers that are blended in ways different than has been done before….new territory….it’s sick!! So, for the burst of speed at take-off, I am running quite a bit of single concave from the nose through the center of the board; combined with a fairly low entry rocker, this gets you in early, but then once you get up…..(which in small waves the norm is to be standing a bit more forward on the board initially and more off the front foot since the wave doesn’t have the push to allow for a steep drop with the back foot right on the tail straight away) the pressure from your front foot engages the concave (which creates both grip and lift at the same time….concaves are a crazy schyzophrenic design that is perfectly suited to modern surfing)….in return you get a burst of speed at take-off.
Step 5. The board needs to keep a constant steady speed regardless if it’s a flat faced part of the wave or a bit of a steep section coming at you. Typically “fish” style boards have always been quick out of the gates, but then the majority of them get all skippy and slidey and tend to loose speed out of turns….no good 🙁 A good small waves board can actually pick up speed as the wave spins off smaller and smaller, you can actually gain speed out of turns, and your board can hold in without slipping on you when you are pushing through a turn, or coming off the bottom as hard as you can. The answer, you guessed it….concaves….again. I use several different combinations of concaves that play off what the bottom rocker is doing and specific to the exact kind of bad waves the board is for. For example, in the worst, smallest, mushiest waves I’ll go with the shortest length, the fullest outline typically a roundnose, a very flat rocker, with a deep single concave under the front foot which transitions to an even deeper inset double concave past center, then into a deep vee cut through with concaves (otherwise known as spiral vee) which accelerates off the tail block. This combination makes for a board that books in the smallest stuff, holds a line through turns, but isn’t so grippy that the tail feels sticky in the flat spots….the spiral vee combo makes for a very free feeling board in the smallest, weakest conditions, yet will surprise you with how well it does hold under super high speeds and when it gets pushed on in maneuvers.
Step 6. I typically incorporate a highly technical rocker/ concave combination into the small wave boards that I refer to as “the beer belly”. The beer belly gives the boards an incredible amount of hold even though at first glance it does not have a streamlined or “fast” look to it at all. So, what is the beerbelly? Ok, I’m gonna let you in on one of my little secret brainstorms….I will put a dip, or sag in the rocker of most of my small wave boards behind center right around 2/3 of the way back of the rail line rocker of the board. At first glance, it looks like it will drag water, but if you think of a surfboard less like a water ski (which is pulled at high speeds along a relatively flat surface for the most part), and think of it more as a curve that needs to harness energy by matching the surface energy alongside another curve (the wave face)…..all of a sudden you never look at a surfboard like a water ski again; and you quit thinking about how fast a design will go on the straight, but how fast it will surf on the up and down and on rail…..since that is where all the speed comes from with surfboards…..harnessing the waves energy and getting your boards’ rails to take off like a slingshot. The “beerbelly” concept acts as a fulcrum or teetertotter between your feet that makes your board want to lay over on rail and want to gain it’s speed by matching the part of the wave where the most energy saturated parts of the waves curve are generated. A concave bottom that cuts through the center of the board just helps to create lift, allowing the beerbelly to do it’s hydrodynamic-harnessing thing.
Step 7. Ok, so we’ve got speed, we’ve got hold, we’re already into the wave early……now, we’re throwin’ down turns….maneuvers like we never thought…..yew….this board is one step ahead of me….what did I just pull…whoa that was killer….:) Controlled release…very important. It’s good to not slip and slide once you get goin’, but you don’t want to be stuck when you’re trying to break free either. This is when you are half way though a turn and you want to break the tail free a little… or your about to smash the lip, but you want the fins to disengage for just a bit. Everything from a little extra snap in a turn, to boosting a reverse. This comes down to your tail rocker, the way the bottom contours run off the tail, your tail shape, and your fins. On the really small wave boards….for the gutless horrible days, a straighter tail rocker, with a spiral vee bottom, a swallowtail or moontail and a two plus one setup (bigger side fins with a small trailer in the back) works unreal. Like I said before flatter rocker is faster, spiral vee keeps the tail free in the small stuff, a swallowtail/ moontail…..or anything where the tail block has an area cut out of it will let the water through and loosen thing up off your back foot. The moontail does this even more drastically…..the moon acts like an exhaust pipe of sorts, letting all the compressed water from the bottom concaves out, exploding off the tail block.
A more versatile all-around small waves board that will go in the crud, but also handle up to head high, will typically run a slight bit more entry rocker (still much lower than a “good waves” board), a flatter run in the rocker through the mid-section of the board; under your front foot for drive and carry through the flats. Followed by a touch of rocker just off the back fin. This little tweak off the tail rocker really does a lot for a board’s liveliness in maneuvers. I’ll run pretty even heavy concaves through the entire bottom with some inset double concaves through the fin cluster to keep the board running quick when laid over on one rail or the other. Then I’ve been putting concave running right off the tail block which has been working unreal to give the board an extra pop and a nice crisp explosiveness out of the last part of turns/ maneuvers.
Larger side fins make a board more drivey; faster in small waves. There is more fin area for the water to leverage off of when pushed on in turns…..this increases drive. The smaller the back fin is, the less drag that is created when the board is on trim or going down the line…..this keeps the board quick through sections and loose off the tail. A similar concept with quads….no back fin reduces down-the-line drag. Quads are incredibly fast. They will not pivot off the bottom and release and snap off the top the same way that tri-fins will, but they do draw the most amazing sweeping on-rail turns. The best drawn-out picking-up-speed-on-rail roundhouses can be done on quads. You’ve basically got double the fins on your rail, so you’ve got double the leverage for maximum pushback through on-rail turns. By the same token you can square up a tri-fin that much quicker coming off the bottom by pivoting around one fin…..the radius is tighter and will allow for more of a yank of the rail off the bottom and pulling of the board more out of the water and throwing it more vert into the lip. That is why I recommend going with a five fin set-up on most small wave boards. You get so much versatility i.e. drawn out down the line stuff, quad for sure…speed runs and huge arcs. Tighter, beachbreaky, more cornery vertical stuff….the tri-fin rules those conditions.
Here’s my favorites for small waves:
>From 1ft. – 3ft.: The Twin Fang and Quad Fang
>From 1ft. – 4ft.: The Lil’ Rascal and Rascal II
>From 1ft. – 5ft.: The Scarecrow
>From 2ft. – 6ft.: The Greased Pig
>From 2ft. – overhead: Da Monsta
I have just gotten done custom detailing a nice selection of these boards for Surf n Sea on the north shore and Hawaiian South Shore. I’ve taken the conditions of summertime Oahu into mind when designing each of the boards now available at these two fine shops…..having lived in Hawaii myself and being familiar with all the various breaks around the island. Be sure to check them out. I think you will be stoked. A lot of heart and soul is poured into each of the boards.
You can check out the lineup now available at Surf-N-Sea here:
And the lineup now available at Hawaiian South Shore here:
Custom orders available through both shops.
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